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Hurricane Hazel - Mitigation

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Hurricane Hazel was a disaster, but a benefit that came out of the experience was the creation of Toronto and Region Conservation (TRCA) and flood warning systems. The TRCA was created out of several smaller conservation authorities to manage the region’s floodplains and rivers. Dams had been proposed for the Humber River prior to Hazel to act as water regulation dams. After Hazel dams were once again suggested to help prevent another flood of Hazel’s magnitude. The creation of dams capable of holding the amount of floodwater that Hazel created is very expensive and only a few of those proposed were actually constructed. More importantly from a flood control and conservation view was the acquisition of floodplain land and the alteration of zoning laws to prevent redevelopment of flood risk areas along the rivers.


Toronto city council blocked a plan two years before Hazel to build three dams on the western branch of the Humber River. The Humber Valley Conservation Authority planned to revive the plan as they investigated ways of preventing future floods. The authority approved the idea when it was proposed, but council rejected it because Toronto would have had to subsidize most of the $2,000,000 cost. The smallest dam would have been sited south of Stanley Mills south of Highway 7, another at Clairville half a mile south of highway 7 and at Ebenezer just north of the road linking Brampton and Highway 11. The chairman of the authority, Leavens, said that the dams would not have stopped the flooding, yet they would have had, “a wonderful effect.” The western branch of the Humber drains a third of the Humber, so dams would have held back some of the water.

S.L. Barnes, the Assistant Director of conservation for the province, was inclined to agree with Leavens, however, dams strong enough to hold back the floodwaters would have been very expensive.

Eric W. Baker, a representative of York township was opposed to the dams because he felt that the dams would have had little impact on the large volume of water that Hazel produced. Plus, he felt that the flood peak was magnified by urban development in the area. He favoured a plan that would have the weather bureau report frequently the rainfall during a storm and then municipal officials would be tasked with predicting the flood peaks and warning people of any ensuing danger. Baker also recommended that floodplains not be built upon.

A.H. Richardson, Ontario’s chief conservation engineer, indicated that had all six proposed dams been constructed, the flood peak would only have been reduced by thirty five percent. “Floods are not the river’s fault,” Richardson said. (TS, October 19, 1954) Floodplains belong to rivers. Plans to construct dams, complete contour plowing, reforestation, and farm ponds assist in the retention of flood waters, whereas, straightening channels and removing obstructions in the river channel speed the current. When people choose to build on a floodplain they are doing so at their peril.

The Metro Planning Board asked the provincial government to move all residents out of river flats. Metro Chairman Gardiner felt that dams were unnecessary except to maintain the summer water flow and preserve the environment.

“When we are honest with ourselves, and get down to the bottom of the flood problem, about 90% of the permanent flood damage is the result of building roads, railways, factories, homes, farms, and what not on land that properly belonged to the river,” according to a United States Army Engineer. (TS, October 19, 1954)

It has been recognized that people continually return to flood prone areas. If ten to twenty years pass without a repeat of a flood, people may consider the location safe.

Land Expropriation

Controversy surrounded many of the efforts to expropriate land after Hazel. Jim Patterson said, “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 shacktown. 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.”

The government planned to expropriate low-lying land where a recurring flood hazard existed. Property owners were to be paid fair market value in addition to compensation for damage to homes and other buildings. Properties were eligible for eighty percent of their assessed damage up to a maximum of $5000, with a $100 deductible. Private insurance payments also factored into the compensation received. Homes and property loss compensation were kept separate from damages claimed for personal and household belongings that were the responsibility of the Hurricane Relief Fund.

The Ontario Mobile Home Association demanded to be treated the same as any other homeowner in terms of compensation. According to the reparation package presented to them from the Port Credit Council, mobile home owners were only eligible for $300, whereas damage sustained to their property was closer to $2000 or $2500. Of 143 trailers in the park, most were completely covered by water, 50 remained, and 20 were inhabitable due to water damage.

Trailer owners continued to fight with council, while they tried to locate temporary housing. The treasurer of the association stated that he did not think the mobile home owners should expect Council to compensate them because the Council had wanted them removed from the area prior to the storm.

