Scenes from the 2003 Blackout

august 14 2003 - toronto blackout

Ten years ago today, at 4:11 p.m. EDT, the power went out through much of the northeastern U.S. and southeastern Canada. I was five weeks into my new job as a tech evangelist at Tucows, located in Accordion City’s Liberty Village neighbourhood. I lived at Queen and Spadina at the time, so work was a leisurely twenty-minute bike commute for me. This would come in particularly handy that day.

When the power went out, there was a collective groan let out by Tucows’ hundred and twenty or so employees. Liberty Village’s aging electrical infrastructure was prone to power outages in those days — back then, the condo projects hadn’t yet bloomed in the area — and it was assumed that this was another “brown-out” and that power would be back in ten minutes.

I figured that it would be a good time to get away from the computer, stretch, and perhaps get a nice cold drink from the convenience store. When I stepped out onto King Street West, it became quite clear to me that the power wasn’t just out in our building. The traffic lights were out of commission and the streetcars were stopped dead in their tracks, literally.

A few of my coworkers went to their cars in the parking lot and tuned into news radio. They were already announcing that the power just wasn’t out city-wide, but in several cities. One guy, a Star Wars fan took a line from The Phantom Menace and quipped “A power disruption could mean only one thing: invasion.” Hey, 9/11 was just shy of two years prior.

We were all told to go home. It was an easy trip for me: I lived pretty close by, and on my bike, I whizzed past the stalled traffic. Along the way, I took some photos with my ever-present digital camera. Remember, this was 2003, when cameras were still a new feature on mobile phones, and they were terrible. I kept a funky-looking Nikon Coolpix SQ strapped to my belt most of the time.

Along the way home, biking east on Queen Street West, I passed by a hairstylist, who finished working on their customers outside, where there was enough light:

01 - haircut

With the traffic lights out and subways and streetcars disabled, traffic ground to a halt. A couple of hours later, there would be a number of cars ditched on the streets, some because their drivers decided to stay put or walk home, some because they ran out of gas while idling for a really long time on near-empty tanks:

02 - traffic

The streets were pretty crowded with people making their way home on foot. A number of convenience stores were giving away their ice cream:

03 - pedestrians

In my neighbourhood, many people took the opportunity to hang out on their porches with flashlights and battery-powered radios tuned to the news, girding themselves for the darkness that would soon follow:

04 - porch

This blog was also around back during the blackout, and I wrote about it in an article titled It’s the Post-Electrical Age!, Part 1. I never got around to Part 2, and perhaps I should.

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