High-rise heroine

Bayview resident helped neighbours stay warm during the ice storm


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Betty Anne van Gastel, helped her neighbours during the ice storm

It’s often said that high-rise living lacks a sense of community and neighbourhood. People acknowledge one another with nods in the lobby and glances in the laundry room.

But during the ice storm that blasted through Toronto last December — leaving thousands without power — residents at one Bayview apartment complex were brought together by the warmth and small-town know-how of a neighbour.

When the towers at Bayview Village Place, just east of Bayview Avenue on Sheppard Avenue East, were cast into darkness, many of the roughly 1,000 residents were stranded on the upper floors of the 20-storey buildings with no heat, water or electricity. But 51-year-old Betty Anne van Gastel, who grew up in New Dundee, Ont., was ready with an impressive supply of bottled water, flashlights, candles, extra food and a battery-powered radio. Her first priority was to check in with the elderly and mobility impaired residents, many of whom were also without phone service to reassure friends and relatives. With only enough water pressure to reach the third floor, her apartment became an essential resource for many neighbours as well as a place to get the latest updates from 680 News and the CBC.

“It’s amazing how something like this brings out the best in people,” said van Gastel, who at one point co-ordinated an effort with neighbours and family to help a man who requires a walker to get down 15 flights of stairs.

“Everybody had power by Christmas. After four-and-a-half days, that was pretty good,” she said.

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