Trapped behind the barricades, Caledonia residents wait in the dark

·4 min read

Caledonia residents who have been without power since Oct. 22 are still in the dark about when Hydro One will turn the lights on.

“I haven’t had power since Thursday evening,” said Rose Marie Mueller, whose home on Sixth Line is between the street barricades set up by Six Nations land defenders that night.

The barricades went up after OPP officers gathered near the back entrance to the McKenzie Meadows construction site, also known as 1492 Land Back Lane, which the group says is unceded Haudenosaunee territory.

After police tried to arrest a member of their group, land defenders set fire to the hydro pole that powers Mueller’s home and three others within the barricades.

A nearby farm has a generator running, but Mueller isn’t so lucky. Besides occasionally going to her car to charge her phone, she’s stuck inside, waiting for Hydro One to repair the pole.

“They keep texting me that they have to wait for the police to say OK,” she said. “Every day they tell me ‘tomorrow at noon.’”

To keep warm, Mueller runs a gas fireplace in her bedroom. Her water is turned off so she can’t cook, and pain in her lower back is making it difficult to walk.

“I think I got too cold for a few days there, and now I have to pay for it,” she said.

Hydro One said the pole fire knocked out power to 1,200 homes last Thursday, with most back on before midnight.

The company said the roadblock across Argyle Street prevents workers from restoring power to the remaining homes.

“For the four customers in the community that remain without power, we are concerned for their safety and well-being and our crews are on standby to make repairs once it is safe,” said Hydro One spokesperson Alicia Sayers.

1492 Land Back Lane spokesperson Skyler Williams said land defenders have been in talks with Hydro One and the OPP about having workers cross the barricade and repair the pole.

“We’ve been working hard to tell them this isn’t hostile territory and this is something they can do,” Williams said. “We’ve said I, personally, will escort them in and make sure these people get power.”

Williams said the OPP has told him they want officers to accompany the work crew to ensure their safety.

“And we said we don’t allow guns here, regardless of who’s carrying them,” he said, stressing that the hydro employees would not be in any danger.

“We are not terrorists. This (area) is not under terrorist control,” Williams said. “We are here for our land rights. Period. We’re not trying to evict people or hurt anybody.”

An OPP spokesperson referred inquiries about the outage to Hydro One.

“Nothing is more important to us than the safety of our employees and the general public,” Sayers said in response to a question about whether work crews could be sent in without a police escort.

Mueller said someone from Land Back Lane visited her to explain the group’s efforts to get her power back on. That update left Mueller frustrated with the utility company.

“These hydro people are just full of it,” she said. “Get it over with. I’m a senior citizen. I shouldn’t have to put up with this.”

Sayers stressed the need for Hydro One to have unimpeded access to the damaged pole, as well as to a transmission station on Argyle that is beyond the barricade.

“The security of Hydro One’s Caledonia Transmission Station has been compromised, posing a serious risk should a member of the public enter the station,” Sayers said.

Late on Wednesday, the company shut down the Argyle Street station by rerouting power to another station outside the barricaded zone. The move caused what Sayers described as “a short emergency outage” for customers across Haldimand and Norfolk counties.

Most of the 16,800 affected customers lost power for about 20 minutes at some point between 10:10 p.m. and 11:10 p.m., though it took until nearly 2 a.m. for 1,400 households in Norfolk to get their hydro back.

“We appreciate our customers’ patience as crews completed the emergency work,” Sayers said.

Switching stations did not help Mueller, who remains in the dark and says she no longer feels safe in her home.

“Not really. Not since this started,” she said. “If I didn’t have cats, I would have left already.”

Mueller said while she doesn’t condone the violence that has occurred near her doorstep, she is sympathetic to the land defenders’ cause.

“I feel for the natives because it’s their right to do what they do, and it’s high time to do something,” she said.

“The police have nothing to do with it, so it’s not the police they have to be angry at. It’s the federal government that’s supposed to be looking at this. Maybe I should tell the federal government about the hydro.”

J.P. Antonacci, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Hamilton Spectator