THE WAY WE WERE: Remembering the ‘Noronic Disaster’

Whenever I feature a story in this column about a historic Toronto-related anniversary, the event I’m describing usually has a “happy” association. The anniversary of a cornerstone laying and/or the official opening of an important city building is a good example of a “happy anniversary” story.

I’ve also featured “happy” sporting event anniversaries such as the Leafs winning the Stanley Cup and the Blue Jays winning the World Series (unfortunately, memories of these two celebrations are fading fast). There are lots more of these “happy” kind of anniversaries to write about, so stay tuned.

As part of a special fall 1949 excursion to the Thousand Islands, CSL created an itinerary that incorporated a stopover by NORONIC at the Port of Toronto. Picking up 524 guests at Detroit, the ship began its voyage arriving at the company’s Toronto Pier 9 early in the evening of Fri., Sept. 16. Many went ashore to explore the city’s nightlife (such as it was back in 1949) while others turned in early. At approximately 1:30 a.m. the following Saturday morning smoke was discovered seeping under a linen closet door. Without thinking the door was opened, flames rushed out into the hallway. Meager attempts were made to quell the flames but it was no use. Numerous coats of paint, useless fire hoses and no coordinated attempts to fight the flames doomed the 36-year-old vessel. Within minutes, she was a raging inferno. By the time the city fire department arrived on scene it was all the firefighters could do was to attempt to rescue passengers trying to get off the ship, many of whom were forced to jump onto the dock or into the cold waters of Toronto Bay. It was a horror scene. (Toronto Telegram/Toronto Sun archives)

There have also been anniversaries related to distressing or unhappy events that have taken place in our community. Relative to the “happy” anniversaries, the former have been few and far between. Nevertheless, the anniversary of one of the saddest of these events will be upon us tomorrow for it was exactly 69 years ago, Sept. 17, 1949, that the popular Great Lakes cruise ship SS Noronic burned at the Canada Steamship Lines’ (CSL) dock that was located on the city’s waterfront not far from the foot of Yonge St.

That fire resulted in an immense loss of life and, in fact, this tragic event remains as the worst death-related disaster in the city’s history.

This aerial view shows the charred remains of NORONIC as the once proud ship appeared later in the afternoon of the fire. The dozens and dozens of injured had been taken to local hospitals for treatment while the more fortunate survivors were being looked after in city hotels and Red Cross shelters. Numerous unidentifiable remains were removed to the CNE’s Horticultural Building where over the next few weeks identification of almost all the victims was accomplished thanks to the best forensic methods available in 1949. Others, who could not be identified, rest in a mass grave in Mount Pleasant Cemetery. In total, 118 died in the NORONIC disaster, all but one being citizens of the United States. Only one Canadian died, the ship’s purser, who eventually succumbed to her injuries. There was talk of arson, but nothing was ever proven. (Toronto Telegram/Toronto Sun archives)

A half century after the disaster a special Ontario Heritage Foundation (now Trust) plaque was erected just steps from where Toronto’s worst disaster took place exactly 64 years ago tomorrow. (Toronto Telegram/Toronto Sun archives)

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies