Here in Canada it’s Thanksgiving Monday, when we Canucks consume turkey (or tofurkey, depending on preference), mashed potatoes, and pumpkin pie a month earlier than our southern neighbours, although they also have a long weekend, thanks to Columbus Day. It’s a good thing the featured meat of this Canadian holiday isn’t roast beef, as across the country Canadians have been alarmed to hear that thousands of pounds of beef contaminated with e-coli at a Brooks, Alberta processing plant has been sold (and consumed) across the country in the last month. I don’t know what is most disturbing about this story as it unfolds – that U.S. inspectors were the first to raise the alarm, or that for two weeks after this alarm was raised Canadians were assured by our government that the meat was safe, or that the Minister of Agriculture Gerry Ritz has been playing duck and cover, avoiding the press and the opposition in the House of Commons. Meanwhile, members of the Harper government who were in the House responded to any questions from opposition MPs with a completely unrelated and scripted message about how the NDP are pushing a “job-killing carbon tax“. Weird and worrying, but not that surprising a response from the current federal government; they are so focused on pushing their own (or more specifically Stephen Harper’s) ideological agenda forward that actually governing the country, and responding to Canadian’s concerns, comes a distant second.
Here in our corner of northwestern Ontario we had an unexpected start to our long weekend. Due to an early winter storm, we lost power Thursday at 3:00 pm and didn’t get it back until Friday around suppertime. It wasn’t clear at any point in the power outage when hydro would actually be restored, as Hydro One kept promising, and then postponing, the time it would be back online. It was a very good experience – a trial run – for coping without the grid. Many of us who are aware of climate change, and the increasingly extreme weather it’s going to bring in coming years (and most governments’ completely inadequate preparations), also know that everyone in our highly urbanized, grid-dependent society is going to need to get used to disruptions of all kinds in our way of life, including power outages.
We learned a few things from this experience:
- We need to have a back-up generator (and five gallons of fuel) that we can use during emergencies to run our pellet stove occasionally, to keep the temperature inside the house up, our freezer cold, and our water lines from freezing. Until last year we heated much of our house with a wood stove, but exchanged it for a pellet stove (for a number of different reasons which I won’t go into now). In general we are pleased with the pellet stove, but have been saying since we got it that we really should have a back-up in case of a power outage. Now, a generator is top of our list of things to be purchased.
- It’s useful to have camping equipment. We were pleased to find out how convenient our camping stoves are; we have a very light one that we use for canoe camping and a larger two-burner Coleman stove for car camping; they were both very useful. Life is so much easier to cope with after a cup of hot tea (or coffee), especially first thing in the morning.
- Every household should have a corded telephone on hand for emergencies. It was surprising to us how many people in our community didn’t have one. Cell phones worked for about 8 hours after the power outage, but then the towers ran out of back up battery power so the only way to contact people, other than in person, was by plugging in an old-fashioned telephone with a cord.
- Wind-up/solar radios are only useful if the local radio stations are still broadcasting. We were quite proud to dust off our solar radio, only to find we couldn’t get any channels. This may not be a problem in less remote areas.
- It’s as important to be connected to your community as it is to be connected to the grid. We spent time with friends who had a wood stove (and noted, for future reference, that they also have a propane oven), had friends bring over their generator to our place when it looked like the outage was going to last a second night, and shared our camping stove cuisine.
On this Thanksgiving weekend, I can say that I am thankful for the opportunity this power outage provided. As well as some practical lessons, my husband and I were reminded that we are more resilient than we realized. Also, we are part of a community of good people who are not only resilient as well, but are a whole lot of fun to spend time with.
In conclusion, if you are Canadian, Happy Thanksgiving! / Bonne action de grâce! And for those of you celebrating Columbus Day (and all the rest of us in North America), here’s something to consider: Christopher Columbus arrived as an immigrant to “the New World.” He did not “discover” America.
And a now for a bit of Thanksgiving fun from Gloria Gobbler, for the vegetarians out there: