Hurricane Hazel - Aftermath
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J.R. McFadden described the role he played in the clean-up after Hazel to Betty Kennedy:
“A voice on the car radio was asking for volunteers to go to the Etobicoke Police Station. As soon as we stepped into the line for volunteers we were selected out of line and taken to the Coroner’s office. My friend was wearing a medical jacket from the University of Toronto and was asked if he was in medical school and if he had done his work on cadavers yet. His positive response evoked a request from the Coroner and the Chief of Police, Andy Hamilton, that we set up a central morgue on the second floor of the old Fire Department, on the north side of Dundas Street just west of Burnhamthorpe Road.
“The second floor was roughly divided down the middle by portable dividers. The entrance, which was at the back, was to be used for incoming and outgoing bodies, as well as those coming to try and identify their loved ones. As you entered the area, the Salvation Army people were doing an outstanding job of assisting the distraught people in search of their loved ones. Behind the partition, the now Dr. Elliot Baker and I were accepting the incoming bodies. Our job of setting up and administering the morgue turned out to be one of cleaning the bodies as best as we could and searching for some identification. We would then write a brief description of the body and where it was found, tag the toe, and give the description to the Salvation Army. Here behind the partition, we had three rows of bodies, men, women, and children in order of age. Each body was covered with a blanket.
“It was obvious to us that many of these people had been swept away in the night as they were still in their pyjamas, and apparently had no chance at all of surviving.
“Our most upsetting experience was setting one of our former public-school janitors, a volunteer fireman, brought in after having been killed trying to save the lives of others. We had known this man well and admired him for many years. We knew well his involvement with the volunteer fire department, as many times when the old firebell behind the school would ring we would see him run across the school yard to fulfill his obligation.
“I remember one kind gentleman who came in to identify an old retired employee who had no family and had lived on Raymore Drive. The employer simply wanted to give his former friend a dignified burial.
“I have often wondered how many of those ill-fated people might have survived if they had not gone back to gather some personal possession which some of them were still clutching.” (Kennedy, 1979; p. 125-126)
Eight hundred troops journeyed to Toronto to assist in the clean-up and recovery operations. Fifteen militia groups and eight army reserve units formed the military contribution dubbed, ‘Exercise Search.’ The men searched the rivers for bodies using boats, pike poles, flamethrowers, bulldozers, spades, and crowbars. Members of the area’s navy units had also assisted in rescue operations during the flood, bringing both men and boats to aid operations.
The militia could not afford to keep men on the search effort indefinitely as militiamen were civilians and they could not be absent from work endlessly. Private companies could not continue to pay their salaries while they performed relief work. Brigadier Purves made this statement, “It is a matter of regret that in pulling out the militia we have no parallel group to hand over the job to. The civilian job of rehabilitating the Humber Valley will take from six months to a year. The flood was a major disaster in the history of Toronto.” Militiamen spent their weekends searching debris piles and burning them where they remained in areas of stagnant water even after they went back to their regular jobs.
The offices of the Salvation Army were inundated with donations of clothes, footwear, blankets, food and cash. Relief work was offered from the Kiwanis Club, Lions, Knights of Columbus, and B’nai Brith. Marilyn Bell, the famed swimmer, donated personal shoes, clothes, and blankets at the Keele Street police station. The Springville labour camp in New York sent cooking equipment and beds. The navy sent 100 men and 12 whalers; the army 900 blankets, 350 mattresses, 175 double decker beds, and 150 stretchers. St. John Ambulance sent 75 men and the Salvation Army 100 people. Boy Scouts watched for looting in Etobicoke. The Army Signal Corps set up communications along the Humber. Harold Bradley, Toronto’s streets commissioner, placed bulldozers, trucks, and shovel loaders at the disposal of any community who needed them. Toronto provided water for Woodbridge and a brewery company used their own vehicles to transport water to Weston and Willowdale. The Red Cross sent rescue workers to Long Branch, shipped supplies to Bradford, and provided nurses to give typhoid shots in Woodbridge. British Boy Scouts donated 1000 pounds to area boy scouts who may have suffered loss. Members of the Junior Red Cross donated their pennies to help children flood victims.
Two men who were collecting donations for flood victims met a man who removed the jacket from his back and said, “Take this. They need it more than I do.” (TS, October 19, 1954)
The Salvation Army storage facilities became full from donations forcing a request that no more donations be made, while assuring the public that if more donations were needed they would be asked for.
The Red Cross quickly assembled shelters in the effected areas of Ontario sheltering 90 people in Port Credit, 30 in Lambton, and 300 people in Bradford who fled the Holland Marsh. Shelter was the first objective for the Red Cross, followed by food and clothing.
Two Red Cross women, Francis Bischoff and Pearl Butler, drove along Highway 400, which had been labelled impassable by officials, to deliver a truckload of clothing for flood victims, but they were forced to detour along Highway 11. When they arrived at Bradford they provided coffee and food, registered victims, and secured housing for the homeless. “We helped the parents and children to the community hall, where they were bedded for the night. The children were wonderful. There was scarcely a whimper out of any of them” said Bischoff. (GM, October 18, 1954)
Toronto City Council donated $50,000, which was criticized as too little. Nathan Philips, a mayoral candidate, and Councillor Balfour requested $500,000 stating it was a “fitting contribution for a city like Toronto that has seen the worst disaster in the nearby municipalities.” (TS, October 19, 1954)
Metropolitan Toronto proposed a $100,000 donation in addition to the $50,000 donated by Toronto itself. Mayor Saunders had to consult the province to receive special legislation to allow the donation. Under the legislation, Toronto would pay 62% making the total contribution $112,000. Plus, Councillor Lipsett felt that the contribution of men and equipment would add up to $500,000. The Etobicoke city council requested $500,000 from the province to help people find homes.
