Drawing on the work of fifty-four photographers from nine Montreal- and Ottawa-area newspapers, with text by Mark Abley of The Gazette
(Montreal), The Ice Storm
chronicles "the most destructive weather disaster in Canada's recorded history."
"More than 5 million people were affected by at least one power outage....Millions of trees were damaged or destroyed... [I]nsurance claims for the damage caused by the ice storm will exceed $1.1 billion."
"It was the ice storm of the century, five days of freezing rain that caused chaos and destruction, darkness and death. Day after day, its grip on eastern Canada and the northeastern United States tightened. Steel towers, hydro poles and trees collapsed under the weight of the ice. Millions of people were blacked out for days or weeks, many forced into shelters, many others left in the cold and dark, isolated and vulnerable."
There's no doubt that "the storm of the century" was an experience that won't soon be forgotten-if you lived through it. Or that those who choose to will relive the memories of that wretched time through the pages of this book.
Mark Abley's text is littered with statistics, coated in clichés. But then how else do you describe weather? Apparently derived from newspaper files, it touches on, but never really touches, the lives of its victims. But then, the text is there only to validate the photographs, and this is, after all, a picture book.
The cover is promising. A woman, dressed in black and surrounded by white, faces a tree that lays across the road, both victims of the storm. The inside cover, a panorama of iced trees, is crystalline-whites and blacks with a touch of colour where branches have been broken but are not yet coated in ice.
Then, however, the novelty begins to melt. That is not to say that these are not good photographs. At the time they were published, they conveyed the immediacy of the situation, and so contained a certain power. Many would have been page one contenders a year ago. Collected a year after the event, and by their repetitive nature, however, they tend to wear on the viewer.
There are no less than thirty photographs of crumpled hydro towers or broken power poles, numerous pictures of broken tree limbs and objects coated in ice. A few of these might hang as art in an insurance company branch office, but most are forgettable.
Although several pages are devoted to the people who endured the storm and those who made heroic efforts to restore power, only two images stand out.
In a shelter at Loyola High School in Montreal, two-year-old Kerry Goral shares a delightful moment with senior Anna Francek. Their eyes meet, there is laughter in their faces-a mirror image captured by Pierre Obendrauf of The Gazette.
Another, by Bruno Schlumberger of the The Ottawa Citizen, is a portrait of power itself. Gerald Myles, eighty, reluctant to leave his home, is lit by a dying candle in his house in Ramsay Township, Ontario.
This hard-cover, classically-designed, glossy edition would best be, and probably was, a remarkable supplement to most of the newspapers involved. As a book, at least it won't become brittle and yellow with age.
Glenn Baglo has been a photographer and editor at The Vancouver Sun for twenty-eight years and has won the National Newspaper Award twice.