“It doesn’t matter what the situation is – we come together and get it done.”
Those were the words of Cramahe Township Mayor Mandy Martin at the Keeler Centre on Christmas Eve.
With a severe winter storm taking its toll on area roadways, Cramahe Township opened its doors and hearts to strangers. If fact at one point there were six coach buses and nearly 550 people inside the Keeler Centre.
Safe, warm and being fed by the generosity of a community which came together for those in need.
The Keeler Centre opened its doors to the community late Friday night/early Saturday morning because of power outages in the community and to offer a place of refuge in the cold.
But it became more than that as time went on.
Collisions along Highway 401, cars in the ditch, people stranded with no where to go came to the Keeler Centre.
During the early morning hours of Saturday a number of people were rescued by firefighters and police officers as they sat in their vehicles.
It was a Christmas miracle that no one during the storm was seriously injured or died.
Talking to people throughout the day Martin said there were so many stories of trips being interrupted and flights being cancelled.
“I’m just happy we were able to shelter people and rise to the occasion.”
Volunteers from throughout the community, police, firefighters, paramedics and the Red Cross were at the community centre.
Checking on anything and everything people needed.
A Northumberland County Paramedic asking people if they needed any medication as the local pharmacy was staying open longer to assist.
A short time later, the same paramedic had a bag of dog food and pouring it into a bowl.
People working hand in hand to help one another.
“It was a unbelievable amount of volunteers showed up – finding a way to get things done.”
Local people even came down to the Keeler Centre offering to take stranded motorists to their homes for the evening.
Josee Fournier and her twelve-year-old daughter Geleve live in Columbus, Ohio, but were on their way back to Quebec to be with family for Christmas.
When they left Niagara Falls on Saturday at approximately 9 a.m. the weather was windy, but visibility was good.
As they journey continued, winds got stronger and because of the blowing snow, the visibility and road conditions deteriorated.
Josee said they tried booking a hotel room, but the first two she phoned were sold out and the third had no electricity.
They finally booked a hotel room in Trenton – but unfortunately never made it that far.
OPP closed down Highway 401 at Grafton and the mother and daughter were stuck on County Road 2 for four hours.
Eventually they ended up (they believe) by the KOA camp near Brighton. Although they weren’t stuck, other vehicles were, which made it impossible for them to move.
At about 2:30 am members of the fire department came by and told them their snow machine was full, but they were be back to pick them up.
A short while later they were picked up and brought to the Keeler Centre. Approximately 14-hours later they were still at the Keeler Centre with their two dogs.
“I was very impressed that they (firefighters) showed up where I was in the middle of no where,” said Josee.
“In my mind there was no way someone would find us.”
Right from the start at the Keeler Centre, Josee said it was like the volunteers had a plan.
From sharing phone cords, to plugs and blankets, there was everything the mother and daughter needed.
“I’m so grateful we’re alive,” said Josee.
Another traveller said he and a van load of nine others left Toronto at 2 p.m. on Friday on their way to Ottawa. They became stuck in a ditch and were there for three hours before getting towed out.
A short time later they went in the ditch again in Cramahe Township and were rescued by police at 5 a.m. and taken to the Keeler Centre.
“This place is awesome. The people here are great, they’re fantastic. Everybody was nice and we do appreciate the little town.”
Jim Kinash and his wife Marcelle were on their way back home to Ottawa after visiting Toronto when they were involved in a multi-vehicle collision on Highway 401.
Kinash said there was a collision in front of him, so he slowed down, but was struck from behind.
Waiting on the highway for approximately two hours, the white-out conditions got worse.
The tow truck driver dropped them off at the Keeler Centre.
“The people have been very welcoming – unbelievable welcoming.”
A local resident even offered to take the couple in for the evening, but the Kinash’s didn’t want to impose.
“It’s really unbelievable the outpouring of generosity in this community.”
Terry Dillon is the Northumberland County Red Cross site manager who helped at the Keeler Centre said they spoke to all the people who were at the Keeler Centre asking if they needed anything.
A number of cots were set up in the dressing rooms at the Keeler Centre, but because it was to cold, they were set up upstairs where it was warmer.
Approximately 56 people spent their Christmas Eve sleeping on cots at the Keeler Centre in Colborne. Approximately 12 volunteers also stayed. In Brighton a similar warming shelter was set up and 17 people stayed along with four volunteers.
Today’s Northumberland asked Martin if she ever thought she’d be spending Christmas Eve with over 500 strangers at the Keeler Centre her response was, “they’re not strangers now.”
Martin summed it up best by saying, “this community is phenomenal. And that’s what I’ve always said about Cramahe.
“Do not ever underestimate us. Because we are going to come, we are going to get you and we are going to keep you safe. And we will do it our way. And it will be the right way.”