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Hurricane Hazel - Timeline of Storm Events

An exact timeline of events associated with Hurricane Hazel is difficult to construct because of the speed of the flood and the high number of deaths. The worst flooding in Toronto occurred after the rain had stopped because the heaviest rainfalls occurred in the upper regions of the river basins, creating a delay before floodwaters reached the populated floodplains in the city. The flood was also slowed by temporary dams that formed along the rivers.

Hurricane Hazel inspired a revolution in Toronto regarding conservation and floodplain management. Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) was formed and spearheaded the campaign to expropriate floodplain land and return it to the river. TRCA planned to build dams on the rivers, but the cost of purchasing the land exceeded projections and halted the development of all but four dams. The severity of Hurricane Hazel provided the impetus for subsequent changes in river policy that was evidenced in the Toronto area and in the provincial and federal governments.

Friday October 15, 1954

Throughout the day the Dominion Weather Office tracked Hurricane Hazel, consulting with specialists in the Central Analysis Office to verify the accuracy of their predictions and assist in the wording of weather bulletins that were issued. Information was disseminated from the office throughout the day and the Chief Meteorologist, Fred Turnbull, provided many interviews to local radio and print reporters. Few people had personal experience with hurricanes and the associated impacts, therefore, they did not act accordingly. Toronto Hydro called in standby crews to cope with the possibility of power outages due to predicted strong winds and rain.

By 4:30 p.m., the storm was located over New York and Pennsylvania and heading directly for Toronto. Rain began to fall heavily, resulting in traffic problems during the evening rush hour. Underpasses began to collect water complicating the evening commute. However, by 7:00 p.m. Hazel had pushed the cold front to the west side of the Humber River and the weather cleared over Toronto, Etobicoke, and Weston. The Greater Toronto Area was rather peaceful after that. Toronto Hydro actually contacted the weather office to ask if the worst of the storm was over so they could send their crews home. Turnbull told them, “The worst is yet to come. This is the pause that always comes during a hurricane. The wind and rain will reach their peak by 11:00.” (Kennedy, 1979)

Highways began to suffer washouts by 9:00 p.m. Between Bradford and Toronto, Highway 11 was cut in six places by the floodwaters and throughout the region, creeks were forming where they never had before as water flowed over land to the rivers. Highway 400, heading north, from Toronto was dissected near Bradford in the Holland Marsh area.

Residents of the community of Long Branch, situated where Lake Ontario meets Etobicoke Creek, were more schooled in flooding because of the annual spring floods; therefore the flats began to be evacuated at 10:30 p.m. and the trailer park in Long Branch began evacuations at 11:00 p.m. Toronto experienced strong winds at this time with reports of downed trees.

Woodbridge, which was built in an area where the river widens, was the first community on the Humber to flood. A bridge acted as a temporary dam, halting the flow of water for a brief period, but when the bridge failed, the flood would cascade down the river. The first deaths were reported at 11:00 p.m. as a car was swept into the Humber River, killing the occupants. A child was torn from his father’s arms on a bridge and drowned.

The water in Holland Marsh rose steadily in the early evening with residents braving the rain to shore up weak locations on the dyke or increase the elevation of the dyke. Shortly thereafter, the effort was abandoned and residents evacuated the marsh. By 11:30 the DePeuter house was afloat on the newly formed lake. The house stayed afloat with the family inside until approximately 6:30 a.m.

By 12:00 a.m., the storm was mostly over in Toronto. Police received their first call for outside assistance from Weston at 12:50 a.m. and at this time, water levels in the Humber River were rising rapidly in Weston and communities farther south. Between Thistletown and Scarlett Road, the Humber dropped 7.6 m [25 feet], yet Raymore Drive residents on this steep slope refused to believe that they should be worried. Many Raymore Drive residents were in bed when the flood crest arrived in their community at approximately 1:00 a.m.

Response from the police was complicated by the flood’s effects on the landscape. It became more difficult to locate houses and one police cruiser contacted dispatch with the message, “We can’t see that house with people on the roof that you sent us to find, near the Weston area.”

The reply from another police cruiser was, “Tell him to move about 600 yards south, that’s probably the one I saw floating past a few minutes ago. They’ll be about 600 yards south by now.” (TS, October 16, 1954)

Currey Bulmer, the owner of a marine store on Bathurst Street, was awakened by police at 2:00 a.m. and asked to open his store to provide boats for the rescue operations taking place around the city. Fifty boats were contributed to the "search and rescue" efforts and Bulmer received a police citation for his contribution.

