Societies have always seen natural phenomena as portents, signs of good or ill, marking some major historic event. If that’s the case, then the coming into being of the Township of North Grenville (as it was called until 2003) had a most impressive event to mark its arrival on the scene. The Ice Storm of 1998 began twenty years ago, January 4, 1998, and was one of the most serious natural disasters in Canadian History.
The story of how the Townships of Oxford-on-Rideau and South Gower were amalgamated with the Town of Kemptville on January 1, 1998 is one that will be told in this paper over the coming weeks. But the gathering of the very first meeting of the new Municipal Council of North Grenville was somewhat overshadowed by the enormity of the Ice Storm itself. In just one week that January, more than twice as much ice pellets and freezing rain arrived in our area than would normally fall in an entire year. The loss of electricity was felt right across Eastern Ontario and as far east as Montreal.
Those of us living in North Grenville at the time were among the one and a half million Canadians who found themselves in the cold and dark at the worst time of the year. Many can remember having to bed down in the W. B. George Centre for at least a few nights. For a brand new Township Council, this was a real baptism of ice, and it was long days and even weeks before people could begin to return to a normal life again.
There is to be a special gathering on Sunday, January 14, at St John’s United Church in Kemptville to share memories, mementoes and stories of those amazing weeks twenty years ago. Beginning at 2.30 pm, there will be a talk by Don Cameron, the first Mayor of the new Township of North Grenville, who was faced with the challenge of dealing with the Ice Storm in his very first days under the new amalgamation scheme. Everyone is invited to come by for an afternoon of chat and memories.
It was twenty years ago today, as someone wrote, and it is hard to believe that the years have gone by so quickly. Twenty years of North Grenville. We were part, albeit without being asked, of one of the biggest social and political changes to hit Ontario since Confederation. Between 1996 and 2001, the number of municipalities in the province dropped from 850 to 444. Communities, like South Gower, which had existed since 1799, became absorbed into the new body. The Town Hall in Oxford Mills, which had been the capital of Oxford-on-Rideau since 1857, was no longer the social centre it had been for 140 years.
This year of 2018 is an anniversary one for North Grenville and its people, but it is one that not everybody will celebrate. Perhaps it is to be expected that old loyalties and identities take time to adapt and change to new circumstances, and the manner in which amalgamation was imposed on the people of the three older municipalities did not help to create a strong new identity. But we are still here, and still adapting. The Ice Storm and the creation of North Grenville will be forever intimately connected in the minds of those who were here at the time. The storm of the Century was an impressive portent for the new Township. The effects of both are still with us.