Hurricane Hazel Impacts - Humber River

Follow the links below for more information on Impacts in specific areas:

The Humber Valley was described as a “wide deep trench (glacial)” that in several locations narrows to the width of the river with steep banks on either side from 25 to 50 feet [7.6–15.2 m] high. Comparatively, other locations are surrounded by wide floodplains that average several miles wide and 300 to 400 feet [91–122 m] deep. Although dams and reservoirs had been suggested for the river, there were no flood control works in place prior to Hazel. Part of the drainage basin was deforested and part was located in a highly urbanized area increasing the speed with which water could flow to the river. The river cannot handle a rapid increase in the volume of water. The Humber is a steep river, which exacerbated the flooding problem.

The Humber River caused the most damage and destruction in the Toronto area. The waters rose rapidly and with incredible force smashed into communities that lined the river’s floodplains. Houses were swept off their foundations and numerous lives were lost. Many incredible rescue efforts were enacted even though the current was strong enough to jeopardize most boats launched into the waters. Several would-be rescuers launched missions to rescue stranded people, only to need to be rescued themselves. Despite the difficulties many lives were saved because of the quick action of police, fire personnel, and citizens.

A police radio message described the futility of launching boats into the river: “Twenty-three cruiser here at the Humber. The life saving people say not to launch a boat of any size . . . repeat of any size . . . in this river. Nothing can make it. Anyone in it will be killed for sure.” (TS, October 15, 1964)

The difficulty in launching boats proved to be a source of frustration for bystanders attempting to rescue stricken people in the flood’s path as described by Det-Sgt Jack Gillespie, referring to officers, “within hearing distance of these awful screams from women and children leaning out windows and hanging onto rooftops, but we couldn’t get close to them until we got the boats and even when they came some of them were too small. If you didn’t have a 15 horsepower motor, it was no good.

“Until we got the boats there was nothing we could do. You couldn’t drive into torrents of water because your car would be rolled away. You had to watch the high power lines that were coming down, but mostly all you had to do was wait for boats.” (TS, October 16, 1954)

After the storm, 17 bodies remained missing in the Humber Valley. The search for the bodies began with 800 militia troops. The troops were equipped with boats, pike poles, flamethrowers, bulldozers, spades, and crowbars. The military operation name was ‘Exercise Search.’ The military contribution included 15 militia groups and 8 army reserve units.

Woodbridge

Woodbridge was the first community on the Humber to be hit with the floodwaters from Hazel. In this community the river--normally 65 feet wide--extended to 350 feet [107 m] at its narrowest point during the flood. Sidewalks were uprooted and sewage and water mains broken. Nine people died and several hundred more were homeless. Twenty houses and every trailer in Glendale Mobile Home Park were ruined and another 50 houses in Pine Grove and Woodbridge were damaged. Casualties included Mr. and Mrs. Donald Reid and their daughter Dallas whose car was swept off Highway 7 after crossing a small bridge, Dianna Radley and her brother Robert drowned as they were being rescued with their mother, and John T. Clarke died when the west side of the highway crumpled and plunged into river.

Flooded Trailer Park
Flooded Trailer Park

Dianna Radley and her brother Bobby were swept away from their mother as the boat they were being rescued in was overturned. Myers, the boat operator, said:

“I received the flood call at my house about midnight. Boats were being prepared to remove people along eight streets in the northern section of town.

“There was a slight wind and it was real dark as I reached the evacuation centre. My 7½ horsepower outboard motor was put on one boat and I started my part of the rescue operations.

“We had gathered in about six families when I was instructed with another, a local firemen (sic), to go to the Radley house and take out Mrs. Dorothy Radley, an expectant mother, and her children.

“There was Terry, 14, Sharon, 12, Dianna, 8, John, 7, and Bobby, 4.

“I got the boat in close to the Radley veranda. The water was above the windows and the Radley family was sitting on furniture floating around the living room.

