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Rare Bear: A Moment in Time

Photo credit: The Globe and the Mail

On October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel struck Toronto. It was no longer a hurricane as it approached the city, but a strong extratropical cyclone. Coming up from the Gulf, it cut a swath of destruction through North Carolina.

I was a King Scout, which compared to an Eagle Scout in the Boy Scouts of America. However, in Canada, Canadian Scouts, who were King Scouts, also were enlisted for Civil Defense Measures.

This was a Civil Defense Measure, and I left my job for three days to work on the hardest-hit part of Toronto, the North-West side. It has been estimated that the Humber River on the West Side of Toronto was hardest hit, and at the peak of flooding was measured at nine meters (27 feet) in some areas.

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The Don, the Highland Creek, and the Rouge Rivers were also affected. More than 45 bridges were either damaged or destroyed…including the Humber River bridge spanned a gulley about half a mile wide. The middle span broke, and two cars plummeted into the water below.

A total of 81 people, including 35 from the then-town of Weston, were killed in the storm. More than two dozen homes were washed away.

I worked on one street….Raymore Drive, where all but one of the homes was either washed away or damaged beyond repair.

The storm did damage all the way from Lake Ontario to the Georgian Bay over two days, a distance of perhaps 120 miles.

I mentioned that I was working at the time. I was in the basement of a building on Melinda Street…in downtown Toronto…when the storm hit about 2:30 in the afternoon, and suddenly, two of the windows, which were in wells below the sidewalk, burst. There was a lady whose desk was right under the window, and she was literally inundated.

In the main office, where desks were farther back, those working there were also drenched. Just at that time, the phone was ringing, and I picked it up. In another building, it was the head office telling us all to leave before we were all wet.

I walked three blocks to Simpson’s, where my mother was working. She was located in a book shop on the underground level, and a doorway opened onto the Subway.

The Subway, which was beginning and only partially completed in those days, was flooded, and people from the Subway Cars were still plodding through knee-deep water. The electricity had been turned off so they could be evacuated.

In the aftermath of the storm, the Ontario Government banned building structures on floodplains, and the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority was created.

While the average rainfall from the storm was about l00 millimeters of rain, Snelgrove, then a Hamlet North of Toronto, received the highest amount of rainfall; 214 Millimeters.

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