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It’s Back to Black

Illustration by Sasha Plotnikova/Torontoist.

Everyone has a story for that night when the lights went out.
It has now been six years since the Northeast Blackout of 2003, when on August 14, 2003, about fifty million people in Ontario and the eastern United States unexpectedly lost their power and were forced to quickly adapt without the amenity of electricity.
For Christopher Smith, a manager at La Palette, the blackout fell on his birthday, and he felt lucky to celebrate under a “sky full of stars.”
Torontoist spoke briefly with Christopher before sitting down with La Palette’s co-owner Shamez Amlani, one of the organizers of the upcoming Blackout Party on Ossington Avenue on Friday, August 14.

For Amlani, the event “showed that the sense of community is just under the surface…you got to see glimpses of what Toronto can be.”
Last year Amlani, one of the co-founders of Streets are for People, along with nine other community groups, organized a massive party in celebration of the fifth anniversary of the Toronto blackout. It was a momentous evening, which culminated with an impromptu parade at Bloor and Spadina that, for a brief moment, turned the intersection into a public square.
This year’s event is once again organized by a broad coalition of various groups coming together to, as Amlani puts it, find the “collective spirit that we’re all in this together.”
“The Blackout showed us to look at our spaces and how they serve us better. Maybe [an intersection] should be a public space for a moment. Picture a piazza in Italy. Picture the streets being given back to the people.”

Yonge Street gone dark in 2003, at Wellesley Street. Photo by Marc Lostracco.

Three parties are planned to celebrate the anniversary of the blackout. The first (the aforementioned Blackout on Ossington Avenue) takes place on Friday between Dundas Street and Queen Street, starting from 8 p.m. with twenty-eight venues, buskers, live acoustic music, parking meter parties (you pay the parking meter and create your own mini-party), all under candlelight. There will also apparently be a not-to-be-missed “big surprise” at 10 p.m.
The second party is a group bike ride organized by Critical Mass, meeting at the Bloor and Spadina intersection at 8:45 p.m.
The third party is described as “Circus geeks and dance freaks,” meeting at the northwest end of Trinity Bellwoods Park at 9 p.m. for a copious dance party and drum circle in the open air.
The celebrations will extend over the weekend with a special Pedestrian Sundays event, Kensington Market’s pedestrian-only street day, on Sunday, August 16.
The Ossington shindig is just one example of individuals commemorating a day that has also been viewed as a failure of government to respond to an emergency. Six years after the blackout hit, it is unclear if Ontario is better prepared for another crisis of that nature.

Before and after image of the 2003 blackout courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Amlani sees it as all the more reason to celebrate the good will that came out of that magical night. “All of a sudden, people had superhero capes under their clothing…we wanted to take care of each other.”
“See what happens when you get out of the box, take a break from the norm?” he adds. “If you can’t come, throw a party of your own.”
For some, the blackout was just an opportunity for calm and quiet and an escape from our hypersonically paced existence, as friends and neighbours gathered, pooled resources, and took care of each other. However, Amlani recognizes the blackout and its anniversary are “also an excuse to party. Bottom line: let’s have fun.”


  • http://undefined montauk

    I was living in my pint-sized rural town at the time, where blackouts are exceedingly common, every business has a power generator, and flashlights outnumber fire extinguishers. Also, stars make a standard nightly appearance. We all found it really amusing when we heard reports that Torontonians were having some kind of “haaaands, touching hands, reeeeaching out, touching me, touching you” experience.
    There’s such self-imposed loneliness here. The majority of people want to connect but nobody wants to be that weird guy. Or that weird guy’s new friend. We’re like heterosexual guys hugging.

  • http://undefined Lu Galasso

    I loved the blackout. That’s what I also love the recent tradition of the city turning out their lights for an hour. You get to see the stars and you really get see a different side of the city. It makes me wish that some days I could go back to before the technological revolution where we were all forced to enjoy each others company face to face and enjoy the outdoors instead of sitting behind computer screens
    Lu Galasso

  • Marc Lostracco

    That’s the fourth independent Neil Diamond reference I’ve heard today. Are the planets aligning or something?

  • tapesonthefloor

    I managed to direct traffic on a major artery and read by candlelight under the stars in the SAME DAY.
    Also, @montauk: did you just make eye contact with me? I’m going to look at my shoes now.

  • mccool

    “that weird guy” is amazing.

  • http://undefined montauk

    He’s actually some waiter from Calgary. Maybe that’s the meaning of life, you know? Digging deep and finding one’s inner waiter from Calgary. Mine’s named Felonius P. Tappington, and he wants to kiss the hand of everyone in this thread.

  • http://undefined Svend

    I remember getting free ice cream at the local Hasty Market because it was all melting.
    Thinking back, maybe he was that weird guy and thought my name was Hans??

  • http://undefined Christopher Merlot

    I lived in Montreal during the ice storm about 10 years ago and here during the blackout–these large scale power outages are a lot more fun during summer months, believe me. Though both times I was able to read Poe by candlelight.

  • http://undefined Gauldar

    I was 15 minutes into my shift when I worked at Canada’s Wonderland. We had a couple of people up on the Extreme Skyflyer, and because there was no power we couldn’t bring the lift up to get them down. They we’re pretty calm about it, and we made sure we had plenty of water until we had the special step ladder to get them out of the harness. From where we we’re we could see the people stuck on the Top Gun. For the rest of the shift it was ecology work for everyone, then drove back to my friends place and we shared a tub of discount ice cream.