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Power outages: time for some innovative thinking

Once or twice while we were living at Twin Pines on the shore of Taylor Lake we lost food, not because of power outages although they were a problem several times each summer. It was because the deep freezer failed, and we didn't notice because we kept enough in the freezer of the refrigerator to supply us for several days at a time. We only noticed the other appliance to be in trouble when we got our feet wet.

We could have saved stuff by getting ice at the local store and putting perishables in a picnic cooler.

When we heard of gift certificates for people in Toronto who let their perishables rot in their refrigerators or freezers, we were surprised, to put it politely. With the city coated by megatons of ice, what excuse could there be for letting your food rot? Those in apartments with balconies need only pack perishables in coolers or cardboard boxes, or wrapped in a blanket outside their doors. Those in houses could use any number of emergency methods with ice or snow or unheated outbuildings.

Some foods might have been swiped by human opportunists or eaten by racoons, but not too many would be venturing out during the cold snap.

After our first surprise at the lavishing of money on Torontonians, our mood turned darker, to anger and disgust at the government of the province digging into our pockets to reward those too lacking of common sense to protect their own food. What prompted this action? Are the premier and her advisors just acting without much logic, as lacking of considered response to the situation as the city dwellers? A nastier conjecture: is the minority government merely trying to buy votes to soften the public outrage over the wasting of our taxes by this pockmarked administration?

Martha and I lived the first decade of our lives without the luxury of electrical energy in our homes. Actually I was six when our farm was joined to the grid. The house Martha and I first called home wasn't wired until 1950. Before power arrived from Niagara Falls people had wet or dry cell batteries to power a radio or operate a flashlight. Our parents knew how to store food like the wild creatures, in root cellars or in buckets lowered into wells. Some of our neighbours stored blocks of ice cut from the Otter Creek or from ponds and stored in sawdust or straw to be used in iceboxes during the hot months.

Those ice boxes were crafted from fine wood, lined with zinc. They are still used as decorative storage chests by people who recognize the artisanship.

Housewives canned beef, pork, sausages to be stored in dry attics or cellars. Fruits and vegetables could be canned or dried, or stored below frost in root cellars.

City dwellers, before people like Tom Edison and Nicola Tesla learned how to harness electricity, had ice delivered by horse drawn wagons to their homes to be used in ice boxes. I remember lying awake early in the morning in an uncle's house in Detroit listening to the clop clop clopping of hooves up and down the streets delivering milk and ice. That was in 1934. Sister Gretta was a new-born, I was four years old. In the 1940s when I lived in St. Thomas with another uncle, horse drawn wagons still delivered ice, milk, and bread door to door.

The horses knew their routes, where to stop, and when to start as their driver climbed aboard. If needed there was an iron weight on a tether that could be used to anchor the horse's reins while the delivery man made his stop.

I don't suggest today's city dwellers could get through a multiday power outage with these methods. Innovation has erased them from our amenities.

On a positive note, the management and workers of Ontario Power performed Herculean tasks to restore power in relatively short time. Working on power lines is dangerous in good weather, but driving trucks on streets like skating rinks and working on lines and trees coated with ice and operating chainsaws to clear fallen trees is a whole different scene.

We thank them.



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