“Mr. Radley and the fireman placed the children and Mrs. Radley in the boat. They stayed behind. The boat wouldn’t hold any more persons.

“I pointed the flashlight through the darkness and steered the boat out into the current.

“We had hardly gone 40 feet when the boat crashed into an underwater object, it might have been a fence post.

“The object ripped off the propeller and the engine stopped. Suddenly there was a rushing of water and the boat was picked up, twisted around in a circle and smashed against a big tree.

“The boat overturned and we plunged into the water up to our waists. There was a terrific current. I managed to get all of the children and Mrs. Radley on the overturned boat.

“I shouted for help and several firemen threw a life line. It fell short and drifted downstream. Then they formed together and started to wade out to us.

“The boat shifted and Dianna and Bobby plunged screaming into the water. I couldn’t find them in the darkness.” (GM, October 18, 1954)

“I was just too far away to be able to help her. A man on the shore was able to grab her by the shoulder, and just as he was pulling her clear of the water, a current swept both children out of her arms.” (TS, October 16, 1954)

“We managed to get Mrs. Radley and the other children into another rescue boat and to dry land. They have only found Dianna.” (GM, October 18, 1954)

The Reids left their house in Woodbridge because they feared they would be in jeopardy because of the floodwaters. En route to Toronto their car was swept from the road through a washout 400 yards down the river. Ironically their house in Woodbridge was flooded in the basement and on the veranda, but not the first floor.

Della Perry and Walter Gamble were driving to Shelburne when they were washed into the river. John T. Clarke was returning home after dropping his date at home when his car was flooded off the road.

Carl Dyer (49) of Fergus, Woodbridge was stranded for three hours in the Humber River grasping a tree after his car was swept off a bridge on Highway 7 west of Woodbridge. Melville Robinson from Ebenezer rescued Dyer. Dyer described the rescue:

“I was going west and trying to creep across the bridge as the water had started running over the foundation. Suddenly there was a big wave and I felt myself going off the bridge. I barely remember climbing out the window, and as I broke surface I was carried some way, and crashed into a tree. I hung on to it for dear life.”

“I hollered and no one came. Everything seemed to go hazy. I vaguely remember Robinson coming along, and pulling me out.” (TS, October 16, 1954)

Robinson had stopped to check the bridge to ensure it was stable, “When I heard the hollering, I ran down the bank, and had to go up to my waist to reach the tree. The water had gone down some by that time, and I carried Dyer out.” (TS, October 16, 1954)

Lieutenant John P. Connor commander of the Royal Canadian Sea Cadet Corps described his experience in Woodbridge:

“Once in Woodbridge we were placed under command of the Fire Department and were assigned street detail. Our purpose was to walk alongside of the whalers and check houses for stranded inhabitants. The water was fast-moving and chest-deep and it took a dozen people to guide the craft through the current. One learned very quickly to keep a good grasp of the boat, as unseen culverts caused more than one temporary disappearance of the crew.

“The most memorable event at this point was rescuing an 82-year-old bed-ridden grandmother--mattress and all--and her son who, two days before, had been discharged from hospital, having been confined for pneumonia. The son’s activities were memorable as well. He stayed on his front porch all night, and with the aid of a broomstick, he personally rescued twenty-seven cats and fourteen dogs. All were loaded aboard the whaler and the menagerie huddled together for warmth. Not so much as a hiss, scratch, growl, or bark occurred. When we reached high ground near the fire hall, our cargo of cats and dogs were last seen heading for still higher ground--but still together.” (Kennedy, 1979; p. 79-80)

Mrs. May Lovett told this story of her sister’s experience in Woodbridge during the flood:

“She was sitting in the living room and her husband was on the night shift in Malton. She looked up and saw water coming across the floor; she woke the children and put some clothes on them and then hurried out onto the veranda in the front. The street was already flooded, so they climbed on the railing.

“While they were there, some men came and got their boat which was fastened in the backyard. It was a large boat but when they came around to the street it was already loaded. They yelled at my sister to get in but she refused, as she knew it was overloaded. Just then it upset and all were drowned.

