|When the Ottawa River swelled to record levels this spring, IBEW members were there to help.
“Anytime there’s a call, we always help out,” said Toronto Local 636 Business Representative Mike Hall.
The end of April saw the river that forms part of the border between Ontario and Quebec rise to over 80 meters above sea level, higher than 2017’s “flood of the century,” reported the Ottawa Citizen.
According to Statistics Canada, 2,196 Ottawa dwellings were flooded or at risk of flooding. Across the river in Gatineau, 3,800 homes and cottages were affected. The western Quebec community of Pontiac was among the hardest hit, the agency said, with more than 20% of homes affected. More than 100 kilometres were flooded or put at risk, including 39 kilometres in Ottawa and 62 in Gatineau.
Fortunately, no IBEW members were known to be harmed or had their homes damaged, Hall said, but they likely knew someone who was.
“When something like this happens, you always know someone,” Hall said.
Ottawa Local 2228 Business Manager Paul Cameron also noted that he knew of no members who were personally impacted, but that several members had stepped up to help in the aftermath, including retirees.
About 470 Local 636 members work for the utility Hydro Ottawa, which offered those who wanted to volunteer with relief efforts a day off to help. Various groups went out, with one 12-member contingent going on May 2 to Dunrobin, about 40 kilometres west of the capital.
The crew worked with other volunteers to fill sandbags, eventually packing up about four tri-axle dump trucks. According to the CBC, more than a million sandbags were distributed in the Ottawa area. Other groups also helped build walls, while others volunteered closer to their neighbourhoods.
“I texted people and they started responding right away,” said Local 636 chief steward David Burns. “They were ready to volunteer whether they got the day off or not.”
The flooding also managed to wreak havoc in Bracebridge, about 400 kilometres west of Ottawa, where Local 636 members from the nearby city of Orillia pitched in to help with filling sandbags on April 27. Business Representative Tim Pitts noted that the city asked staff to volunteer but still paid their regular wages.
“It was a great team effort,” Pitts said.
Burns said, with waters expected to rise again, members were gearing up for additional volunteering as needed.
The sense of community service expressed during the flooding isn’t anything new for the local. Members helped out in the aftermath of a tornado that swept through a similar area in 2018, overturning cars and uprooting trees from roughly Dunrobin to Ottawa and Gatineau and injuring at least 30 people.
“We worked around the clock to put the power back on,” Burns said, referring to both paid employees and those volunteering their time. “Most everyone has stepped up in one way or another.”
Some have also traveled south to the U.S. to help during different disasters, Hall said. Most recently, members participated in a volunteer day with Hydro Ottawa and Ottawa Therapy Dogs at a local library.