Do you remember Hurricane Hazel? Or have you just heard the stories and would like to know more? Next Wednesday, October 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Humber Heights Retirement Home (2245 Lawrence Ave. W.) the Weston Historical Society will present, “Hurricane Hazel – Revisited”. Mary Louise Ashbourne and Cherri Hurst will be doing a presentation of what happened that night through the eyes of Weston and its neighbours. Come and listen to heroic and heart wrenching stories of a time when nature unleashed its worst.
Admission is free and refreshments will be served afterwards. Hope to see you there.
Date Wednesday, October 5 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Humber Heights Retirement Home (2245 Lawrence Ave. W.)
On Saturday, May 7, about 50 people took part in a Jane’s Walk to discover some Weston and Mount Dennis history.
The walk led by Mike Mattos featured guest segments from Alistair Jolly, an archaeologist with TRCA, Simon Chamberlain from MDCA and myself.
After viewing some artifacts including clovis arrowheads, stone axes and clay pipes, we ventured under the Eglinton bridge at Scarlett Road.
Moving up the river from there Mike and Simon led the group to some interesting relics from the early years of West Park Hospital. Established in 1904, for patients suffering from tuberculosis it was then known as the Toronto Free Hospital for Consumptive Poor or the Weston Sanitarium. Since this was in the days before antibiotics, treatment consisted mainly of rest and fresh air. At the time, Toronto’s death toll from TB was considerable; something like 7 people a day. Even then, TB was known to be infectious and city workers fearing contagion refused to collect food waste from the hospital. As a result, the sanatarium set up a piggery and chicken operation on hospital grounds close to the Humber. The farm was self-sustaining and with 1000 hens and 50 pigs, there was no shortage of food. Pigs were slaughtered at the stockyards.
Antibiotics revolutionized treatment of TB and in 1954, the animals were swept away during Hurricane Hazel but evidence remains of the extensive farming operation that was operated by staff and patients.
By the river, there is a small informal pet cemetery that apparently has been used by local residents for years.
The last segment of the walk ended by the weir in Raymore Park and there was discussion of the effects of Hurricane Hazel on the area which led to the forerunner of today’s TRCA, the creation of many of Toronto’s parks and the preservation of this city’s famous ravines.
Another great walk; luckily we had no rain and as a bonus – mosquitoes haven’t emerged – yet!
Talented mural artist Mario Noviello’s work can be seen in Weston by Ward’s parking lot and in Lions Park on the old bridge abutment. Weston Historical Society Treasurer Cherri Hurst tells me that they are seeking his assistance in renovating the Lions Park location which serves as a memorial to the victims of Hurricane Hazel.
Unfortunately Mr. Noviello’s contact information has been lost in the intervening years and Ms Hurst was wondering if any of our readers know where he could be located.
Please contact Adam or myself if you know his contact details and we will forward the information.
Postscript: Cherri Hurst tells me they have located Mr. Noviello. WestonWeb will keep readers posted regarding further work on the memorial.
Raymore Park normally closes its gates for the winter. This year, the park has seen truck after truck rumbling down the driveway to work on building up the east bank’s retaining wall where the Humber curves sharply southward. Studies have shown that the existing wall built in 1981 is below the necessary height and was topped by high water as recently as the flood of July 8, 2013.
Even before that, more than a decade ago, the owner of a house on Sykes Avenue in Weston suddenly lost several feet off the back end of their property. The house overlooks a sharp curve of the Humber River as it turns to the south. During April rains in 2004, the rear of the property abruptly vanished along with several mature trees and other vegetation. Luckily nobody was standing near the edge. The edge has continued to erode further downstream, endangering riverfront properties on Denison.
After extensive study, TRCA decided that in order to stabilize that stretch of the Humber, a 6.5 metre tall ‘replacement armourstone wall’ and stabilization measures need to be put in place on 170 metres of the east bank before more land disappears downstream. This is a very large project and because the winter was so mild, the ground had to be reinforced with a layer of brick and concrete fill.
Another project under way (once the retaining wall is built) will be sewer rehabilitation along the length of the Humber. This work will increase the capacity of the trunk sewer (I wonder if a certain rental building by the Weston Hub has anything to do with this).
Not only that but the cycle / pedestrian pathway needs to be upgraded as it is narrower than the current standard. A wider surface is to be installed that will have a centre line and other markings. Hopefully the spandex clad and vexatious Lance Armstrong wannabes will be a little more gracious when they have more room to manouvre.
Once that project is complete, a new leash free zone will be installed just north of the weir occupying most of the southern baseball diamond. This work is expected to be completed by Thanksgiving.
No matter what you’ve been told, strictly speaking, hurricanes don’t happen in Ontario. The fuel that keeps them going is warm ocean water and once landfall is made, they soon become extra-tropical storms and usually fizzle out with a bit of wind and rain – that is if they can actually make it all the way up here. Why then, sixty years later do we talk about Hurricane Hazel and its devastating effects on our neighbourhood?