“She and the children stood on the veranda rail all night until firemen rescued them in the morning. She said it was a problem keeping the children awake as they were so young, but she managed by talking and telling them stories all night.” (Kennedy, 1979; p. 81-82)

Thistletown

Two men, Murray and Clyde Deadder, were killed in this community when their car was caught in floodwaters and twelve families were homeless. Two bridges were undermined when their approaches were washed away and the 600 person village was isolated by the floodwaters. At the Hospital for Sick Kids, the pump house was disabled, but this could not be reported to the main Toronto hospital because of the isolation.

Weston

Weston is a community nestled along the east side of the Humber River, but the community had previously been located on the western flatland. Following several disastrous floods in the 1800’s, town officials decided to move the community to prevent further loss of life and property, a move that undoubtedly saved lives during Hazel. The former Weston town location is now the site of the Weston Golf and Country Club.

Jim Crawford was 23 and a police officer the night Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto, although he would become Staff Inspector at Toronto Metropolitan Police’s 3rd District Headquarters. Crawford was off duty that night, out driving in the rain when he noticed water flowing down Wilson Avenue. He picked up his brother Pat and left to help.

Flattened houses in Weston (Weston Historical Society used with permission courtesy of Jim Gifford)
Flattened houses in Weston (Weston Historical Society used with permission courtesy of Jim Gifford)

“Come on, get in the car, let’s go. We can make heroes of ourselves tonight. (Joking) I can picture the Humber River being a real death trap,” he said.

“It’s still quite vivid with me. It was quite some time after Hurricane Hazel–for many weeks, months, and even years after–I’d wake up in a cold sweat thinking about what could have happened. If I’m near fast-moving water, like a fast-moving current in a river–or a lake that becomes choppy–I think back to October of 1954.”

Crawford pulled up to Fairglen Crescent, near the Humber River off Weston Road, south of Wilson Avenue, where he met Herb Jones, a contractor, who said that he had a boat, but no gas. Crawford located some gas for Jones and boarded his 25 horsepower boat and headed out into the river.

“We went out into the river and to describe it, it was just unbelievable. The water was up now to the height of the telephone wires, there were people on roofs of houses, there was a lot of screaming and shouting.”

Jones steered the boat and Crawford helped people from porches and second floor windows. They collected people and delivered them to the shore. One couple refused to leave unless they brought their dog.

“It’s hard to describe the waves, we were just bouncing around like a cork… We were dodging debris, we were dodging houses… we were dodging telephone poles--luck was with us.”

Jones and Crawford saved 50 lives. They remained at it until daybreak.

“By that time, I was soaked right through and had the shivers. I just couldn’t stop shaking. I think probably a lot of that was not being cold and wet, but being scared too.” (TS, May 27, 1984)

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Ward of Weston were rescued from the roof of their house by a helicopter. It took several attempts for the helicopter to execute the rescue. The couple fled to the roof when their house was struck by another house that was set afloat by the flood.

Donald Curtis was rescued from the roof of a neighbour’s house, but his mother was lost. Donald awoke when a dresser fell over and he felt the vibrations of the floodwaters beating against the side of the house. He woke his mother and they went to the veranda, but the house was already surrounded by floodwaters. Donald attempted to lift his mother onto the roof after he climbed up there himself, but could not. Then the house collapsed forcing him to jump to the neighbour’s roof where he stayed until rescued.

Scarlett Road

On Scarlett Road, a dog barking in the backyard roused his owners who discovered the rising waters. The dog was confined in his backyard kennel and the waters were almost over his back.

“When I looked out and realized the situation, I dashed to the telephone and started calling my neighbours,” related Mrs. Daisy Sparrow.

“I found him [the dog] almost drowned in the few minutes it took the waters to rise over his back. I unchained him and stumbled back in the water to the house. Then I got up the rest of my family and those next door. But the rest of the dogs in our kennels were lost, except for a few,” said Herbert Sparrow. (TS, October 25, 1954)

The warning saved 17 people, but 24 dogs were lost.

