When the lights go out

In what must be the most Canadian type of electrical crisis, a beaver is being blamed for a power outage that affected much of north central Saskatchewan on Sunday, Oct. 29. Prince Albert was without power for about an hour but homes in the Weldon area went without power for up to five hours, no doubt leaving many hungry in the cold and dark.

SaskPower says a beaver chewed through a large wooden power pole southeast of the Prince Albert. Strong winds blew over the damaged power pole, resulting in the loss of electricity to thousands of homes and businesses.

It’s not the first time this year a beaver has bamboozled the power company. On May 17, a wedding at The Resort at Cypress Hills Interprovincial Park was left in the dark when a beaver chewed through a power pole in that area.

According to SaskPower, animals account for roughly one-third of power outages. However, most of the time, it’s not beavers but birds or squirrels that are responsible for the power problems.

SaskPower says two-thirds of power outages are caused by weather or aging infrastructure. Sometimes power outages can be spectacular.

On this day in 1965, a faulty relay switch failed at 5:16 p.m. at Ontario Hydro’s Queenston generating station, causing a power outage that plunged New York City into darkness at the height of rush hour, and trapping 800,000 people in subways, elevators and skyscrapers. The blackout affected over 30 million people in Ontario, New York, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire. They were without electricity for up to 13 hours.

The New York Times was able to produce a ten-page edition for Nov. 10, using the printing presses of a nearby paper that was not affected, the Newark Evening News. The front page showed a photograph of the city skyline with its lights all out. To see New York City in darkness must have been remarkable. My father’s memoir talks about the bright lights of the metropolis visible from far away as he returned on the Queen Mary in 1950, following a trip to “the Holy Land.”

Nine months after the big blackout, newspapers reported a spike in births in area hospitals. The theory was that New Yorkers, deprived of lights and television, turned to other activities. However Snopes.com debunks that theory: “It is a common belief that the number of conceptions increases during natural disasters or crises that keep people confined within their homes for unexpectedly long periods of times. Nine months after such events — blackouts, blizzards, earthquakes, erupting volcanoes, ice storms, and even strikes by professional football players — reports about “baby booms” in local hospitals invariably appear in the media. However, these “booms” typically prove to be nothing more than natural fluctuations in the birth rate (or, in many cases, no variation in the birth rate at all). We never hear about these fluctuations when they are not preceded by some unusual event; conversely, when such fluctuations do occur, people go scrambling to find some earlier event to attribute them to (even though evidence establishing any causal connection is lacking).”