Written by  //  January 22, 1998  //  Peter Trent, Wednesday Night Authors  //  Comments Off on COMMUNITY WARMTH DE-ICES WESTMOUNT, by Peter Trent









During one of my recent Westmount walkabouts, I ventured into Summit Park to get an idea of tree damage from the ice storm. I quickly discovered that trees growing close together, branches intermingling, suffered less damage. Similarly, a cedar without any nearby companions was usually bent double; a cedar growing in the serried ranks of a hedge stayed a ramrod straight. So such mutual support stopped a heavy coating of ice from breaking their backs: perhaps an apt arboreal metaphor for a closely-knit community like Westmount and how neighbourliness allowed us to get through the worst of the ice storm without buckling under.
What our trees got was a radical pruning, by God. (Or a radical pruning by God?) We will live for years with the effect of the ice storm on our vegetation. But we will benefit from the solidifying of our community.
Weird things happened, though. During the blackout, I could not rid myself of the habit of pointlessly turning on the light switch each time I went into the bathroom. When the power came back on, I automatically reached for a flashlight before opening the bathroom door. How quickly and yet how slowly our reflexes adapt to changing conditions.
And I still can’t get used to the sight of bulldozers in our streets, their caterpillar tracks chewing up asphalt, shearing off great blocks of frozen snow as if they were ice floes grinding over one another in the Antarctic.
Anther unusual sight was to see soldiers clearing Sherbrooke Street of branches. If only Quebec had permitted it, the military could have given much more sophisticated support than just manual labour. The image of Van Doos hacking away at trees with blunt machetes stays in my mind.
Bernard “Black Belt” Landry, reaching for a bizarre metaphor, suggested we use judo in dealing with the storm. He wants to redirect the negative economic blows inflicted by the power blackout in a positive direction: the repairs and rebuilding will inject lots of money in the economy. Well, then, maybe Hydro-Quebec should continue to underbuild its transmission system, so we can reap the economic benefits of putting the Hydro Humpty-Dumpty together again each time we have an ice storm. But, according to a Hydro-Quebec expert, an ice storm of this intensity occurs once every 10,000 years. Sure. And I’ve got an iced-up bridge over the St Laurent I want to sell you.
Of course, the story last week was not just about deforestation and underengineering: here in Westmount, as in most smaller communities, an army of volunteers sprung up to help those less fortunate. When Westmount still had power, I invited people from outside our city to come to our shelters. Councillor Cynthia Lulham became the major-domo of the Victoria Hall shelter, and Councillor Karen Marks ran the shelter that the Shaar Hashomayim so generously made available. Next week, Councillor Lulham will write about her experience and share shelter stories with you.

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