Raymore Drive

Raymore drive was a quiet residential street located parallel to the Humber River across from the community of Weston. The Humber River rose and flooded the lower portion of the street, removing 1200 feet [366 m] of the street and 14 homes, and killing 35 people. Raymore curved in the southern portion with Gilhaven Avenue acting as a radius. The lower section was devastated, removing homes on both sides of the street. On the east side of the street, a few trees remained, but on the west side, the street was lined with rocks, boulders, and debris that was transported by the floodwaters.

The river floodwaters rose steadily Friday night and early Saturday morning and destroyed a Bailey bridge installed to span the river south of the Weston fairgrounds. The bridge then became a battering ram against homes on Raymore Drive, tearing them from their foundations.

John Neil returned from a bachelor party at the Army/Navy club to find the street flooded. Thinking that his family and neighbours had been evacuated, he proceeded to help evacuate residents of Gilhaven Avenue and did not realize until the next morning that his family was among the casualties.

The high loss of life has been blamed on complacency, a feeling that the Humber could not threaten residents. Older residents were quoted as saying that, “It’s never gone this high before.” In one situation, as a house was flooded to the ground floor the occupants moved the furniture to the neighbours house, which caused the demise of both households due to the extra time involved.

People were warned to leave the area. One man, George Bridger (17) recalled wading through water, sometimes up to his nose, to warn people to leave. Mrs. Thomas Waheling stated, “If he hadn’t awakened me, I’d never have got out.”

Herb Andeus of Gilhaven Avenue said he woke up and found water at his back fence. “I went out to get my dog from the garage. Water was up to my ankles. When I returned it was up to my knees. I sent my wife Lucy and boy Tommy up to the Army and Navy Club immediately.” He commented that if everyone had heeded the warning the death toll would not have been so high.

Thomas Gould and his wife woke to hear a warning shouted. At that time the water was at their ankles, and then it rose to their knees, then to their waist as they left the house. “Our little house was 30 feet from the river. About midnight we noticed the water was up in the back a bit but we didn’t think it was too much to worry about. But we decided–God only knows why–not to go to bed.

“Two hours later I was lying down. The first time we realized there was any danger was when a faraway voice shouted ‘Are you floating yet?’ I looked out the front window and all I could see was water. My husband was there trying to plug up holes in the foundation. He told me I had better get out fast.

“I phoned twice to my neighbours to rouse them. I grabbed my cat Smoky, my dog Prince–he’s 16 years old–my bible and an old family picture. I stepped out the back door into water up to my knees. There was a terrible current. I scrambled around to the side and out the front and by that time the water was up to my waist,” said Mrs. Thomas Gould to a Globe and Mail reporter. (GM, October 18, 1954)

Mr. And Mrs. Sidney Jamieson woke when the water was still on their lawns, but when they were dressed to leave their house, the water had risen up four of their steps.

Volunteer fireman Bryan Mitchell recalled what he felt the night of Hazel on Raymore Drive, “I felt so helpless, but there was nothing I could do, nothing anybody could do. The water was so deep, up to our chins, and all the firemen were weighed down by clothing and boats and equipment.

Twisted house on Raymore Drive (Toronto Police Museum used with permission courtesy of Jim Gifford)
Twisted house on Raymore Drive (Toronto Police Museum used with permission courtesy of Jim Gifford)

“It was like something out of a Cecil B. DeMille movie. The incredible roar of the water, like the roar of Niagara Falls. It was a gigantic flood with smashed houses and uprooted trees bobbing like corks, everything going down the river so fast. Houses crashing into the sides of other houses, people everywhere screaming. And then you couldn’t even hear the screams anymore.” (TS, October 14, 1984)

Mitchell described the efforts of the rescuers to Betty Kennedy in her book on Hurricane Hazel:

“I think some of them realized their houses were moving, but a neighbour’s house was on a solid foundation; therefore, they thought, ‘Let’s swim to the safety of the neighbour’s.’ That’s what a lot of them did. Matter of fact as the water still rose they were right up on the rooftops of neighbours’ houses, hanging onto TV aerials. Some stayed in their houses, and we could hear the screams when the houses were swept down the river with people in them.