Saturday October 16, 1954

The Toronto Star reported that 30 people had died in the floods following Hurricane Hazel, including between 11 and 19 in Woodbridge and five firemen from Etobicoke. Another 300 people were listed as missing and damage was expected to be in the millions of dollars. The Metro Chairman, Frederick G. Gardiner, immediately requested provincial and federal assistance to cope with the aftermath of Hazel. The scope of the disaster that had befallen the city had not yet been realized because the final totals would include 81 dead and damage at close to $100 million. The largest death toll would be realized on Raymore Drive where 35 people were killed as a result of the Humber River rising rapidly and with immense force ripping entire homes from their foundations and washing them downstream.

Concerns raised about the safety of the city’s water supply were laid to rest after testing proved that the water was safe for consumption, however, a pumping station in Oriole had broken down and Aurora was ordered to boil water as a precaution against bacterial contamination.

Members of the navy contributed to rescue efforts throughout the night and were joined by militiamen the next day. Militia searched the flooded areas for two weeks looking for victims of the flood and burning debris to help clear the river.

Monday October 18, 1954

Search parties were forced to cut apart piles of debris or use flamethrowers as they searched for bodies.

Plans were underway to pump the floodwaters from Holland Marsh. Engineers thought they would have to sacrifice the west side to save the larger east side of the marsh. Pumps were brought in from a mining company and Ontario Hydro.

The Hurricane Relief Fund was formed to collect donations from people in Toronto, across Canada, and around the world who wished to make donations to the flood victims. The goal of the fund was to raise $10 million to cover uninsured damages.

Tuesday October 19, 1954

The Toronto Star reported that Prime Minister St. Laurent asked that a Royal Commission be initiated to investigate Hurricane Hazel-induced damages, which would help the Federal Government determine the amount of federal aid to be sent to the region. Meanwhile, the Ontario Premier requested that federal assistance be calculated in a manner similar to that used to determine aid packages offered to Manitoba and Quebec. Most of this money would be used to rehabilitate buildings and properties, allowing money from the newly formed relief fund to be used to assist people. Housing would remain the responsibility of the municipal authorities.

November 1, 1954

A two-person Royal Commission estimated that damages from Hurricane Hazel were less than $100,000,000, with $10,000,000 to $12,000,000 alone resulting from damage to personal belongings and household effects. The total cost also includes the soil erosion and other effects of a flood of Hazel’s severity.

Colonel John Housser recommended that no more militia operations be formed to assist in cleanup from the flood.

November 8, 1954

Hazel caused a housing crisis in Toronto with 180 houses destroyed, 1175 houses seriously damaged, 801 houses damaged, 16 trailers destroyed, and 169 trailers damaged. A central housing registry was created to help assist flood victims find accommodation.

November 11, 1954

The Holland Marsh was drained of water including the western section that was to be left underwater. The operation was completed 11 days ahead of schedule.

November 22, 1954

Hogg’s Hollow Bridge collapsed.

April 15, 1955

Transportation snarled in the city because a bridge damaged in Hurricane Hazel had to be reduced to one lane so it could be relocated and extended. The snapping of a chain holding the bridge in place necessitated the procedure.

May 14, 1955

The federal government announced plans to investigate flood warning systems. The creation of parkland from the Hazel floodplain necessitated the appointment of a Park Commission.

July 8, 1955

The bridge over the Humber River on Highway 401 reopened after damage inflicted from Hurricane Hazel.

July 28, 1955

Two families were removed from properties when they refused to leave despite a judge’s order. The property owners were demanding larger compensation packages for their land.

August 11, 1955

The Long Branch authorities considered constructing storm sewers for every street; the rapidly growing development north of the community would increase the risk of flooding (increased development increases the speed that runoff reaches the river, thereby reducing the time interval between rainfall and peak discharge in the river).

November 21, 1958

The Black Creek was altered to run above a sewer line where the creek runs through the Lambton Golf course.

December 6, 1958

TRCA proposed a flood control plan, combining land expropriation and dam and reservoir construction titled Plan for Flood Control and Water Conservation.

June 20, 1959

Metro Council approved the TRCA plan.

April 22, 1961

The federal government agreed to support the plan.

1964

The Clairville Dam was completed on the West branch of the Humber River.

November 21, 1968

Developers applied directly to the Ontario Municipal Board to develop floodplain land in an attempt to circumvent the TRCA. They would ultimately be denied.

October 18, 1968

The Milne dam on the Rouge River was completed. It was the fourth dam completed. Others built were the Clairville dam on the west branch of the Humber River, the Black Creek dam at Jane Street and Sheppard Avenue, and the Stouffville dam and reservoir on the west branch of Dufferin Creek.

1973

The G. Ross Lord Dam on the west branch of the Don River was completed.