Thirty properties in Long Branch were expropriated for $139,050. The properties were located on Island Road, 43rd Street, 42nd Street, and Lake Place. $61,900 was received for seven properties in Etobicoke’s flood area; two houses on Raymore Drive received $11,200 and $8,300 and the others were on Gilhaven.

Property owners in Long Branch were unhappy with the $800,000 for expropriating their 164 properties. “Not a deal but a steal,” ratepayers charged at a meeting. William Bywater of Island Road said this, “I was robbed. I signed. But I don’t want you people to take it. I went down to the municipal offices. They offered me $3400 for my home. I took it. I owed $2800 on it. So I cleared $600. But I am unemployed and I had to pay $19 rent for two rooms after the flood.”

John Plewes said, “I wasn’t damaged and I don’t want a nickel. Give the money to those that were hurt. But I’m a working man. I’m in no position to go out and buy myself a $10,000 house. Why move me? Let those who want a park pay for it.”

The group of angry residents set up an informal standoff with Metro Council. Area Reeve Marie Curtis claimed that some members of the group had intentionally instigated the group in order to receive more money than the fair offer extended to them.

Two families in Long Branch were removed from their properties after refusing a judge’s order that they leave by July 15, 1955. The property owners were holding out for a higher compensation settlement. The issue went to arbitration, but a decision was not expected until September. One of the residents, Thomas Sprigy, was offered $6100 for his property, but he claimed it was worth $9800 because he bought it seven years previously for $4900 and made improvements. Similarly, Thomas Tugwell, paid $5100, made improvements and then was offered as compensation $4200.

Twenty-four homeowners in West Hill were upset with the Scarborough Council because they would not expropriate their homes. Highland Creek runs through the community and during Hazel the creek overflowed its banks, destroying 13 cottages, and eroding chunks of earth, burying cars and picket fences. It was recommended that the land be expropriated, but the issue is that the homeowners do not own the land their properties reside on.

Properties in the Humber trail area were expropriated for $143,000 and the site was set to become a conservation area. The plan involved 43 residents and 30 vacant lots in a 50-acre section of the trail located at the forks of the Humber River.

Flood Control

A section of the Don Valley in North York would pose a flood threat if another Hazel-like event occurred. The section is north of Sheppard Avenue and east of Bathurst Street. Four culverts were built under Bathurst Street to replace a bridge that had aggravated the flood situation.

A section of Black Creek that runs under the Lambton golf course was rerouted. A sewer system that connected Weston and York townships to the main sewer was dug through the golf course, which is connected to the sewage treatment facility. The Black Creek will run above the sewer and drain into the Humber River.

TRCAproposed that a regional plan to prevent floods was needed, but the cost of such a program would be too much for individual property owners to bear, therefore, federal assistance would be required. In 1959, TRCAdeveloped a flood control proposal that would require the involvement of all three levels of government titled Plan for Flood Control and Water Conservation. The proposal included 13 dams and reservoirs built over 10 years for a cost of $34,607,601. The plan required acquisition of 7600 acres (31 km2) of floodplain, which would eventually become parkland and recreation areas and 10 lakes. New flood control basins would be used for summer regulation of flow for pollution abatement, erosion protection, extra water supplies, and fish and wildlife preservation areas. The economic benefits would be $56,625,000, with the federal and provincial governments each contributing 37.5%and the municipalities contributing 25%.

Under the plan the Humber River would develop six reservoirs, have channel improvements at three locations, plus require the acquisition of 1000 acres (4 km2). Etobicoke Creek would develop one dam and reservoir and acquire 1200 acres (4.9 km2) of floodplain land. The Don River would form two dams and reservoirs, have channel improvements, and result in the acquisition of 2000 acres (8.1 km2). The Rouge River would see the repair of one dam and the acquisition of 1300 acres (5.3 km2). Dufferin Creek would receive two reservoirs and acquire 1000 acres (4 km2). One reservoir would be built on Highland Creek and 800 acres (3.2 km2) would be acquired. 300 acres would be acquired around Mimico Creek.

Under the TRCA plan Black Creek would also receive a dam and reservoir, channel improvements, and the acquisition of 250 acres (1 km2). The cost would be $4,740,000. The cost for the other phases of the projects are as follows: Humber River – $16,179,600; Etobicoke Creek - $2,522,000; Don River $10,555,000; Rouge River - $1,325,000; Dufferin Creek - $1,979,000; Highland Creek - $1,477,000; and Mimico Creek - $600,000.

