A freak electrical storm, accompanied by a veritable cloud burst that lasted for about ten minutes and then settled down to a tapering off rain, started a little after seven o’clock on Monday evening. The late afternoon had been oppressive with a humid heat that presaged a thunderstorm or perhaps hail.
Dark clouds blew up from the Huntley Township direction and others from the southeast seemed to meet in an overhead area and then things got going with hair-raising flashes of lightning and ear-splitting peals of thunder. A few minutes after the storm broke and two or three crashes and flashes frightened people off their front porches, the fire siren was heard. The firemen had to turn out in the midst of one of the worst downpours of rain anyone can remember.
The phone call to the fire station stated that the steeple of the Reformed Presbyterian Church on the Bay Hill had been struck by lightning and that smoke was pouring from its base. Firemen had water turned on in record time. They had to chop a hole in the wooden portion of the tower to get at the flames. The spire is covered with steel as is the roof. No great damage was done to the interior of the building as the tower was cut off from below by closed trap doors.
The storm was accompanied by a high wind that uprooted trees, littered lawns with limbs and cut off the power in the southern side of the town where branches fell across the wires. A strange thing about the visitation is that on the north side of the river there was little or no interference with the light service but there was a black-out on the business streets. Those stores which keep open in the evenings such as druggists’ were dark except for the odd candle or flashlight.
In the O’Brien Theatre it wasn’t hard to live up to the ancient slogan “the show must go on.” In the days of the power shortage during the last war the Ottawa Valley Amusement Co. installed gasoline driven electrical generators in their four theatres. So all the local manager had to do was turn on the machinery and the audience which happened to have got there ahead of the storm, were kept entertained.
It seemed strange on the pitch dark street to see the O’Brien main entrance lights and the sign blazing out like lone beacons. It is said that in the Legion and Hotel Almonte beverage room the boys quaffed their beer by lantern or candle light which imparted a sort of Old Country atmosphere to the places that is not present under ordinary circumstances.
A softball game was going on at the time the storm broke and those in the grandstand had a splendid view of the lightning as it flashed in the distance across the river, and sometimes too close for comfort. At least one member of the audience—a fireman—had to plunge forth into the deluge when the siren blew.
A strange thing about the rainfall, which some middle aged people declare was the heaviest they ever remember, is that there were only a few drops at the Auld Kirk Cemetery on the Eighth Line while the Anglican Cemetery, half way out from the town boundary, was in the very wet zone.
It is not known what capers were cut by the storm but it is known that it was not bad in Ottawa and while they had a heavy rain in Perth and other points in the county there was no severe storm. The maintenance staff of the Almonte Public Utilities Commission had to turn out in the midst of the downpour as did the firemen. They had a mean job but they got the lights on in the business section about 8.30, for which they deserve a lot of credit when the amount of damage to the wires over a wide section is taken into consideration.
They went off several times after that for short intervals and doubtless the electricians had to work nearly all night trying to repair the damage. From the standpoint of power users on the south side of the
river, it was fortunate that the storm struck in the evening when motors and machinery were closed down.
Several large trees on Country Street in front of the home of Mr. Robt. Smithson, town foreman, were uprooted. It is estimated he will get five or six cords of wood out of the trunks and limbs although there is no doubt he would rather have the trees standing where they were. A fine big maple was uprooted in front of the residence of Mr. Gordon Houston.
The story is told of one merchant on Mill Street who was creeping around his premises in the darkness holding a flashlight. Suddenly he came in front of a mirror and yelled, “help, help, there’s a robber in here!”