“All hell broke loose. People were screaming, ‘Save us . . . Save us.’ We could get spotlights on them. We could see them . . . but they were just so far out you couldn’t throw ropes. We tried floating ropes to them on logs, anything buoyant. We’d grab a piece of firewood, tie rope to it, and float it upstream, hoping the current would get it over to them and they tie it in some way to their house. We’d hang onto the rope on shore. Sometimes the only possibility was to swim out with a rope. We saw feats of strength we’ve tried to reproduce since, and we can’t.

“Norm Eldwin, who is now one of our district chiefs, single-handedly put up a 35-foot ladder and extended it out horizontally to span across to a house. We’ve tried that under ideal conditions at the back of the station and it’s all we can do to lift it off the ground. It’s a four- or six- man ladder. But these things happened. Everybody was working so hard. And you could hear people screaming . . . screaming.

“The firefighters did a good job. But for every one we got out, there was another we couldn’t get out.” (Kennedy, 1979; p. 109-110)

David Philips, a resident of Raymore Drive, described the efforts to save people on the river, “As I stood there I could hear people screaming, I could see the houses tumbling into the river. I ran down to the river to try and help, but there was nothing we could do. We tried to get a boat out but the water was too rough. The firemen tried going out with ropes, hand over hand, but it was just too difficult, the river was too swollen. And the water just kept coming. We were forced to stand there and watch people die.” (TS, October 14, 1984)

“The homes were literally lifted off their foundations and swept away. You could hear the people screaming. Many of them were standing on their roofs. In many cases the screaming just stopped; the homes just disintegrated, and that was the end of it,” Philips said. (Kennedy, 1979; p. 108-109)

Where the Houses Were
Where the Houses Were

Diane Lockhart, a resident of Gilhaven and Raymore Drive and her family left the area for a safer area. “It seemed like it had rained all week and that it would never stop. That night I was in the kitchen with a friend of mine and my mother, who was sewing. There was a knock on the door and it was a neighbour who had come to tell my dad that the river was going up and might overflow. Mom made us all get dressed in warm clothes and we went up to my aunt’s house farther up the hill.”

Lockhart commented on why people refused to leave their homes, “I guess it’s because their homes symbolized safety for them. It’s like a horse going back into a burning stall.” (TS, October 14, 1984)

When the flood was over and the damage assessed, it was decided that the area of Raymore Drive flooded so catastrophically that it would not be zoned for residential development any longer. Then the concern turned to the compensation survivors and displaced residents would receive for their properties. Jim Patterson stated, “I think it is time that someone put in a word for the neighbours who will never be able to speak for themselves…who lost their lives as well as their property on Raymore Drive in the flood. I think it is time to inform the Ontario government that those people did not live in any sort of Shack town. But that’s what one might suspect from the $5000 limit that has been set in the restitution plan. I’m going to tell you that $5000 would hardly pay for the brick work on some of those houses.”

Patterson’s property on Raymore drive was not damaged. “However, I have an idea what some of my neighbours are up against. I can tell you that the $5000 limit is pathetic. Why some of the houses had mortgages for $9000 and $10,000 and the equity of the owners was considerable.” (TS, November 1, 1954)

Mount Dennis

The community of Mount Dennis next to the Humber River experienced very high floodwaters with street lights running down the middle of the flooded river at one location. Cynthia Avenue properties had 10 feet [3m] of water around homes and approximately 20 feet [6.1 m] of front lawns eroded by the river, leaving cliffs bordering properties. On Scarlett Road a woman and her family were trapped in a house that was surrounded by floodwaters 10 feet [3 m] deep; firefighters 100 feet [30.5 m] away could not reach the family to help. In South Mount Dennis where the Black Creek normally is one foot [0.3 m] deep and so narrow that a person is able to jump across, the creek swelled to cover Humber Boulevard, Porter Avenue, and Cordella Avenue.

