After enduring the 1998 ice storm, an Iranian immigrant warms up to Canada

Not to mention, his family, who, despite a little bickering, created fond memories in their close quarters

Finding warmth amid the ice

CP; Photograph by Blair Gable

When Matin Fazelpour was seven, he and his mother moved from Berlin to Ottawa. They joined an extended family that had splintered in flight from the 1979 Iranian revolution. A few months later, Fazelpour experienced his first real winter and, as it happened, his first ice storm.

In January 1998, the freezing rain began. Soon power lines tumbled, millions of homes from eastern Ontario to Nova Scotia went dark, and more than 15,000 members of the Canadian Forces fanned out in the largest deployment since the Korean War.

“Everything was ice,” Fazelpour says. “It didn’t look real. Icicles hung off the telephone wires. The trees looked painted.”

The young boy was not pleased. “When the ice storm hit, I thought, ‘Why did we move to this horribly frozen country?’ I wondered why we had left the mild-weathered comfort of Germany for this godforsaken land.” He thought every winter would have more ice than snow.

His home did not experience a blackout, but those of his extended family did, which meant 21 people were soon packed into the two-bedroom apartment. Fazelpour, the youngest, was relegated to the corner, under a table.

“The older couples slept in the bedrooms. All the younger people were packed into the living room, sleeping side by side, sharing blankets. It was pure chaos. In the middle of one night,” he recalls with a giggle-sigh, “someone farted. One cousin got really angry, woke everyone up and demanded to know who did it.”

What began badly soon got better. For Fazelpour, the ice storm became “a series of memories of playing with my cousins.

“Cramped and frozen as we were, astonishingly, it wasn’t awful. It was sublime. The important thing was that we were surrounded by family. We were together, and that was all that mattered.” Once a day, an adult would venture out to the skating-rink streets to purchase food for the group.

Every now and then, the kids went outside to walk around the block, where “all the cars seemed frozen in place.” Fazelpour had never really experienced ice, so he indulged in the requisite high-speed slip-and-sliding. He packed and threw his very first snowball. It may have hurt a bit when it hit. “I hope it had enough snow,” he says.

Fazelpour is now a student at the University of Ottawa. “After that winter,” he says, “every winter with snow was magical. It was baptism by fire. From that point on, the winters were nothing at all compared to that ice storm. That was my first Canadian moment, and despite my initial horror of the harshness of the Canadian winter, after 14 years I still look back on that time with fondness.”

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