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When Toronto declared war on snow and called in the army

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“Here’s how it looks in Toronto tonight,” reported Lorne Saxberg to CBC viewers on Jan. 2, 1999. 

“The bright lights of Yonge Street, lost in the blowing snow,” he continued.

Toronto was being hit by a storm that had made its way up from the U.S., stopping first in the Windsor, Ont., area. There, the heavy snowfall, cold temperatures and high winds had created dangerous walking and driving conditions.  

Earlier in the broadcast, Environment Canada’s Ela Ros had predicted the storm would be “one of the worst in the Toronto area,” explaining that “very cold air coming from the north is fighting with the very warm air coming from the south … the combination of it makes the storm really strong.”

As Toronto continued to dig out from under a snowfall from Jan. 2, another overnight storm added to the mounting snowbanks and frustration. 1:25

But that wasn’t the worst of it. The following weekend — as Toronto was still trying to get rid of the 40 centimetres that had been dumped during that first storm — another overnight snowfall added to the mess.

Storm after storm

“People in southern Ontario are digging out this weekend, the CBC’s Simon Dingley reported. 

One of the five snowmelters in use in Toronto one week after the first snowfall of 1999. (Saturday Report/CBC Archives)

“Between 10 and 15 cm of snow hit the Toronto area, nothing compared to last weekend, when the city was walloped by almost 40 centimetres,” he continued.

And frustration was building along with the piles of snow.

“The side roads, the big roads [are] still not clean yet,” said one resident, as he paused during shoveling.

“This weekend more than 1,800 City of Toronto workers were called out to clear the roads,” using salt and sand, Dingley said. Add to that 800 vehicles, including five snow-melters, and the financial cost was adding up — more than 25 per cent of the snow removal budget had been used so far.

Before the week was out, Toronto was hit by another monster storm from the south.  

‘Toronto just can’t cope’

“The city is snowed in, the people, moving out.” 0:57

“Tonight, the army moves in. Another blizzard hits southern Ontario, and Toronto just can’t cope,” The National told viewers at the start of the broadcast on the night of Jan. 14, 1999. 

That day, a monster storm had begun to plow its way across Ontario toward Quebec, dropping at least 25 centimetres of snow, and possibly twice that in some areas.  

The storm also came with extremely cold temperatures, and brutal winds. And in Toronto, 400 soldiers also arrived from Petawawa, with another 800 reported to be on standby.  

“Toronto the windy, the frigid and tonight, the abandoned,” reported Adrienne Arsenault. 

CBC reporter Adrienne Arsenault on the progress of the Jan. 14, 1999 storm. (The National/CBC Archives)

With the incoming storm, offices shut down and “the mass exodus home began early in the afternoon.”

And, she reported, some of the city’s remaining residents were expressing the scorn “the rest of the country is probably thinking.”

“I’ve seen worse in Montreal, I can’t believe this city can’t get it together,” commented one driver. 

One man took it further, suggesting “this might an interesting kind of precursor to the Y2K kind of projection that everything’s going to fall apart, so, if we can’t survive this, what’s it going to be like if it really breaks down?”

The most snow in quite a while

In the previous 11 days, Arsenault summed up, Toronto had already received more than 100 centimetres of snow, and as it was expected to keep falling overnight, this could be “the snowiest January in 200 years.”

In an interview with The National, Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman told Peter Mansbridge that his biggest worry was that “when the snow melts, which could be on the weekend, we could have a lot of flooding.” 

A Toronto resident shovels more on to the growing pile of snow, on Jan. 15, 1999. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

When asked about calling in the army, Lastman said they were working on cleaning the catch basins and shovelling around fire hydrants. 

He was also full of admiration for the capabilities of the Bison armoured vehicles.

“They’re fantastic, those things go where no car can go,” he said.

But what a difference a day makes. And the help of an army. 

‘Everything is well under control’

By the next day, on Jan. 15, 1999, the mayor was confident that the worst was over. There would be no further requests for military help.

