Resident Carl Whittaker, seated at right beside neighbour Dan Clement, was compelled to take matters into his own hands to protect neighbours from a fallen tree.

By Kathy McGrath

While the windstorm on May 4 may be a distant memory for some Centennial residents, others are still repairing damaged roof tiles, cleaning up debris and paying repair bills.

The storm, which took many off-guard late on a Friday afternoon, saw wind gusts of up to 125 kilometres per hour ripping roof tiles and taking down dozens of enormous trees, mostly spruce, in the neighbourhood. On Colonel Danforth Trail, four large trees fell on one house. Fortunately, no one was hurt.

Holmcrest Drive resident Carl Whittaker says the sound of strong winds outside prompted him to look out his front window that Friday afternoon. He saw large trees “swaying hard in the wind” and noticed that the roots of a 45-foot spruce on his front lawn were lifting with each gust.

“That tree had no chance,” says Carl. “It was only a matter of time till it went.” Carl walked outside at the same time as his next-door neighbour Dan Clement, who also sensed a dicey situation. Carl warned Dan and other neighbours to stay away from the area.

Within an hour the tree came down, fortunately falling away from the house and lodging at a 40-degree angle against two other large trees.

The morning after the storm, a group of men on Wanita Road worked hard to dislodge the stump of a damaged tree. Photo by Kathy McGrath

“It was surreal because the tree just sort of sat there — there was no noise or crash,” says Carl, who immediately became concerned that the spruce, now suspended across a sidewalk, posed a danger to local residents.

Carl called the police, fire department and the city but was told that, with so many incidents happening at once, it could be a while before help was forthcoming.

He realized he had to take matters into his own hands.

“It started to get late, so I put wooden barriers on the sidewalk and caution tape around the area,” he explains. He called a few tree removal companies but they gave him quotes more than three times the going rate.

Unwilling to pay such excessive rates, Carl, who works in the construction industry, called friends who agreed to help him take the tree down on the weekend. Fortunately, they all had liability insurance.

“The neighbours moved their cars on Sunday and we got to work,” explains Carl.  Using ropes and chainsaws, it took four men several hours to bring the tree safely down. When it fell, the men heard a cheer go up around them.

“We were so intent on what we were doing we didn’t notice that about 30 neighbours had gathered around to watch,” recalls Carl.

Neighbour Dan Clement says the incident reminded him of the 2002 blackout, which compelled neighbours to gather in the street, many with wine or beer in hand. Piles of debris sat on Dan and Carl’s lawn for about a week after.

“It was lucky that I could take the tree down myself and that I know people who could cart away the stumps and debris. I can’t imagine what an elderly couple without the strength or resources to deal with it would have done,” says Carl. He thinks the City of Toronto needs to be better equipped to handle these types of situations.