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.”