The House of Commons voted to set the federal government’s contribution to flood relief at $1,000,000. This was intended to match the amount the province had contributed. Frank Enfield, the Liberal representative from Scarborough, also urged the contribution of $5,300,000 to the Humber Valley Conservation Authority to build dams and prevent a recurrence of the Hazel flood, although a more comprehensive flood control program would be agreed upon later.
Hurricane Relief Fund
The Hurricane Relief Fund (HRF) was established to “receive contributions from all those citizens in this province and elsewhere who desire to assist those who have lost so much.” (TS, October 18, 1954) Premier Frost and Metro Chairman Gardiner issued a national appeal for relief funds. Colonel Eric Philips was appointed the Chairman of the fund and the treasurer was Neil J. MacKinnon, general manager of the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. The HRF goal was to assist the personal needs of flood victims. The monetary goal was $10,000,000.
Hurricane Hazel Relief Fund (Roy Mitchell National Archives of Canada RD931 used with permission courtesy of Jim Gifford)
Hamilton pledged $20,000 to the HRF. Other donations included $25,000 from the Ford Motor Company, $5000 from the United Church of Canada, $1000 from Laura Secord Candy Shops Ltd., $250,000 from the Atkinson Charitable Foundation, and $20,000 from the British American Oil Company. The Pope sent his “deepest sympathy” and $10,000.
Canadian businesses sent cash donations to the fund in addition to offers of goods, services, or labour. Businesses offering help included banks, insurance companies, and accounting firms. Operation and campaign expenses were kept to a minimum because volunteers completed most of the work. Plus, Pitney Bowes donated typewriters, Bell Canada donated the telephone services, and Grand and Toy donated desks. Autoworkers that were on strike, army, navy, and Boy Scouts also rushed to assist in the recovery.
Donations included Avro Canada employee’s pledge to donate one day’s salary, which would add up to $250,000. One employee of the company and his wife were killed and 115 others lost their homes or sustained damage. A Hamilton television station received $53,000 in pledges before Toronto television and radio stations had had the opportunity to organize events for the fund. Old age pensioners signed their checks over to the fund and some children sold toys to donate the money to the fund.
A large central office in addition to nine smaller branch offices was created to handle relief claims from Hazel. The offices handled claims for household contents and personal belongings either lost or ruined in the flood. This excluded items lost or damaged by seepage or surface drainage. Flood damages not covered by the HRF may have been covered by insurance or government grants.
Colonel Philips, chairman of the fund made this statement, “We only calculate to restore a person to the minimum reasonable requirements for the necessities of life.” This statement was issued to clarify that the fund was not the same as insurance. Complaints were made regarding the reduction of claim amounts awarded to applicants. Some argued that people were not receiving enough to replace what was lost. The Woodbridge Reeve declared that people were only receiving 25% of what they needed.
Dependents of victims of the Hazel flood would continue to receive compensation after the dissolution of the HRF, from the Worker’s Compensation Board.
The final breakdown of the fund was as follows:
- total emergency aid and relief distributed $5,132,024.40;
- 250,000 donors for a total fund of $5,278,624.98;
- a contingency reserve of $56,660.58 was set up for any future unsettled claims;
- 3425 persons benefited including 1197 children;
- orphaned children will receive, upon turning 21, $2500 plus accrued interest;
- 67 funerals and funds to 27 dependents amounted to $324,113.13;
- $1,392,633.96 was used to replace household contents and clothing in 1663 households for 5504 people;
- 859 farms experienced losses, 216 farms lost fences, 145 farms had bridges and culverts damaged for a total awarded to farmers of $1,810,354.07;
- 224 small businesses claimed for equipment and merchandise totalling $488,658.32;
- 222 trailer owners received $320,534.75;
- 19 non-profit organizations, churches, hospitals, and summer camps for underprivileged children were awarded $111,271.07;
- 318 claims were from damages to automobiles and trucks amounting to $59,213.86; and
- total administration expenses were $59,734.64, 11% of the total collected for the fund (TS, August 18, 1955).
Insurance companies set up special disaster service offices in New Toronto, Woodbridge and Newmarket to handle the volume of claims. Information gathered by adjusters at temporary offices was passed to the more than 200 insurance companies holding policies. The procedure was that claimants notified the company of damage, began repairs, listed losses and waited for adjusters to assess their claim. Many people found that their insurance did not cover damage sustained from floodwaters. “It’s been impossible to get flood insurance on homes since the big Mississippi River flood of several years ago,” said Douglas MacRae the joint manager of London and Lancashire Insurance Company Ltd.
Fire insurance would cover wind damage and damage from water that backed up from municipal sewer systems, but not floodwaters or the back-up of a private septic system. If a window was broken by the wind, it was possible to claim water damage and a policy holder could get partial reimbursement for damaged contents of the house if they had a personal property floater policy.
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