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05/27/2010

Walkerton, I went for a day and stayed....

Steve Russell - Staff Photographer

It was just over ten years ago, I drove up to Walkerton for a day and ended up staying three weeks, and that doen't include all the return visits.

The day after our stringers Roberta Avery and Bill Sandford broke the story about a boil water order in the town I was sent up to look around.

My first stop was the hospital and I shot there until I was asked to leave. 

On the way home after a day shooting I was turned around, there had been a death attributed to the e. coli outbreak. 

So began my three weeks in Walkerton.

It was very interesting time, water was something that every Canadian took pride in.

Water is something we took for granted.

During my three weeks I saw the Toronto Star team swell to 10 reporters and Rick Madonik joined me on the photo side. Add that to the incredible Canadian and International media that showed up, I saw how the media went from a curiosity to an annoyance very quickly.

It was a very strange place during those three weeks, media all over the place trying to find angles, yet watching collegues to see if they were onto anything.

I once left a group of photographers, we tend to clump up, hopped in my car, drove to a park that had a rest room. I emerged to see three photographers looking for me thinking I had some lead that they didn't.

It was strange, at the time we needed a phone line to file pictures, Rob's Sports Bar downtown gave us that line. The bar let media use the fax line, in return we ate and drank while filing or waiting to!

Rob saved us from driving to the hotel in Hanover to file. I was a strange set-up, locals would sit next to us at the bar and watch us edit pictures that dealt with their town, their neighbours and their families.

Logistically it was a tough go, hotels and motels are not very abundant in the area, some journalist were driving in from Toronto every day. In the three weeks I managed to only have to change hotels a handful of times. I also had to hit the Zellers in Hanover a few times for clothing.

Fv35gvz2 "It nearly took all my energy to get down here today," said Lorraine Merchant in the emergency room of the Walkerton Medical Centre. Merchant was in getting blood work done for diagnosis. Even the fountains in the hospital are shut down. The Town of Walkerton is in the midst of an E. Coli epidemic, the hospital is seeing about 50 cases a day, May 24, 2000.

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Steve Lorley flushes the firehydrants in The Town of Walkerton and then takes samples to test the pH after the Town has increased chlorination.  

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After the first death, the flag outside the Municipal offices to half mast. 

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Brittany Bushell, 9, has nothing but good wishes for her sister and best friend Courtney, 8, who was admitted into hospital in Walkerton, Brittany had been sick as well, in fact this trip to see her sister was her first day out of the house. 

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Phil Englishman, a citizen makes a point during a press conference.

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One day after Courtney Bushell was admitted into hospital she is airlifted to London, with her father Dennis going with her (in Yellow far left). Dennis was in Rob's Sports Bar the day I edited the picture of his daughter Brittany above. Whenever I think back to Walkerton I think wondered what happened to Courtney, I'm not sure but a quick google of her name has her volunteering with her high school raising funds for the Haiti Clean Water Project. 

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Store keepers took every precaution while The Town of Walkerton was in the midst of a E. Coli epidemic.


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One of the tougher aspects of covering the crisis were the funerals, Fred Etherton is scrummed outside the church where the funeral for Edith Pearson was held. People in town were demanding answers from the goverment.

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Stan McNeil of The Ontario Clean Water Association waits for one of two water towers to fill up. The pipe he is leaning against is an overflow pipe that will vibrate when the tank starts to over flow.  

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During a break in proceedings at the first weekly council meeting where The Town of Walkerton addressed the E. Coli epidemic, Wayne Ulch has a private talk with Mayor David Thomson. 

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After over a week in hiding Stan Koebel made his first appearence flanked by his daughter Stephanie and wife Carol at the Trinity Lutheran Church in The Town of Walkerton. My one break from Walkerton was a couple days chasing down leads to his where abouts. All searches came up empty.

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After over a week in hiding, the man believed to have some of the answers to the E. coli epidemic, Stan Koebel is comforted by his daughter Stephanie (holding his hand) and wife Carol (hand seen in the top right) while his lawyer Bill Trudell reads a statement.    

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Volunteers walk through a lake of boxed, bootled water takes up the entire ice surface at the The Town of Walkerton arena.

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A family member is comforted at the funeral for Betty Trushinski who died because of E. coli. Truchinski worked at the local hospital. 

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A benefit for the Town of Walkerton drew a few famous look-a-likes, June 3, 2000. Elvis, Peter Robert Burrell, who is a nurse in Owen Sound volunteered his services in support of the cause.  

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Water depot at the Arena in The Town of Walkerton contained thousands of litres of water, including about 50 bottles that were donated by grade 2 and 3 students from Dawnview Public School, each bottle had a card with a personal message from the students.  

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With the closure of many schools in Walkerton and a school day that from 1 to 5pm for secondary schools, high school students taook advantage with late night games of basketball.

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The first of many visits back, Ian McDonald, 5, after getting home from two weeks in a hospital in London during the Walkerton E. coli outbreak insisted that his father place poison signs near all the taps in the home. The family hadn't used a tap in the house since. Ian and his sister Kylie were both hospitalized during the outbreak.

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With the Inquiry room full, some of the overflow parked themselves down at Rob's Sports Bar in downtown Walkerton as Premier Mike Harris testifies at the Walkerton Inquiry in Walkerton. The Inquiry had us coming back more than a few times!

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Premier Mike Harris pauses at a presser after the O'Connor report was read in Walkerton, two years after the E. coli outbreak.

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Catlin Beitz, left, came down to the Walkerton Water Tragety Memorial to drop a few coins into it in memory of a friend that died in a highway accident. However, the cool water proved to be to much temptation for Beitz and pal Kenny Hewitson to resist. The pair cooled of in the ponds of the fountain in Walkerton.

srussell@thestar.ca   

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