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Hundreds celebrate 10th anniversary of blackout at Toronto street party

Partiers walk down Queen Street West with fire shutting down traffic to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the blackout in Toronto during a street party on Queen West Street

Della Rollins/The Globe and Mail

As the band played at the corner of Queen and Callender Streets in the west edge of downtown Toronto, the crowd began to grow. In short order there were hundreds of people dancing and singing in front of an abandoned grocery store, and a full-fledged street party was underway.

To commemorate the 10th anniversary of the northeastern seaboard blackout, which saw more than 50 million people lose power for upwards of four days in August 2003, several hundred Torontonians descended on Queen Street West to recapture what they say was a special energy and spirit that took shape in their communities when the lights went off.

Attempting to create that feeling on Wednesday night was the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, a self-dubbed "fifteen-piece guerrilla fork force," who put on the free concert that featured many songs that sounded like something you would hear at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Some people came dressed as clowns, and some walked on stilts; most just came to dance. Party goers eventually marched down to the corner of Queen Street and Roncesvalles Avenue as the band continued to play.

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The 2003 electrical failure began when a tree branch touched a power line in Ohio and then spread through eight U.S. states and Ontario.

Mary Deon, who came to Wednesday night's street party on her bike, remembers bars and restaurants just asking patrons to pay what they could during the outage because cash registers weren't working. She says people handed out free water, and says a spontaneous native drum circle popped up along Bloor Street, what she says was an attempt to ask the gods to bring back the power.

"It was so cool," she said. "No one knew what was going on."

Aneirin Smith says he remembers coming home from work on Aug. 14, 2003 and seeing people outside their houses, relaying whatever information they had to one another. He said the next day there were hundreds of people along College Street, many lining up to get a slice of pizza at a restaurant that had one of the only wood burning ovens in the area.

"People were definitely a lot more social and getting out more … It was all very friendly and people got to know each other," he said. "I remember people saying 'wouldn't this be cool if it happened once a year for a week.' People liked the spirit of no power."

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About the Author
News reporter

Daniel Bitonti is a Vancouver-based reporter with The Globe and Mail. Before joining the bureau, Daniel spent six months on the copy desk in the Globe’s Toronto newsroom after completing a journalism degree at Carleton University. More

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