Power restored for all after a major outage puts downtown Toronto in the dark

·3 min read
Hydro One shared this image of the crane - which was being transported by barge through the Port Lands - that is thought to have caused the outage when it hit high-voltage power lines.  (Hydro One/Twitter - image credit)
Hydro One shared this image of the crane - which was being transported by barge through the Port Lands - that is thought to have caused the outage when it hit high-voltage power lines. (Hydro One/Twitter - image credit)

The lights are back on in downtown Toronto after a Hydro One outage took out power for thousands of customers on Thursday afternoon and evening.

As of 8 p.m. ET, Toronto Hydro is reporting that all affected customers — thought to be about 10,000 customers in total at the outage's peak — have had their power restored.

Hydro One spokesperson Tiziana Baccega Rosa told CBC Toronto the utility is investigating reports that the outage was caused by a barge carrying an erect crane that came into contact with a high voltage line in the Port Lands, a largely industrial area on Toronto's waterfront.

The utility says the outage started at around 12:30 p.m. and impacted Toronto Hydro customers in the downtown core.

Video on social media appeared to show the moment a barge made contact with the power line.

WARNING: This video contains language some may consider offensive.

Later on Thursday evening, the city released a statement saying that the outage "may have been caused by a subcontractor to Southland-Astaldi Joint Venture (SAJV), a contractor for the Ashbridges Bay Treatment Plant outfall project," and an investigation is currently underway.

Traffic lights went dark in downtown core

When the power was cut in downtown Toronto, traffic lights went out, prompting police to remind drivers to treat intersections as four-way stops.

Driver Mark Coveyduck said he was pleasantly surprised to see others proceeding slowly and carefully.

"The drivers were amazing, because they were patient. Totally weird because [in Toronto] they normally use their horns and get agitated," he said.

Simon Dingley/CBC
Simon Dingley/CBC

Toronto Fire Services says it had at least a dozen elevator rescue calls throughout the downtown as a result of the outage.

Shortly after 1 p.m., immigration minister Sean Fraser tweeted he was stuck in an elevator during a trip to the city.

People 'scrambling' as businesses suddenly close 

The vibrant storefronts at the Eaton Centre, as well as the electronic billboards surrounding Yonge and Dundas Square outside the mall, immediately went dark when the outage hit.

Mark Wells, who stepped into the mall to grab a bite to eat, said the scene that unfolded thereafter was chaotic.

"People were scrambling everywhere, the lights were out in the stores, people were running everywhere, back and forth and out the door," he said.

"Outside the elevators, a lady almost got hurt ...she got shoved up against the door, almost."

The mall was closed for about two-and-a-half hours in total, reopening at about 3:15 p.m. ET when its power was restored.

Colleges, universities closed their doors

Several colleges and universities in the area also lost power, sending their students and staff away from campus.

Toronto Metropolitan University issued an alert around 1 p.m. advising a majority of people on campus to evacuate immediately, saying the outage may compromise some building safety systems, such as fire detection and sprinkler systems.

George Brown College's buildings at the St. James & Waterfront campuses closed, and in-person classes were cancelled. Seneca's downtown campus was also shuttered.

The TTC says customers may have experienced major delays to all streetcar routes in the downtown core.

Metrolinx said there was no impact on PRESTO, GO Transit or UP Express services, and Union Station maintained full power.

City Hall, Old City Hall, Union Station, 277 Victoria (Toronto Public Health) and 75-81 Elizabeth Street used a backup power source and remained open to the public.

Chris Helgren/Reuters
Chris Helgren/Reuters