The area watersheds had suffered 41 severe floods dating back to 1804. The two worst were Hazel and another in 1878. The Humber had suffered 14 severe floods, Etobicoke Creek, 7, and the Don River, 6.

Opponents of the flood control proposal argued that property owners that would benefit from the plan should bear more of the cost than the entire taxpaying public. Others stated that if development was banned in the floodplains and existing development were removed, the expensive plan would be redundant. The mayor, Nathan Philips, was opposed to the plan. Philips felt that a detailed engineers report should have been received prior to initiation and that the acquisition costs should have been limited to $12,000,000. In 1960, the Land Acquisition Program was begun with $22.5 million allocated for flood control structures throughout the 11 year process to develop and implement a comprehensive floodplain planning policy.

The flood control mitigation used by the region involved structural changes, acquisition of vulnerable property, development control, and an extensive flood warning system. Craig Mather, the water administrator for the TRCA stated, “Right after the hurricane there was a lot of money made available to us to buy property and build dams. But as the years went by these projects became less critical and funding became harder to get. There’s less emphasis now on the structural approach because we just can’t get that kind of money. We certainly won’t have a major devastation on our hands. We’re in much better shape today.” (TS, October 14, 1984)

326 square miles (844 km2) of parkland were created around the area river valleys and lakes by 1972. Approximately two million people per year visited the parks. Nineteen years after Hazel, one major dam on the Humber had been completed, another on the Don River was near completion, plus two smaller dams on the Rouge River had been finished. Eleven more dams were proposed for the Humber River, and Etobicoke and Dufferin Creeks.

As of 2004, three dams from the initial proposal have been constructed including the Clairville Dam (1964), and the Milne and G. Ross Lord Dams (1973). Additionally dams at Stouffville and on the Black Creek at Sheppard Avenue were built, which were not in the original proposal. Twelve major flood control channels were built and two flood dykes. Erosion control projects were instituted and 32,000 acres of land were acquired.

Ontario’s flood warning system is managed by the Ministry of Natural Resources, Conservation Authorities, and Environment Canada. Committees containing representatives from all three groups meet to discuss flood control. Watershed conditions are monitored including snowfall conditions, precipitation and flows, and if necessary, flood warnings are issued. There are three levels of flood warnings that may be issued:

  1. flood safety bulletin/advisory;
  2. flood advisory/alert; and
  3. flood warning.

Parks and Zoning Laws

Shortly after the Hazel flood, a man requested permission from the Humber Valley Conservation Authority to build on a property that was under 15 feet of water during the Hazel flood. The property is located next to a property where three people died. The man argued that if he is not permitted to build on his property then no building should take place in three United States states that have experienced flood damage. The man purchased his property in 1952 and he did not feel there was much chance another flood of Hazel’s magnitude would occur again. Permission of the regional planning board was required. The new residents of the home where people died and other neighbours supported the man’s right to build because they argued that a recurrence of the flood was not possible in the next 100 years.

Long Branch properties were expropriated to prevent a recurrence of a flood disaster and turned into a 35-acre park after the area was elevated by 10 metres through infilling. Etobicoke considered a ban on building along rivers on land below the peak flood level established by Hurricane Hazel. This land would be used for farming, reforestation, or parks.

Today along the Humber River from Lake Ontario to Dundas Street is parkland. After the flood, $95,000 was raised to purchase land, $50,000 for the first stage of development of the parkland. On the east side of the river the marsh was cleared of junk that has been dumped there over the years and maintained for birds and wildlife. North of Bloor near Old Mill, retaining walls were repaired and rebuilt. Highland Creek development involved a large project where 1000 acres was to be converted to picnic areas and nature trails. $200,000 has been set aside to acquire property.

