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Hurricane Hazel Impacts - Don River

Two cars were in the Don River after they were swept by floodwaters off the road. The three occupants were rescued. One stranded motorist was rescued by swinging an aerial ladder over the river with Captain Perry Stewart on the tip where he threw a rope to Alex Nicholson of Pottery Road. Nicholson was able to tie the rope around his waist, but he was dragged underwater part of the way towards shore. Edrich Moir found temporary refuge in an elm tree where he remained for eight and half hours until rescuers located a 20-ton road grader to drive into the river to reach the man. The force of the river moved the vehicle sideways. Jack Bates was rescued when a boat pulled him to safety.

"I live close by the Pottery Road bridge over the Don and when the river started coming up I went down there to stop cars from trying to cross. On one side of the bridge the water I'd say was four feet over the road. I got soaked standing in the water and went home to change and get a board to barricade the road when someone said a car had gone in. I ran back and heard a man’s cries for help. He was clinging to a small clump of trees in the middle of the water. When I tried to help him, the current caught me. I was going downstream when I got on the man’s overturned car. I was on that car in the river for 2½ hours. Then I felt it starting to shift under me. It was as though someone was lifting it bodily. I decided to get off in a hurry. The water took me along and each time I passed some trees or bushes I tried to grab at them. I was able to hang on for awhile but the river carried me away from them. Then I got a grip on a tree and managed to hold on. I stayed there for three hours while the lifesaver got a line to the other man hanging on in midstream and pulled him out. They couldn’t get the lifesavers’ boat to me. Each time they tried the current swept it away.

I waited there and watched the river. It was going wild. I’d say it was 300 feet across at one point. Then I heard the sound of a fence being broken and saw the end of a truck backing toward the river. It was a fire truck and next I saw a great ladder going up in the air and over the river. I said to myself, ‘Here’s help at last.’ They lowered a rope to me and I wrapped it around my body. I’d tried to get my raincoat off but the cold water had stuck it to my body. I thought I was a goner twice. I was sinking into the river when the rope around me tugged me up again. Then I was out of the water and they were using the ladder as a derrick to swing me ashore. I was blue. They brought me to hospital and started rubbing me with alcohol. I shivered for an hour," said Nicholson after his rescue. (Globe and Mail, October 18, 1954)"

Jack Bates tells the story of how he became stranded in the flooded Don River. He was the man Nicholson tried to save before he became endangered himself.

"I stopped my car at the Pottery Road Bridge and hesitated when I saw the water. But I decided to give it a try and got almost across when the water took hold of my car and just lifted it into the river. I was there for about 20 minutes when I felt the car turning and got off before it rolled over with me underneath it. I grabbed some small trees and then a floating stump hit me in the back.

I won’t say now I wasn’t scared. I really was. I was yelling for help all the time as I thought the people on shore would lose sight of me when I went under the water.I clung to my last tree for three hours. I tried to swim, but it was impossible in that current. Several times when I had water in my lungs and the trees were giving way I thought, ‘This is it, I’ve had it.’"(Globe and Mail, October 18, 1954)"

Jim McArthur told the story of his experience on the Don during the Hazel flood to Betty Kennedy,

"The McArthur family lived in the Don Valley north of the Prince Edward Viaduct for over fifty years. My father and his father before him had kept an apiary of over one hundred colonies at the junction of Park Drive Reservation and the Canadian National Railway (CNR) main line. Now our homestead has been replaced by the interchange to Castle Frank on the Bayview Extension. This homestead was a wild and beautiful oasis in the middle of the city as we grew up. Our homes were located on an elevated plot of land which became an island each spring. We were accustomed to the annual spring flooding of the Don River and would just wait it out. That Friday in October was something else again.

The high winds and heavy downpours were very unusual, as was the dead calm that followed. We experienced the usual flooding in the evening, with water running down the road in front of our homes, but paid little heed to it. As we patrolled around our island some time around 11:00 or 11:30 that evening, we became aware of a sudden rush of water, as though a dam had given way. Suddenly the water began to rise in the driveways between the houses. Then it poured into the window wells and under all the doors.

There were four families living on that island. My neighbour, Jerry, and I rounded everyone up. We were able to make our way to the high ground (the hills of Rosedale) through the back of our property by wading waist deep water for about two hundred yards. It was terribly cold and we had no lights. We had phoned out to our friends. They met us at the top of the hill and gave us shelter for the night. My uncle Bill, who had lived in the valley all his life, refused to leave with us. He sat on the stairs to the second floor of his house and watched the water creep up, one step at a time. He tells of watching everything turn upside down. The lights began to pop and finally all went dark as the water shorted out the fuse box. The water eventually rose five and half feet on the first floor and ruined everything.

Wondering if the houses would still remain, I returned very early the next morning. Chaos was everywhere. My father’s bee hives had floated away and were piled up helter-skelter at the bottom of the field. The bees, of course, had drowned. Trees, lumber, doors, tires, and drums were stacked up in the trees surrounding the houses. Our cars were sitting where we had left them but were full of water. I really wasn’t aware of the total effect that Hazel wrought on the whole city as I was too busy for the next two weeks cleaning up the mess. I did hear a story of one man who lived further up the Don at Pottery Road who spent a night up in a tree until rescued the following morning. Bridges were moved off their pilings and floated downstream until they came to the Prince Edward Viaduct. There they jammed and the result was one of the biggest piles of wood, trees, garbage, etc., one has ever seen. Months afterwards work crews were busy burning the debris–and looking for bodies. None were found, as far as I know. No one drowned in the Don Valley as some did on the Humber.

The worst experience we suffered came after the storm. The vilest individuals who prey on the misfortunes of others came as scavenging around our homes hoping to pilfer items and run off with them. I drove a number away with the threat of the rifle, and I think I could have used it as I felt so depressed." (Kennedy, 1979; p. 53-55)"

J.C. Fraser described the scene along the Don River after Hazel:

"The old iron Hogg’s Hollow bridge on Yonge Street was washed out, and for months afterwards we had to negotiate a Bailey over the Don. It was sad but also comical to see the houses which had been built on the edge of the Don, where it takes a bend just before the bridge, projecting out over the river. The force of the water at the bend had washed away the bank and these houses lost their whole front lawn and the earth under them so that the house was sticking out from the bank about eight to ten feet. There are no houses there today.

The water carried this mud into the low-lying houses in Hogg’s Hollow on the east side of Yonge Street. The water literally flowed in the back door and out the front door of many of them and I remember seeing the people shovelling away the mud which was about a foot deep and flowed like a river through the house and out the front door." (Kennedy, 1979; p. 123-124)"

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