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Hurricane Hazel Impacts - Long Branch

Etobicoke Creek overflowed its banks, flooding three Long Branch streets completely, killing seven people. Island Road and 43rd Street, located in Long Branch south of the Lake Shore highway, flank Etobicoke Creek and were very badly damaged by the floodwaters. Most of the houses were condemned for fear of an epidemic. Four hundred people were evacuated from Pleasant Valley Trailer Park as the creek flooded. Pleasant Valley Trailer Park was located on the west bank of Etobicoke Creek north of the Lake Shore highway. The park held 140 trailers. Trailers 40 feet [12.2 m] in length were picked up by the river and rammed into other buildings. Other trailers that were not entrained by the river had to be towed away from the contaminated area.

Several houses were washed into Lake Ontario. Some resients were trapped inside their houses while others watched from higher ground or roofs. Firemen and police rescued people from their homes moving them to higher ground or roofs. People pulled into the lake were rescued with ropes thrown to them. Don Nuttley, a police constable working to rescue people the night of the flood relayed his experience, “I was in the water armpit-high trying to guide a boat to rescue a group. The current caught me and I figured I was a cooked goose.” Nuttley subsequently had to be rescued himself. Constable Nuttley was in the water for many hours before he was washed out to the lake with a man and his family when Edgar Beaulieu threw a rope to them:“I was drowned. If Beaulieu hadn’t pulled me out with a rope I wouldn’t be here.”

Another resident told this story. “I was trapped in my house and looking out the window I thought I saw a house slip by. There goes my father’s house, I remarked, but then when my own house crashed down. I realized it was my own that had moved,” said Jack Pickering a resident of Island Road. (TS, October 18, 1954) What had happened was that Pickering’s house had been lifted from its foundation, transported 100 feet [30.5 m] where it was dropped onto his own car, which then became embedded in the mud.

Councillor Maurice Breen helped rescue families in a motor boat. “When I first went down people were standing in deep water. We thought they were all gone. I ran back to get some boards for a lifeline, then heard screaming. One woman fell down into the water; we just grabbed her in time.”

Andrew Tannock of Island Road, Long Branch, was presumed dead when his house was swept from its foundation towards Lake Ontario. Tannock climbed into the rafters of the house and rode it to the lake. When the house touched down, he climbed out of the house and swam to shore.

Reeve Marie Curtis of Long Branch was quoted saying, “If it hadn’t been for the trees, which held the houses back, half of them would have been swept out into the lake.” (GM, October 18, 1954) For example, two trees prevented a house with 35 people perched on the roof from floating into the lake.

Marie Curtis Park Sign (photo: Peter Bowyer)
Marie Curtis Park Sign (photo: Peter Bowyer)

Norm Clift relayed his story of being stranded in the flood in a large dump truck to Betty Kennedy. “If I remember right there were ten or twelve of us–three in the cab and the balance in the box. We then started down the road and our first stop was at a cottage-style home whose older residents [The Thorpe’s] refused to be evacuated on the grounds of having gone through floods before and going to ride this one out also. But as they had a young baby they asked us to see that it (I think it was a girl) could be cared for, and had a small valise with bottles full of formula packed. Two of the firemen waded through chest-high water to get the baby and the case, and brought them back to the truck.” (Kennedy, 1979; p. 93)

Fire Chief Houston, who was also in the truck with Clift, describes the flood. “The water kept rising and to the point of stalling the motor, we finally cut the fan belt off. That worked for a short while and we managed to drive farther down the road where we rescued two people from marooned cars. Then the motor stalled and the current bumped us still farther down the road and we finally came to rest next to a big oak tree. There was also a house some twenty-five feet from us and car on its front lawn. Next door was a cement-block with an exceptionally high basement and a good solid roof. But as we were marooned on this truck with some five and half to six feet of water all around us we were literally at the mercy of the river. Finally somebody with a cedar-strip boat came by and took some four firemen and the two rescued persons from the car and the young Thorpe baby to the roof of the cement-block house.” (Kennedy, 1979; p. 93)

“There we conversed in shouting voices, telling how much of the parked car was visible. It seems we first noticed the door handles disappear, then it was halfway up the windows, then to the roof, and I imagine it was around 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. there was only a spot of the roof showing. Then the spot began to get bigger and we knew the crest had been reached.

“During our stay in the truck and as the depth of the water got worse, we could see big mobile trailers from the trailer grounds north of the bridge on Lakeshore Road bouncing down the river and hear dishes, cups, pots, pans bouncing off shelves. We could also hear people screaming for help, but we were helpless to do a thing. At one point, there were flashes up the river as hydro lines snapped and fell into the water.

