Their back door blew off in a windstorm, the power went out, and then even the barbecue ran out of propane.
But an Ontario family says their first Christmas at their seaside cottage was the best ever, thanks in part to the kindness of their Nova Scotia neighbours.
“It could have been a hundred times worse, but it wasn’t,” said Gilles Monvoisin.
“The kids were saying this was the best Christmas ever.”
The Ottawa family was caught up in a Maritime storm powerful enough to snap hydro poles and knock out electricity for thousands on Christmas and Boxing Day.
It delivered gusts that reached near hurricane force — clocking over 100 kilometres per hours in some areas — peaking through Monday evening.
By noon Wednesday, Nova Scotia Power had restored power to all but 4,200 of the 158,000 customers who had lost power, including Monvoisin and his family in their 100-year-old cottage outside Lunenburg.
Monvoisin said they had owned a second home in Stonehurst South, N.S., since 2011, but had never been there in winter.
Christmas morning was lovely, he said, but then things began to go awry in the windstorm.
“The first thing that happened actually was that our back door blew right off,” he said. “Our daughter was in the back, she goes, ‘Hey the back door is open.’ So I go and check and it’s not only open, it’s hanging from one hinge.”
They secured the door, but then the power went out as one of his three daughters was making Christmas dinner. They pulled the barbecue out of the basement, but then it ran out of propane.
“You can’t make this up,” Monvoisin said ruefully. “But thankfully everything was cooked, including the chicken, which was really good in the cast iron pan.”
The next morning, one neighbour with a generator knocked on the door.
“She said, ‘Hey, come on over. Nova Scotians are always willing to help. Come on over, I got coffee, breakfast is ready…’”
They spent several hours there, then another neighbour offered their home with a wood stove, where the family could keep warm.
Twitter feeds described other residents eating dinner by candlelight in darkened homes — and the kindness of their fellow Nova Scotians.
In Halifax, Denise MacDonell adapted by firing up a barbecue and continued cooking her turkey until it ran out of propane, though the family didn’t consume the bird until Tuesday.
On Christmas evening, they called Zen Chinese Cuisine. The restaurant’s owners were just preparing a meal for their own family but nonetheless reopened to cook some food for MacDonell, her daughter and her husband.
“They were cooking for their own family Christmas party, and they still cooked us food,” said MacDonell. ”It was really, really nice of them.”
Sharon Anderson, a building superintendent in Halifax, said some power was lost in apartment buildings she manages in Dartmouth’s north end on Monday afternoon, and her phone rang 50 to 60 times from tenants seeking information.
Fortunately, the three buildings with over 400 people in them only lost a portion of their power, she said.
“I don’t think people suffered too much, other than it became cold just before the power came back on,” she said in a telephone interview.
“Nova Scotia Power does the best they can. Hospitals and nursing homes come first. They have to look after shut-ins before they come to assist the private sector.”
Anderson said other families lost Christmas meals that were in the oven, with one relative posting social media photos of herself eating crackers.
The utility promised to have all but the smallest outages restored by 11:30 p.m. Wednesday. It said more than 700 personnel were working to finish restoration of service, as temperatures plunged across the region.
The cold conditions are expected to stick around until the weekend.
Meanwhile, residents of northern and western New Brunswick were still digging out after the Christmas Day storm.
Environment Canada said Bathurst recorded 46 centimetres of snow while Northampton, just south of Woodstock, picked up 38 centimetres.
Miramichi saw 27 centimetres of snow, about 20 centimetres fell in Moncton, Base Gagetown reported 17 centimetres, and 16 centimetres fell in Saint John.