Mike Cuddy and Alain Nolet, journeyman linemen with the utility, said there were still about 60,000 people in the dark by the time they arrived in their hydro trucks in Dundas on Dec. 22.
“As we got close to the Vaughan area, we noticed the sky wasn't lit up like it normally is in Toronto,” Nolet said Monday. “So it gave you that eerie feeling that something was going on.”
“You look at the trees and you could see the glare of ice on all the branches,” Cuddy said, and with light of the moon, it created a unforgettable sight.
“As bad as it was there, that was really (beautiful.)”
Each morning they were there – they returned Dec. 28 – they would gather at Hydro One in Dundas, where they would get their assignments for their shifts, which lasted as long as 16 hours. Then they headed out with their “bird dog” – a local guide who not only knew the area, but the electrical grid.
The first priority was re-routing power around damaged lines so the main feeder stations were up and running. Then the focus was on repairing lines feeding into neighbourhoods then individual streets.
“We started with the big picture, restored the stations, then went to the side streets … and then down to single houses,” Nolet said. “Toward the end, we were working house-to-house, making sure everything was good and safe before we plugged them in.
“The last two days, that's all we did.”
It was when they were working on restoring power to homes that they saw some heartwarming cases of residents pulling together during a crisis.
“People were trying to help each other out, that's what I saw,” Nolet said. “One person had a generator and would heat his house for a bit and then he would lend his generator to a neighbour. It was kind of nice to see that.”
As well as helping each other, the residents made sure the hydro workers fell appreciated. In addition to applause and plenty of hot coffee and food, one person went a little further.
“One of the ladies – she's originally from Sudbury -- came out of her house at seven in the morning when she saw the Sudbury Hydro trucks,” Cuddy said. “Come one o'clock when we turned her power on – it was a whole street where we were turning the power back on -- I guess she went door-to-door to all her neighbours and put together gift baskets for us. So she and her kids came out with two great big gift baskets for us full of goodies.”
Despite being without power for as much as five days, Nolet said they didn't witness any of the anger that some directed toward Toronto Hydro.
“Everyone was in pretty good spirits (despite) all the chaos that was going on,” he said. “Nobody came at us angry or anything like that. They knew we had come out to do a job and were giving us a thumbs up to help keep us going.”
Brian McMillan, GSU's vice-president of distribution, said he put out a call for volunteers to head south and ended up sending five of their 19 lineman. An impressive response, he said, considering eight were on vacation and some were needed in Sudbury in case of emergency.
“So we kept a real skeleton crew around here for Christmas,” McMillan said.
While there, Cuddy and Nolet estimate they helped restore power to between 2,000 and 4,000 homes. With power restored to all but a few hundred homes Monday afternoon, the remaining two Sudbury crew members should be back in a day or so.