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.

Hurricane Hazel remembered September 29th.

The Toronto Bell Cote will be hosting a remembrance of Hurricane Hazel’s impact on Toronto some 65 years ago. Readers may remember that the building was known as St Matthias Anglican Church in 1954 and served as an operations centre during the rescue and relief efforts following the event.

“A small, white frame church (provided) non-stop service of mercy … St. Matthias Anglican, capacity 88 churchgoers — and the parson, Reverend Paul Glover, 24, wearing mud-stained jeans and jacket — administered to the urgent needs of the flood-devastated area of the Westmount flats.”  The pews were piled high with clothing, blankets, food and other life necessities brought by neighbouring families, and the church was billed as “a haven for the homeless”. 

In the light of climate change and increasingly damaging hurricanes, guest speakers will discuss the likelihood of whether a similarly catastrophic event could affect our community and how we can be prepared. After the discussions, participants are invited to visit the commemorative plaque in Raymore Park.

Here is their flyer advertising the event.


Hurricane Hazel through home movies

SCANNED FROM THE TORONTO STAR LIBRARY
*U42 GRAPHIC Hurricane Hazel. Damage on Raymore Drive. Photo montage by Eric Cole and Ed Parker.

An evening of home movies shot by people who experienced the horror of Hurricane Hazel is being presented by the Weston Historical Society and Heritage York. The movies from 1954, give an insight, not only into the power of the most famous storm ever to hit Toronto but illustrate lifestyle aspects of Weston’s population some 65 years ago.

According to the WHS,

“On the night of Oct 15 1954 Hurricane Hazel struck Toronto, fatally flooding the Humber river valley (including 35 deaths on one street alone). Home movies shot the next morning showing the damage and the river still in high flood at Weston, are the starting point for our tour through the life and times of the city’s west-end. Local residents captured everything from the danger and high drama of floods, explosions and derailments – to the intimate drama of backyard ice rinks, rec room parties, a first communion filmed by nuns, parades, and the fashions and furnishings of the era.

Organized and presented with the Weston Historical Society and Heritage York.  “the Home Movie History Project”.”

Date: Wednesday June 5

Place: The ‘Village of Humber Heights’, 2245 Lawrence Ave W

Time: 7:30pm

Hurricane Hazel data revisited.

From the Toronto Star; October 15, 2016.

Local blogger Hans Havermann has directed his sleuthing talents to the Hurricane Hazel tragedy that hit our area in 1954. Through some relentless digging he has uncovered some inconsistencies in contemporary and subsequent accounts of the victims and where they lived on Raymore Drive.  Hans tells me he feels that the unfortunate victims of the flooding deserve better and hopes that he has provided a step in that direction.
He has also gathered some interesting photographs from that time showing the effects of the flooding.

Read about it here.

Hurricane Hazel Talk next week.

From global news.ca
From global news.ca

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.)

Jane’s Walk tours old piggery

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.

Alistair Jolly from TRCA with some artifacts discovered in the Toronto region.
Mike Mattos (L) listens to Alistair Jolly from TRCA with some artifacts discovered in the Toronto region.

A sample of the range of artifacts discovered around Toronto.
A sample of the range of artifacts discovered around Toronto.

After viewing some artifacts including clovis arrowheads, stone axes and clay pipes, we ventured under the Eglinton bridge at Scarlett Road.

Simon Chamberlain discusses the history of the area.
Simon Chamberlain discusses the history of the area.

A view of the graffiti adorning the walls of the Eglinton bridge over the Humber.
A view of the graffiti adorning the walls of the Eglinton bridge over the Humber.

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.

Water troughs for the pigs still remain.
Water troughs for the pigs still remain.

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.

Those animals were loved.
An informal cat grave.

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!