There’s finally light at the end of the snow tunnel, as the weather is expected to hold, and help clearing what has fallen has arrived. 1:10

“I’m not prepared to declare an emergency, because everything is well under control,” he told reporters. 

And early in the day, he toured the Downsview base. There he met the troops, and had “a little fun,” riding in one of the Bison armoured vehicles.

Because the weather was expected to hold and not warm up too much, the fear of flooding was receding. 

Adam Vaughan, then a CBC reporter, explained that the army reservists were no longer needed to clear the sewer grates. 

The city’s priority was now to get the snow off the streets and out of the city, and they were put to work clearing sidewalks and bus shelters.

The city’s call, Vaughan reported, for assistance from truck drivers and construction companies, had been met. Help was now arriving from as far away as Prince Edward Island. 

Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman enjoys a ride on an army vehicle on Jan. 15, 1999. (CBC Evening News/CBC Archives)
 

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Future of Ottawa: Chefs with Kathryn Ferries

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Kat Ferries on the future of chefs, or read posts from Quinn Taylor on bars or Justin Champagne on fine dining.

Kat Ferries is Sous-Chef at Stofa Restaurant and a 2020 San Pellegrino North American Young Chef Social Responsibility Award Winner.

Apt613: What is the current landscape for chefs in Ottawa?

Kat Ferries: There is such great talent in Ottawa with so many chefs either being from here originally or have returned after traveling and have since opened some incredible restaurants. Many chefs have focused menus that really highlight their strengths, their heritage, and their passion for food. Dominique Dufour of Gray Jay, Marc Doiron of Town/Citizen, Steve Wall of Supply & Demand, Daniela Manrique Lucca of The Soca Kitchen, and so many more are all cooking up beautiful and delicious food in this city.

If you care to make a prediction… Where is the food industry in Ottawa going for chefs in 2021?

The industry right now is, unfortunately, in a really tough spot. The pandemic has been so devastating on mental, physical and emotional levels for so many and I know that many of my friends in this industry are burning out. There are many discussions happening on work/life balance and what is healthy for everyone. Some may never return to the long, hard hours we are expected to put in day after day and instead opt for a more flexible schedule or hire more staff to lighten the load on everyone, with some even leaving the industry indefinitely. Some may throw themselves back into this industry 10x as hard and create some of the best restaurants and concepts we’ve yet to see. I think all that will happen after the pandemic though.

For this year, it’s mostly about survival and finding happiness in creating what we can in the spaces we have while following all the laws and guidelines from public health officials. I think we will see more chefs creating experiences for guests that we otherwise wouldn’t have: think pop-ups, virtual dinner clubs, cocktail seminars, collabs, etc.

Where in your wildest dreams could the Ottawa culinary community grow in your lifetime?

I would love to see the Ottawa community support more small, local restaurants so our streets are bustling late into the nights like they are in Montreal, New York, or Europe. Having a local restaurant to frequent should be so much more commonplace, where you can enjoy a night out more often than just Friday or Saturday night. I would also love to see many more of our local chefs highlighted for the amazing food they create!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

Turning all our restaurants into mini-markets for customers to enjoy the food and wine of their favourite places at home. We have bottle shops for all your wine, beer and cocktail needs as well as menus that reflect what each restaurant does best. Some have even pivoted to a point where they are 100% a store and have paused any type of “service-style” dining.

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Future of Ottawa: Fine Dining with Justin Champagne

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This week in the Future of Ottawa series, we’re taking a deep dive into the bar and restaurant industry—what it’s like now and where it’s headed. Read on for a guest post from Justin Champagne on the future of fine dining, or read posts from Kathryn Ferries on chefs or Quinn Taylor on bars.

Justin Champagne went to culinary school at Northwest Culinary Academy of Vancouver. He got his start in fine dining restaurants at C Restaurant under Chef Robert Clark, then at Hawksworth Restaurant under Chef Eligh. He staged at three-Michelin-starred Atelier Crenn under Chef Dominque Crenn before moving to Ottawa and spending five years at Atelier, working his way up to Sous-Chef. He’s now the Head Chef of Bar Lupulus.

