We don’t turn left a whole lot anymore.
It’s been almost 16 months since the tornado ripped through our modest little village, leaving a swath of destruction in its path.
First the barricades went up to literally block gawkers from flooding into Dunrobin to take pictures and get in the way of the cleanup — and I guess figuratively they’re sort of still up.
Now forced to adjust our daily routines we barely ever turn north on Dunrobin Road.
Everything is to the south of us in Kanata.
It’s further, busier and we most certainly see fewer friendly familiar faces when we need to get those basic errands done. It’s easily an hour round trip, and nothing against Kanata, but frankly It’s a drag.
There is less reason to make that turn now and I’ve probably only traveled through that once familiar intersection at Tommy Dolan and Dunrobin Road a dozen times, or so, since.
To the eye, It’s not the same place.
If it’s possible for a bedroom community to have a skyline and ‘a look,’ well that’s certainly been altered and it really is a humbling, hollow reminder of the vulnerability and fragility of life; even though miraculously, we didn’t lose a single one of those.
But it came close; way too close.
There were times when it was hard not to be reminded of some of those old ghost towns, and if you’ve ever passed through one of these old dusty forgotten places; you can almost feel the energy that they once possessed.
And although Dunrobin will never completely be the same place again, it can be a better place and most certainly…it is a stronger one.
If its battle weary, it is battle-tested and without doubt resilient and defiant.
An event such as the one we faced on that last day of the summer of 2018 is the type of event that may have turned a less buoyant community into one of those dusty old decrepit ghost towns.
While the community remains strong, the fight and (for some) the daily struggle continues.
Greg Patacairk, who is President of the Dunrobin Community Association and Chair for West Carleton Disaster Relief, is hoping for as high as 90% return-rate (for residents) by summertime.
“That’s the goal.”
Thanks to some generous donations and initiatives, he says the Dunrobin Community Center is almost back to normal “but underutilized” with so many residents not yet back in their homes.
As for West Carleton Disaster Relief; “we are winding down for tornado relief programs, there’s still a couple of files open, but all of the funds raised have been allocated.”
As for insurance issues, Greg assisted in advising affected families with insurance advice, and is now starting to shift his focus to those effected by the other big event, last spring’s flood.
Bill Russett, a cattle farmer who has been on Stonecrest for 30 years, is very thankful for the financial assistance that the WCDR group (and the Red Cross) provided his family farm.
“Those people were really good.”
Russett lost three barns and sustained damage to his 100-year-old brick home. He also lost all of his winter’s supply of round bales, and suffered damage to his fence line.
“Most (of the round bales) unraveled or completed disappeared into thin air, but two of the rounds bales ended up 1,000 feet away from where they were sitting, and landed about 25 feet away from the house.”
Every farmer ritually prepares for winter; the livestock depends on it and with winter tapping at the door, Russett was very concerned for his cattle, and for his family’s future.
“”It was pretty tight, nerve-wracking. Every little bit helped. It was amazing, a neighbour of mine, Dave Young, spent the first two days at my house with his excavator just to get me going in the right direction. That was happening all around us.”
Two of his three outbuildings were not ‘wind protected’ by his insurance company and he has yet to finish rebuilding them.
“I’d like to apologize to my neighbours for the mess, and to those who have to drive by and see this place every day!”
Russett was admittedly caught flat footed and completely unprepared for all of this, “I am not in the building game. I am a complete neophyte.”
He continues to struggle with permits, drawings and the red tape that comes along with any type of work such as this but is aiming to have two of the three barns finished this summer at a cost of $200,000.
Let’s face it, in this area, there have been some very giving volunteers in some very trying times. These severe weather events often drastically change schedules, lifestyles, health, jobs and time spent with family. We have been tested.
“This community was devastated that day. It was a terrible day. The beauty came thereafter when everyone came together as one,” Patrcairk remarked.
Directly following the tornado, the “Heart & Soul Cafe” which is kitty corner to the plaza, became the de facto command center, despite sustaining significant damage.
After losing their gift shop yurt as well as the majority of their old hardwood trees, some corkscrewed in half, the Bowen family opened up just days later.
In the days that followed the tornado, they offered hot coffee and food to the first responders, volunteers and hungry survivors and opened up to the general public two weeks later.
To this day, some of them still show up to get together for breakfast or coffee, trade updates and offer each other the support that helps them each step of the way.
I met one such group, affectionately referred to as the ‘tornado moms’ by cafe co-owner Jim Bowen. Up to 10 of them; friends and neighbours talking about the travails of losing a home, the various intricacies of insurance and the necessity of human interaction with those sharing the same drastic experiences.
‘Yeah, sometimes we need the big table,’ smiled Grace Campbell.
‘We started this when we were all in hotels, or at friend’s places, just days after the tornado and really out of necessity, to update each other and offer each other support.”
The Campbell’s continues to battle with their insurance company.
“We haven’t even started and we’re having real problems with them. We’re looking at another year, at least.”
Chantal Pierce, who also lived behind the plaza, also isn’t back in her home.
She and her family of five are now further down the road in Fitzroy Harbour, renting a house.
“In your mind, you’ve gotta make that effort to constantly stay positive. We’ve been doing this for so long now and it’s so tiring — but I have to focus on all of the positive aspects just to keep going. But oddly enough, when we move back, we’ll probably even miss that rental.”
In Dunrobin and surrounding area, there have been 27 Demolition Permits and 69 Building Permits issued.
Of the 69 Building Permits issued, the work has been completed in 14 of these cases, with the remainder still being completed.
It’ll never be the same, but believe it or not, it can and will be better.
The new homes are nicer and each of those 14 families have returned with a new fresh start surrounded by new upgrades.
