Salt Spring BC Hydro employees say a few words to a cheering crowd at the Salt Spring Blowdown Brunch at the Farmers’ Institute on Jan. 1. From left are Stefan Peters, Rene Thibault, Ian Fernandes and Josh Rosborough. (Gail Sjuberg/Gulf Islands Driftwood)

Salt Spring Stands Tall With Blowdown Brunch

People shared storm-experience stories as they gathered around tables of donated food, hugged their friends and neighbours and applauded those who helped

  • Jan. 1, 2019 2:00 p.m.

Special from the Gulf Islands Driftwood

Twelve days after a vicious wind storm tore through B.C.’s south coast, its Salt Spring Island victims got together to celebrate.

They gave thanks to paid and volunteer emergency service providers, to friends and neighbours — especially those with chainsaws — and to local businesses that stepped up to fill huge gaps left when the power went out on the afternoon of Dec. 20 and could not be quickly restored.

RELATED: More than 300,000 without power at one point due to B.C. windstorm

RELATED: Final BC Hydro customers affected by windstorm should have power Jan. 1

“This was exactly what we envisioned,” said Marilyn Guille, one of the central organizers of the Salt Spring Blowdown Brunch, which saw several hundred people stream through the Farmers’ Institute doors during the four-hour event.

People shared storm-experience stories as they gathered around tables of donated food, hugged their friends and neighbours, applauded as names of helping groups and businesses were read out, and wrote words of thanks on roll-end paper spread out on other tables. They bid on about 30 silent auction items and the K-Tones provided music in between addresses from the mic.

Stefan Mitchell, who heads the Ganges BC Hydro office, said to a cheering crowd, “Thanks so much to everyone, like the firefighters, the flaggers, the tree guys, the paramedics, office staff, the community in general and the restaurants that really stood up … . Over Christmas a lot of people missed their holidays.”

“Including you!” shouted someone in the hall.

“It was definitely an experience, but the community pulled together and we got ‘er done,” said BC Hydro worker Rene Thibault.

Quarry Drive resident Stan Garrod said he really liked the “slogan” that had appeared in the past few days that epitomized the way people and resources worked together: “We were without electricity but not without power!”

It was also frequently pointed out that “no one died” as a result of the storm or its aftermath, which is hard to believe considering the dangerous conditions of both Dec. 20 and in the ensuing days. At the same time, a number of people on Sunday said they were eager to participate in a more formal debrief session to discuss how the island could be better prepared for the next natural disaster. Emergency responders will hold a detailed debrief session and a whole-community town hall is also in the works.

Celebration was not the only theme of the day, however.

The loss of Edwina Badan’s Mount Belcher home to a Dec. 23 fire was recounted, with Salt Spring Fire Rescue’s giant fundraising boot used to collect funds and goods for herself and her family. Some of the silent auction funds will be directed to Badan as well.

The tragedy of how the Gulf Islands Secondary School rowing club lost over half of their boats kept on a St. Mary Lake property was related by Guille, school board chair Rob Pingle and rowing team students, who are willing to do work with the proceeds donated to their boat-replacement cause. The team’s first goal is to raise $5,000.

“That’s a lot of money, and that just gets us on our feet,” said Pingle.

New Salt Spring Therapeutic Riding Association facilities on Upper Ganges Road were also heavily damaged and will need funds for rehabilitation.

According to the Salt Spring Island Emergency Program, the whole island was without hydro power for about seven hours following the storm, with the hospital relying on generators to run during that period.

Service was restored to approximately 85 per cent of customers by Dec. 27 at noon. The remaining original outages were eliminated by Dec. 31. Mitchell said workers are still repairing damage in a number of areas even if power has been restored.

Recovery and warming centres were set up by the Salt Spring Island Emergency Program each day from Dec. 22 to Dec. 30, first at the Salt Spring Seniors Centre and then at the Salt Spring Public Library. An emergency reception centre was also opened at the Legion on the evening of Dec. 20 for people who were unable to get home due to impassable roads.

A number of roads were closed for several days or traffic restricted while clean-up and rehabilitation occurred. Some areas are still not fully clear of debris.

At the peak of electricity restoration efforts, more than 900 personnel, including contractor crews from Alberta and the East Coast, were employed in the recovery on the south coast.

Numerous households remain without telephone, internet and cable TV service.

– By Gail Sjuberg

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Bird contacting wires causes massive Port Hardy power outage

The power outage started at 1:18 p.m. and lasted until 3:00 p.m.

Port Hardy Salvation Army serving lunch daily during pandemic

Centre is closed to the public, but overnight shelter, daily lunch and one-on-one services available

Port Hardy arena waiting for almost three million in grant funds needed for maintenance

The funds will be going towards upgrades to the arena and the lobby entrance.

Seniors housing in Port Hardy moves ahead with rezoning application

North Island seniors able to “age in place” in new facility, currently getting funding and permits

Port McNeill curling club will be getting a brand new paint job, thanks to residents

‘The generosity of this community never ceases to amaze me!’

If Trudeau won’t stand up to Trump, how will regular people: Singh

Trudeau did not directly answer a question about Trump’s actions amid protests

22 new COVID-19 test-positives, one death following days of low case counts in B.C.

Health officials urged British Columbians to ‘stand together while staying apart’

John Horgan says COVID-19 restrictions won’t be eased regionally

B.C. Liberals urge ‘tailored’ response based on infections

Feds get failing grade for lack of action plan on anniversary of MMIWG report

‘Instead of a National Action Plan, we have been left with a Lack-of-Action Plan’

Search and rescue crews help locate 62-year-old Nanoose Bay mountain biker

RCMP: Man got lost on trail and did right thing by calling for assistance

B.C. ranchers, lodge operators say Indigenous land title shuts them out

Tsilhqot’in jurisdiction affects grazing, access to private property

As two B.C. offices see outbreaks, Dr. Henry warns tests don’t replace other measures

Physical distancing, PPE and sanitizing remain key to reduce COVID-19 spread

Greater Victoria drive-thru window smashed after man receives burger without mustard

Greater Victoria Wendy’s staff call police after man allegedly rips Plexiglas barrier off window

Murder charge upgraded in George Floyd case, 3 other cops charged

Floyd’s family and protesters have repeatedly called for criminal charges against all four officers

Most Read