The Derecho that stormed into Stittsville bringing a community together

(This Ottawa Hydro crew on May 23. 2022, were working on Stittsville Main Street to restore power again. They were a welcome sight for all residents in the south end of town. Photos: Stittsville Central)

Where were you on May 21st as alerts rang loudly on cellphones and radio? A storm was on its way – a storm that was immeasurable in the havoc it would cause to our hometown of Stittsville. Our Main Street was closed for three days, no power, none or only sporadic cellphone or internet service for some, trees whipped out of the ground like matchsticks to land on homes, shingles and roofs flew off houses, but thankfully through all of this, no-one was severely injured or taken from us. Just as when the 1998 Ice Storm hit Stittsville, the compassion and generosity shown by the community as a whole stood out.

The storm arrived and lasted what seemed like an hour, but only minutes. Departing Brown’s that afternoon, the wind whipped through the front lobby of the store lifting items from the display shelves and sending them out the door. Marigold and other flower pots were flying through the parking lot. A scary moment. The storm hit some neighbourhoods worse than others – like Amberwood, Henry Goulbourn area and the majority of Stittsville south. It far surpassed the damage caused by the Ice Storm of ’98 and Western University researchers have recently indicated that the Ottawa May storm winds were equivalent to an EF-2 tornado.

(The trees tumbled like dice onto each other behind Crave Tacos and the Ultramar Gas Station on Stittsville Main Street.)

Generators were in demand and filled the silence of our now quiet and dark Stittsville. Owners generously reached out to neighbours to share their power to try to save food and run a few electronics. Main Street was eerily quiet for a Saturday night. The CardelRec Complex-Goulbourn was opened up as an emergency shelter that provided an opportunity for residents to charge devices, take a shower and be provided with food. Residents also brought and donated food to CardelRec to be shared with the community. Thanks to the Salvation Army, the Red Cross and City staff who gave of their time to help residents.

(Stittsville Main Street was closed between Liard to Carleton-Cathcart Streets due to hydro lines across Main Street. From this shot looking north, there was no indication of the damage that Stittsville residents faced just south of Carleton-Cathcart.)

Councillor Gower constantly provided updates to the community on the hydro situation, damage clean-up and more, keeping everyone who had access informed – much to the appreciation of all residents. We also tried to share these updates when our internet was operational.

Our Ottawa Firefighters, particularly the volunteer firefighters from Station 81, were constantly called out with various calls. They also drove and walked our streets checking for damage, assisting with the removal of trees and ensuring residents were safe. We are so fortunate to have first responders such as these men and women in Stittsville and the appreciation and thanks for what they did is large.

The Library staff had a heck of a time getting out of the building as Stittsville Main was closed right in front of the building due to downed power lines on the road. One long-time staff member who had worked on May 21st, told me that, “the staff had to walk all the way around the fire hall, out to Carleton-Cathcart, down Carleton-Cathcart and around to Liard and walk up that street to get to Stittsville Main. They also had to leave their vehicles behind and find other transportation home”.

Throughout it all there were some amazing good deeds done in the true Stittsville spirit that lives here. Without power, meals could not be made. Not wanting to lose their food, Chef Reggie of Scratch Box Gastro Truck generously provided meals from the end of his driveway, and once a generator was made available, teamed up with Dennis of Big D’s to provide meals. They told Stittsville Central that they provided well over 600 meals over the course of three days. Incredible! Crave Tacos stepped in as well, providing meals to the public until they ran out. Every business in Stittsville that could help in any way did!

The Stittsville Food Bank with notable damage to their building, but knowing that the Richmond Food Bank was in difficulty, invited our neighbours to the south to join them in Stittsville to offer fruit, vegetables, dairy products and meat to the residents of Stittsville, Richmond, and Munster who were in need. Communities coming together to help each other.

(The Stittsville Food Bank lost part of their building side and roof. Photo: Stittsville Food Bank)

As residents were told to stay home and stay safe, we personally did not venture far only to help neighbours who needed water and to bring them cooked meals (we were fortunate in that we already owned a generator) and to purchase gas. During our short outings, we saw neighbours helping neighbours clearing trees and debris. We also spent hours chain-sawing trees for an elderly friend whose exits were blocked. It was and still is a stressful time for many, so we decided not to infringe by taking photos without permission.

In 1978, my parents planted two red maples on their new property across from our old home. They are now 60 feet or more in height, I was relieved that they withstood the storm, the backyard trees did not fare as well with tops ripped off of many. Neighbours lost trees that had stood in their place for well over 50 years. Many of the grand pines of Alexander Grove fell to the ground or were piled on each other. The Denzil Graham scoreboard, that many fundraised for in the late 1960s, also suffered its loss. Our village tree canopy has certainly diminished.

As Stittsville recovers and is returning to some semblance of normal life, you can still hear the chainsaws and hammering nearby. Cranes still can be seen in the air lifting trees out of yards. Neighbours are still helping neighbours.

Through this havoc, if there is one characteristic that we can count on and be proud of – we can all be thankful for our strong community, a community that again came together to help each other while making long-lasting friendships and perhaps some painful memories – from where were you on May 21st, 2022 when the Derecho hit Stittsville?

(Amid the tangle of downed trees and branches there is always beauty. We got this great shot of our two favourite Goldfinches coming for their regular afternoon drink at our backyard birdbath on May 21st and they continue to do so.)

The Ottawa Police Service was ever present to keep us safe during those dark nights and to ensure that traffic was directed away from downed wires. Thank you.

We can’t thank Ottawa Hydro enough for how diligently and quickly they have brought Stittsville back online in light of the wide swath of damage they dealt with, not only here, but across Ottawa. But we may still experience the odd power outage as crews work to ensure the system has returned to full service. Check out this link to follow Hydro Ottawa and possible outages.

While storm recovery efforts are progressing every day by the fabulous City crews who have worked tirelessly, you may still have questions about the cleanup of storm debris and more. Find answers to common questions here: https://bit.ly/3MG2NJW and learn more about the cleanup efforts.

Please be patient.

Don Joyce shared his drone video with Stittsville Central of the aftermath of the May 21st Derecho and a crew removing a large tree using a crane in the Amberwood neighbourhood. Quite a capture by Don and we thank you for sharing with us and the community – https://youtu.be/w6jy1VZuOVs.


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