Early in October 1954, a group of clouds that had formed off the coast of Africa began rotating and became a tropical storm. In the days before satellite monitoring of weather systems, there was a great deal less certainty about the path and nature of hurricanes during the June to November storm season. Back then, tropical storms and hurricanes were only detected once they came close to a populated area. This particular tropical storm was spotted in the Caribbean and being the eighth of that year, was by convention, given a girl’s name beginning with H; Hazel. She quickly strengthened into a powerful hurricane and sweeping through Haiti, Hazel took the lives of several hundred people. Then, dragged north-west by an upper level low pressure area sitting in the Mississippi Valley, Hazel made landfall in North Carolina on October 14th as a category 4 (out of 5) hurricane. Hazel was then expected to fizzle out and become a rain event but picked up energy from the low pressure area and set its sights on Ontario.
Again, before satellite tracking and computer projections, weather forecasting was something of an art. Although there was some warning about the approaching storm, Ontarians were unprepared for what was to come. Ominously, there had been considerable rainfall in the previous two weeks leaving the ground saturated.
On its way to Ontario, Hazel was re-classified as an extra-tropical storm. Even though its winds had weakened, it still carried a vast amount of water. Once over Brampton, Hazel combined forces with the Mississippi Valley system forming a new storm that stalled and unloaded its rain onto the already saturated ground. As night fell, the rain continued, putting pressure on the two major watersheds in the region, the Don and the Humber. It is estimated that a volume of water the size of Lake Simcoe fell on the Humber River watershed alone – and only one escape route – the Humber River valley.
As the evening progressed, flash flooding inundated low-lying homes along the Humber. Occasional ice-jams had caused flooding in the past but this was different. The water’s rise was rapid and relentless. By the time people realized that their lives were in danger, it was too late. In Weston, five people perished. On Raymore Drive, just across the river from Weston, a suspension footbridge blocked and diverted a torrent of water into the lower homes on that street and 35 people lost their lives. In one instance, in response to the rising water, a family moved possessions from one house to another only to lose their lives when both homes were inundated. A nearly complete list of fatalities is here.
In the aftermath of Hazel, the forerunner of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority was formed and given the power to clear floodplain homes creating Toronto’s famous park and ravine system. Today, along with many Toronto communities, Weston is blessed with beautiful parkland and sports facilities along the Humber. Raymore Drive now ends at Tilden Crescent but the depressions of the former homes’ basements are still faintly visible in Raymore Park. Native trees and other rain absorbing vegetation are being planted and plans are afoot to remove concrete channels and replace them with natural riverbeds. Even though there is more paving today than in 1954, the disconnecting of downspouts from sewer systems, floodwater holding tanks and the encouragement of green roofs and driveways are techniques that will allow water to be absorbed into the ground rather than quickly drained into the river.
Most days, as in the past, the Humber flows gently through our parks and ravines. Even though 60 years have passed and measures have been taken to remove people from the path of danger, occasionally, as on July 8, 2013, we are reminded that no matter how well prepared we are, nature often has the last word.
On Saturday, May 3rd at 5:30 pm, a ‘Jane’s Walk’ will feature the Humber Trail between Lions Park and the weir in Raymore Park. To commemorate the upcoming 60th anniversary of Hurricane Hazel this year, the emphasis will be on the storm, its effects and after-effects on the environment both natural and human. There is no charge for this event.
Some of the stops along the way will be:
Stop 1: Lawrence Avenue Bridge
The effects of Hurricane Hazel and its deluge of water on the bridge and surroundings.
Stop 2: Lion’s Park / Weston Fairground
Stop 3: Raymore Foot Bridge
The history of the footbridge that once existed at this point and its current successor.
Stop 4: Raymore Drive (across bridge)
The ground where 36 people lost their lives; the role of the old bridge. View traces of the settlement that was destroyed.
Stop 5: Raymore Park
The aftermath of Hazel and the organization set up to acquire and manage flood plain land.
Stop 6: Raymore Park dam
The fish ladder and migrating trout. The future of weirs along the Humber.
Stop 7: Chapman Valley Park / Humber Creek
The flooding that occurred at the top of this creek on July 8 2013, and the impact development has had on rivers across the city
Urban river valleys, the Greenbelt, and the upcoming staff report and vote in city council to add the Humber, Don, and Etobicoke Creek to the Greenbelt.
Option 1: Retrace our steps along the Humber path,
Option 2: walk through the streets, past the wooden church at Scarlett and Kingdom, down Raymore Drive, crossing back over Raymore bridge and ending back up at Lion’s Park.
Mary Louise Ashbourne (Weston Historical Society)
Gaspar Horvath (TRCA)
Roy Murray (Humber Watershed Alliance)
Shelley Petrie (Friends of the Greenbelt)
Michael Cook (Lost Rivers)
Meeting point: Car park at Lawrence Avenue and Little Avenue (Cruickshank Park) at 5:30pm.
Let’s be honest: Sewers are not a sexy issue. But did you know that strong storms in 20 years will dump three times as much rainfall in Toronto as they did in the past? That incredible storm we had this year was a spring shower compared to what’s coming. In future, we can expect a third more rain than that diluvian drenching—166mm of rain will be the new normal. This summer we got 126 mm.
Canadian Underwritermagazine has an excellent article on the petition our MP, Mike Sullivan, presented to the House of Parliament asking for federal funding for improved sewers.
The petition, the article says, has been signed by more than 1000 people, and asks the feds to “immediately take action necessary to fund urgent municipal infrastructure projects to prevent property damage such as that suffered by the residents of the City of Toronto on July 8th 2013.”