“Things are slowly returning to normal” reports Tracy Skinner. The Skinner’s lost their home, just off of Porcupine Trail, on that late September afternoon and count their lucky stars they’re alive.
They were sitting stunned on the front porch of my home when I finally got back from what turned into a frantic, emergency on-air show that afternoon at Boom 99.7.
I was worried for my family. My kids, who like so many others in the area were whooping it up at the Carp Fair that afternoon. It was an exhausting, emotional day having watched the eye witness videos and pictures coming in on social media and taking calls from the communities affected.
It hit one mile to the north, and only one lawn chair was toppled in our yard.
The Skinner’s were not as lucky and had literally just lost their home.
The tornado was on them so fast, they didn’t even have time to grab their daughter and the dogs and get downstairs before the windows and doors blew out and the roof started getting lifted.
After eight months of living between a hotel room and with friends, the family moved back into their newly rebuilt home in June and it all still seems rather ‘surreal’ to them.
Tracy says she still finds herself looking around and thinking ‘God, that really DID happen, didn’t it?”
When you talk Insurance in and around West Carleton, you get a wide array of opinions.
Tracy and Todd Skinner still have some content insurance to finalize, but overall have no complaints about how their insurance company handled their affairs.
Saying that, their next door neighbours are not having the same luck. Like Grace Campbell, they too are not on the same page and haven’t even started the rebuild yet.
“I would say about half of our neighbours are back and the rest very close to the finishing mark,’ said Tracy.
Yet others are fighting ‘tooth and nail’ with them to this day.
West Carleton-March Coun. Eli El Chantiry added “yeah, that’s a concern. I am grateful for the progress that we see, and that no one was killed, but It’s a shame that some people still haven’t even started (rebuilding). We are working closely with the Insurance Bureau of Canada so hopefully, moving forward, we can identify the good ones from the bad ones. It’s not right that because of a postal code that we see peoples home insurance going up, even with no claims.”
Bingo, I know that my home insurance has gone up nearly 20 percent over two years and I realize that after two floods and one tornado inside 3 years, that it is because of my postal code. My broker admitted as much.
The truth is; I think we all probably realize that Insurance Companies…will never lose money.
It was five weeks past the tornado, with winter hanging over our heads, that the frustrated long-time area City Councillor, ‘put the Insurance business on notice’ essentially saying that this was no time to drag their feet.
After weeks of frustration and frayed nerves, the residents and the Councillor had endured just about enough.
As people literally sifted through the broken pieces of their lives, El Chantiry took to the media and appealed to the individual companies to get cracking.
He threatened to publicly name the companies that weren’t properly and expeditiously taking care of their clients.
Work has stalled after some recent progress at the original site of Dunrobin Meats & Grocery.
Seeing a part of the steel structure get erected just before Christmas, had residents buzzing and looking forward to some progress and ultimately, the plaza’s return.
Since that work which happened over the course a couple of days, it’s been quiet. Too quiet.
“We run into so many people, everywhere, and I don’t know what to tell them” says Mike Fines, who managed the LCBO while his wife Julie, and her sister Cindy Delahunt own and manage the grocery store and butcher shop.
Everyone misses our modest little town center, and the ‘Dunrobin Store’ was indeed the beating heart at the very core.
My wife affectionately calls them “the butcher, baker and candlestick makers.’
The Dunrobin Store has been the cornerstone of the community going back to when Cindy and Julie’s grandparents ran the “Younghusbands” store and their mom and dad (Charles and Ellen) took over the family business in 1979.
Cindy and Julie added the butcher shop component in 1989.
It was when the original building was torn down in 2008, that they moved into the mall where they would set up shop for the next decade.
That was until September 21st, 2018, of course.
Unfortunately, Fines reports that there’s ‘not a whole lot going on right now’ and really can’t say what the owners are up to but adds that ‘yes, it’s been discouraging.’
The Delahunts are truly at a fork in the road and worried about where they are going with this. They want to return to their rightful place, back where the community desires them to be, but haven’t had any earnest negotiation with the owners of the site since September of 2018, and anything that has been discussed — has only been discussed verbally.
“How much longer can Cindy and I hold on without jobs?” asked Julie.
“You go from working 10-14 hours every day, to sitting around having coffee all day talking about what’s in store for us and our future,” added Cindy.
Mike Fines says that when the Premiere Doug Ford visited the store, just days after the tornado, he personally assured the LCBO liquor license and its continuance.
Those words have been echoed by the President of the LCBO, which Fines said was very much appreciated.
I reached out to the main owner, Dr. Anwar Haq, who offered what seemed to be some encouraging news.
He reported that he too is anxious to resume the work on the building once a back-order of trusses arrive. He says he expects them very soon.
His consortium, who have been working with architects and engineers, have decided to go with a flat roof to minimize future wind-damage potential, but he adds that the building will be the same size with the same amount of units.
“We don’t have any commitment (from the previous tenants) at the moment. I have offered all of the tenants the first right of refusal. I told them to stick with me, and they can have the same rates in a brand new building but I don’t have any written commitment from them, yet.”
Dr. Haq said he will be reaching out very soon and hopes to make it all happen.
The other tenants he was referring to include Dr. Kelly Graham, who moved her chiropractic practice a couple of kilometers down the road to Woodlawn, as did Canada Post.
The 4th was Sammy’s Pizza. It has been previously reported that Canada Post will not be returning.
It certainly would be hard to imagine Dunrobin without the Delahunts being right there in the center of that plan.
Dr Haq agrees, “It’ll be good to finally get going.”
Jon “Gonzo” Mark also writes a column for the West Carleton Community Voice News
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