Remembering the Northeast Blackout of 2003

At 4:11 p.m. August 14, 2003 I was in my friend Jane’s kitchen. We were both exhausted from a long walk up Yonge Street; we’d met at Yonge and Eglinton to shop at a goth-themed store named Excalibor (RIP). We hadn’t bought anything. It was a bright summer day, and we were both very young (I was turning 22 in 16 days, Jane was a year or two younger), and neither of us overly familiar with the city. We reckoned, since it was only a few stops between Eglinton and North York Centre–where her uncle’s house was, where I’d be sleeping over–that it was not that long a walk.

We were wrong.

By the time we got home hours later we were exhausted, blistered, and a little sunstroke-y. We had cold showers. We left all the lights off in the house so that it would stay cool, and settled in the kitchen to make pork and leek dumplings. We made the meat mixture and then put it back in the fridge. Neither of us were particularly hungry.

Around a quarter past four, we lost the stovetop clock. We checked lights; nope, whole house. Power outage. We weren’t worried.

Around 5, getting hungry and worried about the state of the pork in the fridge, we decided to make the dumplings anyway. Jane taught me how to fold them. We both assumed by the time we were ready to boil them up, the power would be back on.

Eventually, driven by hunger and necessity, we hauled the barbeque out onto her uncle’s patio and managed, with much shrieking, to get it started, despite neither of us ever starting a propane BBQ before (and we retained both sets of eyebrows!). We boiled the dumplings in a pot on the grill along with some mung bean sprouts and other veggies rescued out of the fridge. We ate heaps of dumplings out on the back porch on plates on our knees. We swapped with some with Jane’s neighbours.

Unsure of what to do with ourselves and wanting to escape the closeness of the house (a new build. None of the upstairs windows were designed to open more than an inch; Clearly the developer never considered the power being out during a heatwave in August) we went for a walk and ended up in Mel Lastman Square. It was covered in people all similarly trying to escape the heat and humidity. Children played in the fountains. People laid out picnics and played guitars or listened to small battery powered radios. Jane and I watched the sun set sitting on the grass, enjoying the breeze.

Later that night, while I was trying to get to sleep in the guest room, tossing and turning from both the insane humidity and the unfamiliar bed and rustling, buckwheat pillow, Jane called out that the power was back on! She could see the streetlight! I went to the window with her and we both laughed as we realized that it wasn’t the streetlight, but the moon rising through the backyard tree, where the streetlight ought to be.


In August of 2003 I was turning 22. I was back in college after a year of recovery following a motor vehicle accident. I had written two complete novels and scores of short and not so short stories. But I had put them away; I dedicated my creativity towards being a graphic designer. I was going to run my own company–maybe my own agency!–and travel the world, opening offices. How one did this, I wasn’t entirely sure, but I figured I would learn by doing, as I always did. The crash of 2008 was five years away and unthinkable. We were still told regularly by our professors how graphic design–how advertising–was one of the safest, recession-proof fields there was. “Except for funeral homes”, one would always add, like a dad joke, and we would laugh with him.

Here in August 2018, I’ve been a full-time writer since 2016. I’ve written 6 novels since 2010. Two of them I am actively courting an agent for. The eighth, Blackout Odyssey, will be ready to send out in Septemberl. It’s set on that long, humid, airless day in August 2003, in a world mostly similar to ours, if somewhat askew.

I have had my own company, and I have travelled the world, but neither had much to do with the other. I didn’t start my own design studio. But I did pick up writing again, and I haven’t looked back.

Let’s hope that in 15 years I have enough clout to put out a ’30 year anniversary edition’ of Blackout Odyssey; but honestly, I’ve stopped making such long-term plans. We’ll take it as it comes, and learn by doing.

Life can be pretty weird, if you let it be, and me? I wouldn’t have it any other way.

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