Marie Curtis Park in Long Branch encompasses land on both sides of the Etobicoke Creek along Lake Ontario. The plans for Marie Curtis Park were developed before Hazel, but it was not until the disastrous Hazel floods that anyone was interested. During Hazel 43 homes were destroyed in the area and 360 people were left homeless. Twenty acres of property were acquired. Property owners were paid a total of $800,000 for the 164 lots that fell within the new park’s boundaries, of which Long Branch and Metro each paid 25% and the province paid 50%. Then Long Branch donated 6.5 acres and the federal government another 8.5 acres. A landfill program added another ten acres.

A dispute arose because of the Metro Planning Committee’s plan to rezone the Eglinton Flats as a greenbelt. The property owners threatened to build on their land without support and approval by the planning committee because they feared the property would not be worth as much if the rezoning went through. The Eglinton Flats area was converted into a nature recreation area, with ice-skating rinks, a tobogganing hill, tennis courts, and community gardens.

A new development on the Eglinton Flats was barred. There were 135 acres property owners wanted zoned as commercial or industrial. People protested the ban on building on the Eglinton Flats claiming they were prevented from developing property that was not flooded during Hazel, while other areas that were flooded were developed.

Land developers attempted to circumvent the TRCA by applying for permission from the Ontario Municipal Board to develop property west of Weston Road next to the Humber River. Permission was sought to build a high rise apartment building, but was rejected by the board.

Property owners whose land was designated as floodplain saw their property values drop from between $10,000 and $30,000 an acre to $2000 an acre, plus they could not build on the land. The area where houses were wiped out by floodwaters on Raymore drive was acquired as parkland and a playground was installed.

A 50-acre lake was created behind the 65-foot dam northeast of Dufferin Street and Finch Avenue. The park was named the G. Ross Lord Park after Toronto’s flood control engineer. The flood control dam was expected to cost $5,000,000.

A developer offered the TRCA 14 acres of land for parkland if they would be allowed to build two high rise towers on the remaining 13 acres they owned. The authority refused because the planned development would be on the banks of the Humber River and would be below the high water level established by the Hazel flood. The developer accused the authority of ‘sterilization of the company’s property.’ The TRCA has successfully blocked any new development on Toronto’s floodplains, however, they have not been able to prevent redevelopment. The TRCA has acquired more than 14,000 acres of floodplain.

The definition of flood prone land has been modified to include two different levels. The first is the regional high water watermark set by Hurricane Hazel and the second is the 100-year flood level. Some communities, like Uxbridge, lie entirely within the 100 year level, therefore limited development must be allowed with building modifications, such as reinforced walls and breakwalls.

A proposed development in the St. Lawrence Square area fell entirely within the Don River floodplain. The project at King and Parliament would create 700 residential units in an already built up area, but the development would require special flood protections be included in the development. The Don River has a low western bank, therefore, water could reach Yonge Street in the event of a flood. The entire area has special guidelines for new development.

An editorial included a tirade against the requirement that all development in the Don River flood zone east of Yonge Street meet specific design criteria. The author questioned whether this is pushing the safety issue too far as a Hazel event is only likely every 1000 years.

Toronto and Region Conservation

In 1946, the Province of Ontario enacted the Conservation Authorities Act, permitting municipalities in a watershed (or watersheds) to form a Conservation Authority to conserve and manage natural resources. In 1957, the Metropolitan Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (now known as Toronto and Region Conservation) was formed, replacing four smaller authorities.

Since its formation, Toronto and Region Conservation has prepared and delivered programs for the management of the renewable natural resources within its watersheds. TRCA manages land in and around floodplains and other sensitive areas through land use planning and regulations. Their jurisdiction extends from the mouth of Etobicoke Creek in Mississauga (west) to the mouth of Carruthers Creek near Ajax (east) and north to Mono and Uxbridge townships from Lake Ontario.

TRCAspearheaded the campaign to build a series of dams on Toronto area waterways, plus obtained permission and funds to purchase properties on the Hazel floodplain to conserve the land for the river. The flood control plan would help to ensure that another Hazel-like event on the Humber River basin would not be so catastrophic.

As a partnership organization, with support from all levels of government, businesses and individuals, TRCA has been able to make great strides in improving the health of the watersheds within their jurisdiction.

For further information on TRCA, consult their website at or write to them at 5 Shoreham Drive, Downsview, Ontario, M3N 1S4, Canada. Phone: (416) 661-6600 Fax: (416) 661-6898

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