Apt613: What is the current landscape of fine dining restaurants in Ottawa?

Justin Champagne: Ottawa punches well above its weight class when it comes to quality restaurants in general. Fine dining is no exception to that—we have some amazing chefs here that are doing really great things. We also have some phenomenal sommeliers in town that are a huge factor when it comes to a guest’s experience in a fine dining restaurant. While there are some fantastic fine dining restaurants in town I do believe there’s room for more, and definitely room for more creativity and unique styles of cooking! I think we’ll see more small fine dining restaurants opening up, “micro-restaurants” where there’s maybe 20 seats. This will be over the next few weeks as the industry did take a big hit financially with COVID-19, but we still have a lot of great young chefs who have the fire inside of them to open their own location!

If you care to make a prediction… Where is fine dining going in Ottawa in 2021?

I’m not sure it’ll be 2021 or 2022 with the way the vaccine rollout and stay-at-home order is going, but I do expect there to be a wave of people looking to go out to fine dining restaurants. We’ve been cooped up cooking for ourselves or ordering takeout for over a year now. People are getting antsy and ready to go out and have fantastic meals again with exceptional wine and not have to worry about doing all the dishes afterwards!

Where in your wildest dreams could fine dining go in Ottawa in your lifetime?

That’s the fun part about “fine dining,” it can go anywhere and it can mean many things. Fine dining is about amazing service and well thought out, unique food that the kitchen spent hours fussing over, being meticulous in execution. Outside of that, you can have a lot of fun and be creative in different ways. My wildest dream I guess is that fine dinning restaurants begin to thrive and are able to charge without backlash the kind of prices that they need to charge in order to keep the lights on and pay their staff a proper living wage!!

What is the best innovation to take place in your industry since the pandemic started affecting Ottawa?

I’m not sure if I would really say there’s been a best “innovation” in my industry during the pandemic, but I will say that seeing the “adaptability” by all the restaurants in Ottawa has been incredibly inspiring. Ottawa’s food scene has always been a tight-knit community, “everyone helping everyone” kind of mentality. And this pandemic has really helped show that—restaurants helping restaurants through all of this!

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Ottawa’s Giant Tiger chain celebrating 60 years in business

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OTTAWA — An Ottawa staple, along with what might be the most famous cat in Canada, are celebrating a milestone Monday.

Giant Tiger is 60 years old.

“It all started with a very simple idea,” says Alison Scarlett, associate VP of communications at Giant Tiger. “Help Canadians save money every single day. Bring them products that they want and need. When you focus on those core principals, it really is quite simple to succeed.”

In 1961, Gordon Reid opened the first Giant Tiger in Ottawa’s ByWard Market. The company now has more than 260 locations across Canada and employs roughly 10,000 people.

“If you were at our store on opening day 60 years ago, the in store experience would be a little bit different from your local Giant Tiger store today. So that’s changed. A lot of our products and offerings have changed or expanded as Canadian consumers wants and needs have changed or expanded,” says Scarlett.

The homegrown department store continues to be a favourite for many shoppers looking to for the best deals on everyday products.

Helen Binda has been shopping here for decades.

“Many years. I can’t remember when. I’ve always loved Giant Tiger. It’s always been a good store for me.”

“I think its amazing and I think that we need more department stores,” says shopper Fay Ball. “And if it’s Canadian, all the better.”

The Canadian-owned family discount store carries everything from clothing to groceries, as well as everyday household needs. They’ve also expanded their online store and like most retailers provide curbside pickup during the pandemic.

“Doing what is right for our customers, associates, and communities. That has enabled us to be so successful for all of these years,” says Scarlett.

To celebrate, Giant Tiger is hosting a virtual birthday party at 7 p.m. Monday with live musical performances from some iconic Canadian artists.

You can visit their Facebook page to tune in. 

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