THE WAY WE WERE: When Hurricane Hazel blew into town

It’s heartbreaking to hear, read and watch the media reports that reveal the absolute destruction of property as well as the tragic loss of life as a result of the recent hurricanes Florence and Michael that have impacted our neighbours to the south.

As we watched the development of these modern-day, as well as the dozens of previous hurricanes, we take reassurance in knowing that while some may be headed towards us for various reasons they eventually (and thankfully) veer to the northeast with most in due course disappearing into the vastness of the Atlantic Ocean.

Another event that occurred in 1954 and another that had Torontonians (and in fact, all Canadians) boasting was an achievement by one of its citizens. Taking place between 11:07 p.m. on Sept. 8 and 8:04 p.m. on Sept. 9, Toronto schoolgirl Marilyn Bell had become the first person to swim across Lake Ontario. In this photo, the young swimmer is about to touch the break wall in front of the Boulevard Club. Her initial destination was the CNE waterfront where thousands were waiting to greet her urged on by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans who were performing at the Exhibition grandstand. Strong lake currents and near exhaustion forced Marilyn’s coach Gus Ryder to reconsider the plan selecting the Boulevard Club location instead. Since Marilyn’s record setting accomplishment in 1954, the names of 64 people have been added to the list ( of those who have been successful in crossing Lake Ontario. (Photo courtesy Marilyn Bell DiLascio)

But that wasn’t always the case.

There was one hurricane that was born in the Caribbean in the fall of 1954 that decided that southern Ontario, and particularly Toronto and several of its suburbs, would in fact be its target. That hurricane was given the title Hazel and so extensive was the destruction and loss of life resulting from this “one of a kind” hurricane that the name Hazel was retired never to be used again.

And to think that the year 1954 started off on such a high note for Torontonians.

Well, so much for 1954’s good news stories. Later that same year tragedy struck big time when on Oct. 15, 1954 (64 years ago tomorrow) an heretofore unthinkable weather event happened. Hurricane Hazel was born in the Caribbean on Oct. 5, 1954. Having laid waste to Haiti (where 400 died) and several of the mid-Atlantic coastal states (55 victims) Hazel, instead of heading north then veering east towards the Atlantic Ocean, the full-blown storm continued northward with its “eye” set on the communities on the north shore of Lake Ontario. The subsequent devastation in and around Toronto was enormous (more than $1.2 billion in 2018 funds) and when the official death toll was posted, 81 people had lost their lives as a result of this historic storm, the first and hopefully last in the GTA’s recorded history. Included in that number were nine members of a family living in a small house on Raymore Dr. in Weston. Their residence was swept into the Humber when the usually tranquil river suddenly overflowed its banks. In addition, another five of Hurricane Hazel’s victims were Kingsway-Lambton volunteer firemen who, while searching the raging waters of the Humber River for a car reported to be floating down the river, were swept off their fire truck by a rogue wave and into the Humber where all were drowned. The remains of their demolished vehicle were found downstream days later. A memorial parade, that honoured the memories of the five firemen, was held on Oct. 31 and included a replacement truck for the one crushed in the raging waters of the Humber. Incidentally, the car that was reported in trouble was never found.

Just to conclude this column on a happier note: the person elected in 1954 to serve as the city’s mayor for 1954 was Nathan Phillips. He is recognized as the person most responsible for the construction as well as the selection of the unique design of Toronto’s much admired new city hall.

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Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies