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Memories of that unforgettable ice storm in 1998

John Wilson, ancien maire de Champlain et responsable du plan d’urgence lors de la crise du verglas de 1998, se souvient très bien du travail qu’il a effectué pendant cette période et de l’inquiétude constante qu’il éprouvait pour les sinistrés. Les photos sur cette page démontrent la région de Casselman qui avait été atteinte par la tempête. Toutes les photos nous ont été fournies par Mme Aurore Crann de Casselman.

Editor’s note: We conclude our coverage of the 1998 ice storm with this inter- view with John Wilson, the for- mer mayor of Champlain who

“When I started I had three concerns,” Wilson said. “First: No casualties. Second: Protect the seniors. Third: Get the (power) grid back up as fast as possible.” The PRDP included representatives for public works and fire departments, police, ambulance and hydro services, the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, and other groups or individuals who could provide expertise. Wilson and the PRDP met each morning at first to review the issues of the day, what progress was made in dealing with the ef- fects of the ice storm, and setting priorities for the rest of the day. As the ice storm con- tinued and the work piled up, the meetings shifted to every second day as the various officials focused on dealing with problems and responsibilities. “I had a great staff,”Wilson recalled, “and I give kudos to the fire departments, who went around to check on the seniors and to make sure that anyone who needed to got to a shelter.” Wilson himself spent most of every day outside on tour of the region, to check on the progress in dealing with problems like getting the power back on for communities, manning the shelters for those who couldn’t stay at their homes for lack of heat, and other concerns. He met with senior government officials who came to tour the area, and also with Canadian Armed Forces representa- tives after the federal government assigned military units in Ontario and Québec and from Canadian Forces bases in neighbour- ing provinces to help with emergency relief efforts. For Wilson the passing days saw himfirst at a PRDPmeeting, then checking inwith the

Army liaison assigned to the area, contacting various council members to confirm that food and other needs for their constituents were covered, then checking withHydro and public works staff and other groups about the availability and working condition of emergency generators. “A typical day was going from place to place, making sure that everything was in place,” he said. “I equate it to an orchestra. Everybody in an orchestra knows what they need to do. They just need a conductor to bring the music together.” Unsung heroes Wilson is the first to note the efforts of many volunteers, both individuals and ser- vice groups, who provided critical assistance in their communities and rural neighbour- hoods during the ice storm. People like his friend, Charles Simpkins, “my go-to person”, who followed Wilson everywhere, serving both as stenographer, taking notes during meetings, and unofficial secretary, making sureWilson got to his next appointment on a very full schedule. “What I recall the most from those days are the volunteers,” Wilson said. “People all trying to help. All in all, it was a scary situa- tion, but with the co-operation of everyone, it all worked out.” Wilson described the 1998 ice stormas “a learning experience” for himself and others. Today he lives in Renfrew, Ontario. One of the first things hemade sure of after settling down in his new community was that he had a working portable generator at home. “When I hear a tree cracking or ice falling now,” he said, “it still brings backmemories.”

“After a few days you could see the trees start arching down,” he recalled, seeing again the weight of the ice pushing branches and even entire trees down towards the power lines. When the icy limbs touched, blue flashes of electricity raced through the ice, causing shorts. But the biggest risk, Wilson knew, was if the trees themselves broke un- der the weight of the ice, pulling down power lines and blocking roads. Emergency action On January 4, 1998, Wilson and the other mayors of Prescott-Russell gathered together for an emergency session. By mutual con- sent, he was named Chief Superintendent for the Prescott-Russell Disaster Program (PRDP). First order of business then was to review the available emergency plans for the region and its member municipalities.

took charge of the emergency operations on behalf of the United Counties of Prescott and Russell during the 1998 ice storm. GREGG CHAMBERLAIN As long as he lives John Wilson will never forget the 1998 ice storm. “It did not seem to be a very bad winter,” said Wilson. “We had some cold weather. Then it softened up, and the rain came down. I never dreamed it would go on for as long as it did.” In 1998, John Wilson was mayor of the newly-formed Township of Champlain. Prior to that, he had beenmayor and coun- cilor for the Township of West Hawkesbury before it amalgamated with neighboring municipalities. Now as the first mayor of the newly cre- ated Champlain Township, he watched the freezing rain fall. As a retired lineman with Ontario Hydro, Wilson could already imag- ine the trouble this weather would cause.

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