East of Ottawa, businesses and residents are picking up the pieces after devastating storm

storm
This vineyard east of Ottawa is only one of the businesses navigating the destructive aftermath of Saturday's extreme weather.

Days after heavy winds toppled hydro poles and flattened trees and buildings across eastern Ontario, power utilities were still taking stock of the carnage from Orleans to beyond Hawkesbury. 

Some of the damage to the hydro grid in Navan, Alfred, Plantagenet and the surrounding area remained under investigation as of Thursday afternoon, while social media channels filled up with photos of the destruction – and offers of help.

Little Ray’s Nature Centre in Sarsfield reported damage to some sheds, fencing, a roof and one animal habitat (with all animals safe and accounted for) while, less than a kilometre away, the steeple of Saint Hugues Parish lay in pieces upside down in the church’s parking lot.

“I saw crews start cleaning at 7 a.m. and by the end of the day they had cleared one side of one street,” said Cumberland Councillor Catherine Kitts, whose ward includes Navan, Sarsfield, parts of Orleans and other affected communities. “It’s not for lack of effort. Debris is piled up to seven feet tall on the side of the road.”

Across the area, businesses and farms have been working around the clock to organize support, clean up and try to get life back to normal.

Of course, there’s a unique challenge in doing all that when you work where you live. Just ask Simone Williams of Queenswood Stables, just a few minutes west of Navan.

“There was quite a lot of property damage, though not too much to the farm buildings,” she said. “There are trees going through the house, through the roof and walls.”

Williams and her team are managing the delicate task of cleaning up the property while avoiding uprooted century-old trees precariously balanced at 45-degree angles overhead. Staff were watering horses by hand as power was still out and Williams wanted to preserve what little diesel fuel was left to run the generator sparingly and power the tractor for cleanup operations.

“We’ve got lots of bookings to try and reschedule,” she said. “We’re making every effort to make the property safe. Thankfully, there was no loss of life.”

Despite the damage and the busyness in trying to clean it all up, Williams said their indoor riding arena was relatively unscathed and she was offering up space to other farmers who needed places to store hay.

Five kilometres south of Queenswood, Isabel Syme was hard at work preparing a similarly powerless Domaine Perrault for a weekend wedding.

Syme, who manages events at the vineyard, said their event tent’s steel beams were bent by the high winds. In addition, the vineyard’s storage barn collapsed and the roof to a dairy barn was torn off. 

damage
Isabel Syme has been busy with the aftermath of the storm as event manager at a vineyard,

Worst of all, up to half of their vines – as many as three acres of grapes – were either blown away or crushed by fallen trees.

“One large tree fell on 30 plants and destroyed them,” said Syme. “Hopefully, they will be OK next year.”

Syme hopes to have operations back to normal in the next couple of weeks, with repairs to the barn likely to take months. A tent rental was expected to arrive just in time to keep the wedding on track. She credits the strong response from family and friends in helping to get business back to normal, noting that more than 20 people were onsite to assist on the Monday following the storm.

Even in the midst of challenge, people found ways to give back. Wendover’s Papanack Zoo was the recipient of food that otherwise would have gone to waste, along with plenty of volunteer help to tidy up damage to the property. A call from L’Orignal Packing for a powerful generator to keep the commercial fridges running and prevent the meat from spoiling was answered within a day.

“The first few days we were heads down focused on basic necessities,” added Councillor Kitts. “Now that we have a better idea of the damage, I’m turning my attention to what is available in terms of disaster relief funding, how the province will help and anything we can do for the agricultural community.”

A relief fund set up by Amanda Watson of Country Moments Spa & Wellness Centre on GoFundMe to help local farmers raised over $5,000 in a day. 

Damage was less extensive in the Hawkesbury area, with power restored to most businesses and homes within a couple of days. The municipality reported just over 35 individuals popping into the Robert Hartley Sports Complex for a shower. Cleanup is expected to last at least one more week.