Old Mill

George Eliot (33)-a telephone linemen father of three, and Queensway resident-survived for four hours in the flooded Humber River near Old Mill, by clinging to a tree before Max Hurley rescued him. Earlier attempts by the Toronto, York, and Etobicoke police failed. Hurley was able to navigate the river with his boat, to where he reached the stranded man; Eliot was rushed to St. Joseph’s hospital.

Old Mill Bridge
Old Mill Bridge

Eliot was stranded in a car on a bridge when firemen threw him a hose to tie around his waist so he could crawl through the window of the car. The car was swept off Old Mill by the river and the line snapped before he could be pulled to shore. Spectators kept lights trained on the stranded man, where his face peered through the branches of the tree. When Eliot grabbed onto the tree, firemen attempted to reach him by stretching a ladder across the river. Lines were tossed to him, several projected by rockets. Boats were launched but the current was too swift. A helicopter was called for and the Navy launched a boat, but rescue attempts halted when Hurley managed to reach Eliot by boat.

“I don’t see how I could have held on much longer. I thought I would drown for sure.

“Prayers, the will to live, the willow tree, and the lifesaver that gave me life and believe me I’m thankful to be alive.

“I threw up my hands and grabbed the branch of a tree. I was swamped with water and the pressure was terrific. No sooner had I pulled myself up into that tree when my car was swept off the bridge and nested up against it. I stood on the roof for a moment holding the limb all the time. It seemed like only a minute when the tree I was holding crashed down and I was in that crushing swirl of water again. I was drowning. I knew it. I felt in a minute I would be dead. Then by some miraculous stroke of luck my hand felt another branch in the water. I grabbed it, struggled and struggled until I could pull myself up again. I looked around and saw my car going down the river,” Eliot related to reporters. (TS, October 16, 1954)

Firemen Stories

Five firefighters from the Kingsway-Lambton Fire Station were killed when they went to rescue people stranded in a car by floodwaters from the Humber River. The fire truck the men were driving became stuck on a flooded street and overturned tossing the men into the water. Five of the nine men on board died, Angus Small, Dave Palmateer, Frank Mercer, Tiny Clarence Collins, and Roy Oliver. Marsh Palmateer, Jack Philips, Jim Britton, and Bill Bell survived and related the sequence of events that killed their comrades.

Firetruck after the Flood
Firetruck after the Flood

The third call of the night sent them to Humber Boulevard, located parallel to the river between Dundas and Bloor streets. When they began down the street the pavement was dry, however it soon rose to above the wheels. Frank Mercer had missed the truck so he was following in his car. When the men in the truck decided to turn back, the car had stalled and the fire truck could not move it.

Philips said, “We didn’t realize there was any danger on the river road. The road was just a little bit damp near the falls, but there was quite a bit of water on the road a mile south of Dundas Street. We didn’t know if we could get through to Bloor Street. so we decided to back down there.

“Frank Mercer followed us down in his own car, but when we tried to back up we couldn’t get clear of his car. All of a sudden the water started to rise fast. The current became so strong that we were unable to turn the truck’s wheels. We decided then and there we were just going to have to wait it out. We didn’t think we had anything to worry about--the river was at its peak--but it was just starting, just starting.” (TS, Saturday October 16, 1954)

The truck seemed more stable than the car carrying the extra man so the men on the truck decided to pull Mercer to the truck through the water. Palmateer said, “I threw the rope in and he (Mercer) grabbed it. I told him to jump out and we would pull him to safety, but he seemed afraid. The water was getting near the top of the car so I had to pull. Mercer came out of the auto all right but must have let go of the rope. He was washed away. We couldn’t grab him.” (TS, Saturday October 16, 1954)

“We kept the motor running as long as we could radio for help. In the darkness, we could just see and hear the chief and others on the bank trying to help us.” “Finally the truck rolled over, I think the road washed out from under us because it was standing parallel with the current. The short time we were there, the river rose five feet. I was born right here and I have never seen the river like it.”

