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Indomitable - Margaretsville women roll up their sleeves and get to work after Dorian knocks out power


MARGARETSVILLE, N.S. —

Wenda McLaughlin knew it would happen.

She was at the fire hall getting ready for Hurricane Dorian the day before the first gusts were forecast to ruffle the leaves on the trees in this picturesque seaside village. When the storm ripped through on Sept. 7, taking leaves, limbs, trees, power poles and all, McLaughlin had a comfort station set to open.

“I made soups on Friday because I knew we’d be without power,” McLaughlin said. She’s mixing batter for a chocolate zucchini cake. “We’ve been up seven o’clock every day. Most nights it’s nine o’clock or after when we get out of here.”

It’s the fifth day without power. The fourth day running the comfort centre and they’re cooking up three meals a day for anyone who needs it.

There’s eight fire department auxiliary members and a handful of volunteers doing everything from peeling carrots and cutting up the zucchini to slicing up watermelon and making coffee. Donna Elliott is making pizza for the kids. Chris Spidell isn’t really on kitchen duty, yet he’s standing at the serving window with a 50-pound bag of carrots and a peeler.

Firefighter Jodi Johnston is taking care of firefighter stuff, but he’s in awe of McLaughlin and her crew. Tables and chairs are set up, there’s a television, people can take showers. Some young kids are playing crokinole. It’s lunch time on Wednesday and soon the place will be full.

“Last night they were lined up right out the door,” McLaughlin said. “We have a shower. People are coming to take showers. We have a charge centre over here. Everybody’s coming, getting their bellies full. And we’ve had a lot of volunteers from the village or from where ever. They step up and help us in here because that’s the way it goes.”

Fire Chief Eric McLaughlin, Wenda’s husband, shows up with a big bag of flour.

Johnston calls Margaretsville ‘The Little Community that Could.’

While it’s partly due to a big propane generator, it’s mostly due to the unflagging, indomitable Margaretsville spirit.

They have an electric hot water heater. “Tony Sheridan came and got it hooked up to run off the generator. But I can’t run toasters and things like that because that takes a lot of power from the generator,” Wenda McLaughlin said.

She’s got coffee cake in the oven and three big cooked chickens sit in a big pan on the counter. “We’re making a chicken pot pie with biscuits on top for supper. Last night we had hodgepodge and sweet and sour meatballs.” They had corn on the cob as well and she tries to remember what was for dessert that night. “Oh, we had doughnuts and egg tarts.”

They got supplies from the SuperStore in Kingston and Goucher’s Farm and Market at the bottom of the mountain, and when it’s all cooked up, people are coming from all over.

“They’re coming from Wilmot, we’ve had them from Kingston, we’ve had them from Lawrencetown, there was a couple here from Ireland that were visiting in the area and heard about us,” McLaughlin said. “You know, all over. Some of the other fire departments haven’t opened a warming centre like we have – but we’re isolated up here. When the power’s out we’re on our own. Seriously.”

Tanya White is there with six children. She’s a local.

“We’ve been without power since the storm,” she said. She lives at the old SOS children’s village site. “We’re about the only one up there without a generator right now. I had been staying with a friend but where school’s starting now I’m just going to come home and stay there. This is very convenient to be able to come down and have lunch and supper here.”

She can’t cook anything at home. She had to take everything out of her freezer to a friend’s house.

“I don’t even have any food at my house right now,” she said. “It’s been a lifesaver to be able to come down here and get them fed.”

Milly Banks is finishing her lunch with a slice of watermelon. She’d normally have lunch at home.

“If I had power,” she said.

It’s been out since 2:40 p.m. on Sept. 7.

She lives just up the road from the fire hall.

“It’s a godsend,” she said of comfort centre. “These women deserve a medal because they’ve been serving food ever since the power went out. I was here for breakfast this morning, and I’m here for lunch, and I’ll be here tonight for my supper.”

While food is important, Banks said it’s a lot more than that.

“It’s nice because you come and you talk to your neighbours,” she said. “They tell you their problems, you tell them your problems. I have a generator but my generator wouldn’t go. Naturally it decided not to go in a crisis. But my neighbor took it and he brought it back last night and got it fixed. So mine is on now but I can’t cook or anything like that. I can watch television and I’ve got heat. And of course we’re on town water so we have water too.”

Janet Crosby is a seasonal resident in Margaretsville but lives too far out to have municipal water. She and Banks are having lunch together.

“I don’t have any power or phone or water,” Crosby said. “I don’t have a generator.”

She got tired of peanut butter and jam sandwiches after the first few days.

“When I found out about this it’s just wonderful,” she said. “And we’ve met neighbours who just moved in two weeks ago from British Columbia. The first week they came there was a tropical storm and then the next week there was a hurricane so they’re kind of scared about what might happen the next week. But we’re not in the Bahamas, so we’re very fortunate.”

“This is a good neighbourhood,” said Banks. “Everybody helps everybody. I have good neighbours. They were there just as soon as the power went off. Everybody checks on everybody. I wouldn’t live anywhere else.”

White’s kids are busy playing crokinole. Spidell has to leave. Along with brother Carl and Eric McLaughlin he’s heading down to the other end of the village to clear some giant fallen poplar trees that ripped out the power lines in the first place.

Johnston is in contact with Paul Maynard and Mark Turner from the province’s Public Safety and Field Communications office voicing the need for the fire department to be better able to communicate with Valley Communications in the event of an emergency. He’s also trying to get the county to increase the water level at the reservoir. That will take a generator.

In the kitchen, they’re serving the lunch crowd and will soon be cutting up those carrots, some potatoes, chicken, and making that biscuit dough for the pot pies. That’s just what they do in Margaretsville.

That supper was served. And so was breakfast Thursday morning. And lunch was prepared. Johnston said power came back on at 11:15 a.m. Sept. 12. But that wasn’t the end.

“I think Wenda and crew are doing a closing supper this evening to say thanks to the community,” he said.

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