Falling ice creates springtime hazards for people, property

Christopher Dick, Centretown News
St. Patrick’s Basilica on Nepean Street bears a “Falling Ice” sign to warn pedestrians to look up.
The weight of winter in cold Ottawa can be an annual nightmare for property owners, especially in Centretown. This year, a few days of warm weather and rain brought months of frozen ice crashing dangerously down to reality.

On March 10, a 56-year-old man was struck on the head and shoulder by a 100-kilogram block of ice in a residential area on Cooper Street between Bank and Kent. The man suffered a concussion, a large laceration to the back of the head, and a fractured collarbone.

The next day, a chunk of ice fell through and demolished the windshield of a parked car, just down the block from where the man was hit. The car was parked in the owner’s driveway beside his residence.

Incidents like these are all too common around this time of year because of warmer weather melting icy remnants from a consistently cold winter. 

The latest accidents prompted warnings from professionals and drew attention to property owners to take better care of their winter woes. 

These accidents are not the first of their kind in Centretown. 

In March 1993, 35-year-old Holly Handspiker was crushed when ice fell three storeys from the roof of her apartment building at 76 Park Ave., near the corner of Elgin Street. She died a few days later due to severe internal injuries. 

Handspiker had asked her landlord to remove the buildup on the roof several times. 

The death prompted former Somerset Ward Coun. Diane Holmes to push a city bylaw to prevent such a freak accident from repeating itself. The proposed bylaw required building owners to clear hazardous snow and ice or face a fine of $500. 

The municipality enacted an updated bylaw in 2005 that says, “Every owner or occupant of a building shall keep the roofs of the building and the surrounding lands free of accumulations of snow or ice that might create an accident hazard.”

Another piece of key legislation places the onus on property owners to ensure ice and snow does not lead to injury. The Ontario Occupier’s Liability Act requires property owners “to take such care as in all the circumstances” that all people are “reasonably safe while on the premises.”

Better drainage, ice guards and heating wires are good tools to prevent ice backlog.

Otherwise, residents should contact the City of Ottawa or hire professional roofing companies to safely remove heavy chunks of ice without causing damage to the roof. 

“Ottawa Paramedic Service expects calls about falling ice around this time of year, especially in older downtown neighbourhoods like Centretown,” says public information officer Jean-Pierre Trottier.

Donald Mann, president of Sanderson Roofing, agrees that the most dangerous places are in Centretown. 

“There are lot of big three-storey houses with poor attic insulation, poor attic ventilation, and sloping roofs, which are all a recipe for ice buildup,” explains Mann. 

Older homes are more likely to acquire large icicles because of lack of insulation in the roof. As the weather drops, heat from the second floor escapes into the attic. This causes condensation, which freezes. 

Marc Quinn, an injury lawyer based on Catherine Street, represents three or four injury cases due to falling ice every winter. 

The cases can range from a minor concussion or laceration to major head and spinal injuries that leave victims unable to work for the rest of their lives. 

For homeowners to avoid crippling legal penalties, Quinn recommends liability insurance for the property, and to check for ice accumulation throughout the winter. For pedestrians, his advice is much simpler. 

“When you’re walking downtown, don’t just look forward,” advises Quinn.
“Remember to look up.”