“At one time we could have walked away from the truck, but we didn’t think we were in any danger,” Philips said. (TS, Saturday October 16, 1954)

“When the road washed out three of us hung on to the side of the truck when it rolled over” Palmateer said. (TS, Saturday October 16, 1954)

Years later, Jim Britton related his story to reporters:

“There were supposed to be two people trapped on the roof of a car down the Humber Rd. Eight of us got on the truck and drove down there.

“We couldn’t find the car or any people in trouble so we started to turn around.

“One of the firemen had missed the truck and drove down behind us in his own car. He got out and climbed on the truck.

“Then this wall of water came from nowhere. We didn’t see it: we couldn’t even hear it. It picked the fireman’s car up and smashed it into the truck. Then it drove into a tree.

“The water started to climb the side of the truck. We radioed for help.

“Police and firemen came down the bank but couldn’t reach us with ropes.

“We handed out whatever would float to the non-swimmers, then shook hands all around. God, they were brave. No Panic, no hysteria, nothing.

“When the water hit the hose it took off like a snake. Without the hose the truck had no weight. We began to float, then we tipped.

“I drove out as far as I could. My windbreaker had tight cuffs and filled with air, acting like a life-preserver. Somehow or other the truck’s lights stayed on. I could see it tumbling over and over as it went down the river.

“I couldn’t swim, couldn’t kick or do anything in that current. (TS, October 15, 1964)

“I was on my back going downstream head first. All of a sudden, something hit me in the face. I grabbed for it and spun right around, and I found myself around a big tree. I didn’t know how far I’d be from shore, but between me and the shore was like… well, I keep saying Niagara Falls. No way I’m going to let go… I’m on this beautiful big tree… I’m sitting up there and I’m hanging on. I’m above the water at this point. And all of a sudden I hear moaning. And here’s this guy… he’s hanging onto a little sapling. His head’s just above water. (Frank Mercer, volunteer fireman was that man)

“Frank, for God’s sake, give me your foot. Get your foot up here and I’ll grab it.

“And he just got a funny look on his face and went down the tree like this and… ahh. He’s gone.

“A policeman threw me a rope and I don’t remember hitting shore because they just gave one yank and I didn’t go through the water… I went straight through the air. Boom.” (TS, March 20, 1983)

During the cleanup after the flood the truck was discovered away from where it was lost and was very badly damaged.

Bryan Mitchell was a volunteer fireman during Hurricane Hazel. He eventually became the Chief of the Etobicoke fire services. Mitchell hung the axe from the lost fire truck on his office wall. Commenting on the lost firemen he said, “We’d all grown up around here and we knew the river. The boys got out and went to sit on top of the truck. They figured they’d just wait it out.”

“It was so hard to believe that they were all gone. I’d been with them just a few hours earlier. This was like a small town back then. We all grew up together, ran fires together.” (TS, October 14, 1984)

A relief fund was organized for the families of the lost firemen. Councillor Jerry Daub said, “These men were all ordinary wage earners and in one case a widow and three children have nothing at all. All of them having been risking their lives for years. We realize an overall fund has been set up, but we feel members of other volunteer fire brigades in the province will take a more personal interest in helping these families.” (TS, Tuesday October 19, 1954)

The fund set up for the firemen’s families gave wives $75 a month plus $25 a month per child. Mrs. Roy Oliver discussed her children’s perception of the loss of their father with a Toronto Star reporter, “With the two smallest, they don’t know what’s happened. With Robert, he does know something is wrong because so many people have been coming to see Mommie who just isn’t herself. He asks for his father. He tells people Daddy has gone back to the fire engine because he forgot his boots.” (TS, October 20, 1954)

<<Back to Hurricane Hazel Impacts