Hazel Remembered

Madeleine McDowell remembers Hurricane Hazel by the old bridge abutment in Lions Park.

A forlorn bridge abutment wrenched out of place by Hurricane Hazel on the night of October 16, 1954 is the closest thing to a memorial to the three dozen or so people who died that night as the Humber River overwhelmed the little community that lived along Raymore Drive. Local historian Madeleine McDowell, talked today about the storm which carried away the homes of many people in what is now Raymore Park. Madeleine was 14 years old at the time and had personal memories of the event which she shared today. The storm led to the creation of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. The Humber’s longest tributary measures only 100km but the vertical drop from source to mouth is several times the height of Niagara Falls. This was one of the reasons billions of litres of water were funnelled down the river that night. It’s also the reason the watershed is prone to flooding during not so dramatic events as Hazel.

Madeleine’s talk was organized by Sharon Glaves as part of the InTO The Ravines initiative.

The abutment as it looks today in its beautiful location by the Humber. All traces of the original treatment are gone.
The abutment as it looked during the official opening in 2004. Ward 5 Councillor Frances Nunziata is standing with Former MP Alan Tonks and former Toronto Police Chief Julian Fantino.(file)

The bridge abutment was once beautifully decorated by artist Mario Noviello but sadly the image faded over the years. 3 Tempests Playwright Peter Smith was in attendance and stated that the neglect of what is in effect the only memorial to the Raymore Drive victims is a disgrace. He would like to see something put in place as a permanent reminder to the people who lost their lives there. He suggested that local artists could combine their talents and design a memorial for the spectacular location. The 70th anniversary of the tragedy is coming in 2024 and now is the time to start work on the project.

The original work by Mario Noviello (file). Only the plaque remains.

Ms. McDowell wasn’t finished however. The indomitable advocate of nature had one last thing to say. She strongly opposes the proposed highway that will run across the delicate Humber watershed’s upper reaches and urged people to oppose plans for the Bradford Bypass (aka Highway 413) which will link Highways 400 and 404, slicing through the Oak Ridges Moraine and dozens of waterways.

Incidentally, Ms. McDowell is made of sterner stuff and seemed comfortable wearing sandals and no gloves. I was wrapped up with toque, winter coat and gloves and froze in the 5° temperatures.

Three proposals for Humber Gap

City staff have come up with three proposals to close the Humber Gap—the missing part of the recreational trail between Cruickshank Park and Crawford–Jones Memorial Park.

The Humber Gap is a royal pain. It divides the wonderful, long path that runs to Lake Ontario (and beyond) from 30 km of trails to the north—and “is a discontinuity in the future Loop Trail, a 65 km off road, multi-use ring that will connect multiple ravines, neighbourhoods and trail systems throughout Toronto.”

But boy, is it a tough problem to solve. There is a railway, a river, a bridge, an arterial road, landowners, and an expensive private golf course. There are no simple solutions.

City staff have come up with three complicated ones.

The first would impinge on the private landowners and golf course, but create a lovely, entirely off-road path with two boardwalks crossing the river.

From the city presentation

Bike and foot traffic would no longer have to climb up the stairs and fend with the dangerous traffic squeezed close by the railway bridge. But, as staff note, it would impinge on the golf course and a land trust.

The second option is much worse from the point of view of a trail user. Instead of crossing and re-crossing the river, there would be a cantilevered trail and a boardwalk on the east side of the river, and there would be no conflict with the golf course. The path would run alongside the trail on Metrolinx property into the ravine

From the city

However, trail users would still be forced up and out of the valley, and under the extremely unpleasant, narrow, railway bridge. It would also be expensive.

The third option is the worst for trail users and a pain for drivers. (It’s my money for what we’ll get, too.) It is roughly what we have now, but with a proper bike lane on Weston Road instead of weakling sharrows.

From the city

The bike path would impinge on the sidewalk under the bridge and could force narrower lanes there, too, where traffic is, honestly, already pretty awful. Further along, Weston could lose a lane of traffic.

This plan is, however, cheap.

We-Haul rocks

The good people at We-Haul cleaned up the Humber embankments for the second year in a row, pulling out fourteen cubic yards of junk—less than last year (thank god!), but still a whopping amount of crap.

I salute the people who volunteer to do dirty jobs. I doubly salute the people who make a commitment and stick to it. In 2020, Marc Chrus said he’d be back to clean up again this year, and he was as good as his word.

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