Stranded Toronto Streetcar following 2003 Blackout

By: CJ Ramsaran

Today marks 7 years to the date the lights went out across the Northeastern and  Midwestern United States, and the province of Ontario, Canada. 

The Blackout of 2003, is reported to have affected some 10 million in Ontario, Canada, and 45 million across eight US States.

On August, 14th, 2003, much like any other summer day; citizens were coming and going; completing their daily routines as they normally would.

Unbeknownst to them, the lights literally, were about to go out.

On the onset of the power outage, many were oblivious as to the extent and capacity of the outage.  Most believed it was short-term.  Afterall, it was a hot summer day, so many believed a local transformer or power grid had blown.

As more and more began to realize they were not the only ones affected, they started making phone calls; they tried tuning into local media where possible.  This, however, was a chore on its own unless of course, like myself, you were fortunate enough to work in an office tower which had back-up power generators.


Despite back-up power generators, cell phone signals were jammed; trying to make that all important phone call became a nightmare, and was next to impossible.

Streetlights did not working; this brought on the onset of traffic gridlock, as the power outage occurred at 4:10PM in the afternoon…. just in time for rush hour!

What was once a painless 30 minute drive, transformed into a jaw-clenching two-hour commute. There was traffic everywhere…. cars were running out of fuel; some lined up along the roadside like toy cars abandoned by children whose interest they could not engage.

The reality became clearer that this was not your ordinary power outage.  This was something out of the norm, something that very few, if any were prepared to handle.

As the sun began to set, an eerie feeling was falling across the cities and towns that had been affected.

Police were on every major street corner directing traffic.  There were red flares everywhere; glowing in the darkness of the summer night.

The Blackout of 2003 brought many challenges, but it also brought some positive reinforcements as well.

It provided a canvas for neighbours to really become neighbours.   Without access to air conditioning, television, computers, or radios, people started coming out of their homes; they started interacting; having discussions one each other… something that the hustle and bustle of life has discouraged and taken away.

Many were left without power for up to four days.  During this time lifestyles had to be adjusted.  No more conveniences of frozen dinners or the microwave. 

Households had to throw away meats and foods from their refrigerators and freezers.  Water pressure in some homes were affected; in some cases it was reported only a trickle of water was coming out of faucets and made refilling of toilet tanks a challenge. Homes were left unprotected without alarm system, fire alarm or carbon-monoxide monitoring.

It’s no wonder that many felt vulnerable during this time.

Where were you when the lights went out seven years ago?

What was your experience…. tell us your story!