Singhampton, safe haven during storm

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Residents of Singhampton opened the doors of the community centre Monday to shelter and feed dozens of travellers stranded by the winter storm. 

A severe storm and high winds caused roads, schools and businesses to close. It was so bad that at times the snowploughs were pulled off the roads. Vehicles were abandoned, sometimes trapped inside drifts. 

A grassroots community effort helped get people off the roads and into a community of new friends, said Tanya Robitaille.

She said Catherine Tustin was really the instigator of the whole thing. 

She was working at the Ultramar gas station and the motel was booked up Sunday when the storm started.

“The roads were drifted over and cars were getting caught in the drifts and there were four cars north of Singhampton that basically piled into each other. Eventually the tow truck driver got here and pulled them all to the Ultramar… Three out of the four cars were totalled, so it was wicked weather,” said Catherine.

“I had six guests that were staying at this motel in this little town and we were snowed in and all the roads were closed. There was nowhere to go and nowhere to eat, that was my biggest concern.”

On Monday morning she took them some cereal but by mid morning she realized they would have no lunch or supper. “So I called my husband Fred who called Tanya and the two of them jumped into action,” said Catherine.

Other stranded drivers were stopping at the gas station and were taking refuge in the store.

“Everyone was dazed and confused,” she said. “So the idea was to open the community centre and put out a call to action and after that, Fred and Tanya spearheaded the whole event.” 

Tanya said she drew from her ample food stores, coming up with ingredients for lunch. 

At first they were planning to feed 15 people but they ended up serving 40.

Tanya said she loves to cook and always cooks too much, which was a good thing on Monday.

In the community centre kitchen, they made chili and baked goods, and accepted help from every stranger who offered. “We are now calling them our new friends,” said Tanya.

After lunch, they reassessed the situation and brought even more food from home to get ready for supper. 

“A call to the community went out through Facebook and people started walking in with trays of muffins… and sandwiches… bags of carrots,” said Fred. “It was amazing.”

In the afternoon, Tanya her son Ray put on 106 kilometres on their truck just within the village, patrolling the roads and leading people to the community centre. He is who many grateful motorists are referring to as “the man in the black truck”. He drove around for hours flagging people down to tell them they were welcome at the community centre, where up to 100 people came and went that day.

For supper, the community fed 69 people, plus the tow truck driver Keith Currie who was in the area most of the day, with help from Mylar and Loreta’s restaurant, which opened the kitchen to do some of the cooking. They were able to put out a full buffet of spaghetti and roast beef, with dessert made by two of the stranded travellers, with help from Tanya’s daughter Kaytlin. 

After dinner, Tanya said, the travellers kicked the cooks out of the kitchen and did up all the dishes.

Fred said it was amazing to see people arrive at the door, shaking with fear, and within a half an hour they were relaxed and enjoying themselves. There were people from all over, as far as California and Ohio, and others trying to get back to Toronto, Hamilton and Cambridge. 

They said it was fun and people were visiting and playing games. They celebrated two birthdays, Tanya’s son Taylor had set up movies and there was a very challenging puzzle that was truly a group effort. The 1,000-piece Norman Rockwell puzzle belongs to Tanya but she hadn’t even attempted to start it because it looked like a tough one.

A group of boys from Ohio (above) started it and the entire group pitched in to help. 

At the end of the night, many people were heading back toward Collingwood, as the weather started to improve, but beds were found for 17 people who stayed the night in Singhampton.

“The people of Singhampton welcomed us Americans at the community centre during a blizzard,” commented Zach Pollock on Facebook. “They fed us homemade cookies, muffins, chili, burgers, and much more. Then they found us beds to sleep in for the night. This community was our saving grace in the storm and we will always be thankful for their huge hearts and generosity. Everyone went way above and beyond what we could have ever expected to make sure we were safe and comfortable.”

At the end of the night, having said they would keep the community centre open until about 9:30 p.m., Tanya, her husband Ed and Ray sat down and placed the remaining few puzzle pieces. (Don’t be surprised if that puzzle is hanging on the wall of Singhampton Community Centre one day.)

Tanya said the whole effort was aided by many in the community including local resident Dustin Muller, owner of CARS in Collingwood, who made a lot of calls to get provisions and delivered all the food from Mylar and Loreta’s. 

On top of that he stayed with six individuals, two moms with their teenagers, in a local man’s house. Gary Drake had a bad accident while snowmobiling on the east coast and is in a coma, his beautiful other half offered their home, said Tanya. 

Milltown hose and hydraulics owner Rick Jameson blew snow so they could get in to the community centre and brought provisions from his home. Geoff Meadley hosted the five boys from Ohio for the night, and Sue Clarry helped during the day and housed a mother and daughter.

“Gotta say I adore my community,” said Tanya. “Singhampton makes me proud.”

Storm wreaked havoc in region

The Feb. 25 blizzard pretty much shut down the region. Buses were halted, schools closed, municipal services were delayed and the ploughs were either taken off the road or were out in challenging conditions. 

At one point all Dufferin Roads were closed and several motorists were stranded. County staff arranged for shelters to open at Honeywood Fire Hall and Community Living Dufferin.

Paramedics were at full capacity, and one ambulance got stuck.

“Road conditions remain dangerous due to blowing and drifting snow, nil visibility and abandoned vehicles. Ploughing operation are being hinder by numerous abandoned vehicles. OPP, snow clearing crews and tow truck operators are working to clear the roads. Progress is slow. Please be patient and stay off the roads,” read a statement released by Dufferin County.

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