“The damage and sight of what the hurricane did was ghastly. Homes were knocked off their foundations, cars were flooded and filled with silt, roots and debris was all around. And the home of the people–all three or four–where we rescued the baby was completely gone–only the solid concrete steps remained,” said Clift. (Kennedy, 1979; p. 94)

Ethel Forrester, of the Pleasant Valley Trailer Park described her rescue from the flood to Betty Kennedy,

“We had retired for the night and were both asleep when we were awakened by a knock at the door. I opened it to find a man in oilskins with a flashlight, standing in a large puddle of water in the pouring rain. He said, ‘Ma’am, there is a terrible storm and the creek is expected to flood. You should get out now while you have the chance.’ I thanked him for the information, closed the door with thoughts that the best place to spend the night in a storm was inside my cosy warm trailer, then went to bed.

“After about half an hour there was another knock on the door. This time the water was ankle deep and the man was more persistent in his demands that we get out and on to high ground. The rain and howling wind convinced me he was right. He told me to get a few things together and he would be back for us. We put on boots and a coat over our pyjamas and stood at the door watching the rising water. A man with a small pick-up truck came and asked if we needed help. He offered to take us to the Lakeshore Road. As we got into the front seat I could see the water was now up to his hub caps. He had a small dog that he gave to my son to hold and told us how he just happened to be driving by the trailer camp, saw the flood, and thought someone might need help.

“He tried to drive to the Lakeshore Road but halfway there realized the water was too deep, so he turned back to try and get to the railroad tracks that were on high ground north of the trailer camp. By this time the water was so deep it was starting to come in the doors. We then knew we should get out before we were trapped inside the truck. With difficulty we opened the doors, and stepped into ice-cold water swirling up to our waist. He carried me; I carried his little dog; and son John half swam and half waded to the railroad embankment. Here on dry ground he left us, and took his little dog back into the swirling water to rescue someone else.

“We climbed up the bank where many other people were standing in the bitter-cold wind, mostly in night clothes. One man offered me a drink of his bottle of spirits which I took. We then decided to walk to a road that was still high and dry. This would take us to Lakeshore Road. Here we managed to hitch a ride to a friend’s house.” (Kennedy, 1979; p. 58-60)

A suggestion was made that the flooded area in Long Branch be converted into a park because 700 residents were removed from the trailer park and the two condemned streets. Councillor Len Ford was quoted as saying, “We in Long Branch are hoping to have at least the southern part as a park; a part of the Metropolitan area’s green belt. There have been too many floods to allow people to live here.”

Residents were convinced to leave the area after the Hurricane Hazel flood. Mrs. David Kestenberg, a trailer park resident said, “I hate to be a quitter but that is almost too much.”

Mrs. Ross Whitfield, another resident stated, “That’s it! I’m leaving.”

The local government requested that the provincial and federal governments purchase 192 properties on Island Road, 42nd Street, 43rd Street, and Lake Promenade west of 42nd Street. The area was condemned for health reasons. A sanitary sewer serving the area prior to the storm was seven feet below the riverbed, but after the storm, the sewer was located three feet above the riverbed. Of the 192 properties requesting expropriation, 43 were totally destroyed, 68 seriously damaged, 37 slightly damaged, 30 garages destroyed, and one store was seriously damaged. Preliminary damage estimates are greater than one million dollars. A plan was proposed to clear 300 homes from the lower elevations at a cost of $1,600,000 and create a 35-acre park.

Three quarters of the people who resided in the area have left. “We are not financially able to resurrect the services and look after the damage which has been done, but we have every confidence the people will be assisted to get out. There are only a couple of people who do not want to get out. Most of those who can get accommodations elsewhere have left, and we are trying very hard to find accommodation for the rest. We are placing people every day. People especially those with children don’t want to be there, and they are cooperating wonderfully,” said Reeve Marie Curtis of Long Branch. (TS, October 28, 1954)

When the Pleasant Valley Trailer Camp closed, Reeve Anthony Adamson answered criticisms saying it was, “only an extraordinary stroke of luck that some of you are not lying on a marble slab.

Long Branch Memorial (photo: Peter Bowyer)
Long Branch Memorial (photo: Peter Bowyer)

“We recognize the fact that Pleasant Valley is a pleasant valley except when it floods–and you have had three floods in five years.” (GM, October 18, 1954)

Storm Orphan

Nancy Thorpe, a four month old baby was the only survivor of a family from Island Road in Long Branch and has been dubbed the “storm orphan.” The mother handed the baby to the Fire Chief, who carried her across the road. When he returned to assist the rest of the family from the house he discovered that the house had floated out to the Lake. The child’s name was Nancy Thorpe and her parents were Mr. And Mrs. Clifford Thorpe. People were willing to open their homes to strangers based on media reports of the flood. After seeing a picture of the Thorpe orphan in the paper a family of eight offered to shelter another family of eight. Nancy Thorpe, the storm orphan was to spend Christmas with her Aunt and Uncle after which no more media reports regarding her whereabouts could be found.

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