Todd Nicholson’s perspective was on point from the start. The family is
okay. The ‘stuff’ can be replaced.
Having that perspective couldn’t have been easy. Nicholson and his family
of four – wife Emily and nine-year-old twins Gwen and Tate – lost their
home on Sept. 21 when a tornado ripped through the community of Dunrobin
west of Ottawa. The tornado brought winds of 220-270 km/h and ripped the
Nicholson house from its foundation.
Nicholson and his family were out for an early dinner when the tornado
struck around 4:51 p.m. The dinner came at the end of a day in which the
Nicholsons were, not surprisingly, helping promote para sport.
Nicholson is one of Canada’s most decorated Paralympians. A long-time
captain of Canada’s National Sledge Team, he wore the ‘C’ when the country
won its lone Paralympic hockey gold in 2006, and he served as chef de
mission for the Canadian contingent earlier this year in PyeongChang.
“Luckily for us we were doing a para sport education program at a local
high school. It was Carp Fair weekend,” says Nicholson. “No one goes to
school on those Fridays. Our kids usually get off the bus around 4:40-4:45
p.m. and the tornado hit us at 4:51. On any other day, they would have just
been getting in the house.
“We did the para sport education thing all day and then decided to go out
for an early supper. We went to the kids’ favourite restaurant, the Lone
Star. When we were leaving around 4:30, we ran into some friends in the
lobby and their son was looking to do a story on a Canadian hero and he had
chosen me. So that conversation lasted about 10-15 minutes which in the
long run probably ended up saving my life.”
Minutes later, Nicholson received a call from a concerned neighbour who
wanted to ensure he and his family weren’t in their home. The neighbour
told them about how the tornado had lifted the roof right off the Nicholson
Later that weekend, the family was on the front step of their home but
weren’t allowed in for safety concerns. Firefighters asked the Nicholsons
to come up with about a dozen items that they wanted recouped.
“Our family was the most important. We were all together and that’s
ultimately all that mattered,” Nicholson says. “They grabbed what they
could for us, including my championship ring (from 2006 Paralympics). We
had no idea how but the two pictures we would not be able to replace, one
of Emily’s mom and the one of her grandmother (wearing the same wedding
dress that Emily wore) … were still there.”
The tornado impacted about 60 homes in Dunrobin, including the home of
Todd’s brother Jason, who also lost his house.
Soon after the initial shock of what happened, the focus turned to where
the family would live. With two children attending school in Dunrobin, Todd
and Emily knew they wanted to stay in the community. They have been able to
live in a stranger’s cottage for weeks and are targeting mid-November to
make a semi-permanent move to another house in Dunrobin.
The long-term plan is to re-build at the site of their home in Dunrobin and
there have already been meetings with insurance companies and architects to
try and gain understanding of how the re-build will take place. The goal is
to start building in the spring of 2019.
Nicholson, who is also chair of Own the Podium, is a selfless human being
and always concerned with helping others. Even in this challenging time,
his attention turned to other families and children impacted by the tornado
and he was instrumental in putting on a Nov. 10 event at West Carleton High
School called Rebuilding Communities Through Sport.
The project was launched with the support of Own the Podium, the Ottawa
Senators, Ottawa Senators Foundation, and Their Opportunity will include a
public rally/media conference in the school gymnasium followed by a full
day of games and events for children and adults.
Senators alumni and mascots, along with Olympians and Paralympians, will
come together to help support a community going through a challenging time.
And Nicholson, who was as impacted by the tornado as anyone, will be front