Cool relief: Hintonburg's Merry Dairy provides freezer space, generator to residents hit by storm

Merry Dairy
After Saturday's windstorm knocked out power across the city, Merry Dairy owner Marlene Haley sprang into action to help affected residents. Photo by Christian Lalonde from Great Scoops: Recipes from a Neighborhood Ice Cream Shop by Marlene Haley and Amelia Ryan of the Merry Dairy with Anne DesBrisay (Figure 1 Publishing)

After the tornadoes that ripped through Ottawa in September 2018 knocked out power at her ice cream store for two days and forced her to toss out a freezer full of merchandise, Merry Dairy owner Marlene Haley vowed to be better prepared the next time Mother Nature threw her a curve.

“I bought a generator,” she said, “and I’ve never had to use it.”

Until Monday, that is.

The popular Hintonburg confectionery managed to dodge any major repercussions from Saturday’s vicious windstorm that left about 180,000 customers in Ottawa without power. While Haley knew many other businesses and households weren’t as lucky, she didn’t fully grasp the scope of the devastation until she took the store’s ice cream truck to deliver treats to a 99th birthday celebration in Nepean the next day.

“I was in my own little bubble in the shop thinking, ‘We’ve got power – everything is great,’” she told OBJ. “I was driving around in the truck and … I had to do a four-way stop at every light going out to the birthday party. That’s when I realized how bad it was.”

"I was driving around in the truck and … I had to do a four-way stop at every light going out to the birthday party. That’s when I realized how bad it was."

With no events booked for Victoria Day Monday, the Merry Dairy team sprang into action to offer a bit of relief to powerless residents.

Normally a vehicle for cones, cakes and other tasty treats, the store’s ice cream truck was transformed into a mobile power station. Haley’s husband loaded up the generator and put it to good use, hitting the road early to offer phone-charging service to residents in the McKellar Park, Meadowlands and Alta Vista neighbourhoods.

Meanwhile, Haley offered space in the Merry Dairy’s large fridge and walk-in freezer – which she rented just last week after the store’s regular unit conked out during the recent heat wave – to residents whose perishable meats, produce and other goods were on the verge of spoiling.

She said about a dozen people stopped by to drop off boxes of meat and other items. Most were able to retrieve them the next day after power at their homes was restored.

As for the Merry Dairy’s phone-charging blitz, Haley said it seemed to generate more of a buzz for what the refrigerated vehicle represented rather than the service it was offering on Monday.

'Good news on a rough day'

“People were pretty excited, I think, just to see an ice cream truck,” she said with a chuckle, hypothesizing that most residents had already found alternate sources of juice for their devices by then. “It was some good news on a rough day for everybody cleaning up.”

Remembering how she felt in the aftermath of 2018’s horrific storm, Haley said she was happy to help others this time around.

“It broke my heart when I had to throw away all our product after the tornado,” she said.

Saturday’s deadly winds that reportedly reached 190 km/h were yet one more challenge for local businesses that have already been tested to their limits during the pandemic, Haley added.

The Merry Dairy shifted to selling ice cream to go and taking online orders to make ends meet during COVID-related shutdowns. 

Today, with restrictions lifted, in-store service about to enter peak season and catering back in full swing, business is better than ever, Haley said.

“We’re finally back to being a scoop shop, and it feels good,” she said. “It’s starting to feel a little bit more normal.”