When Hazel blew into town

Hur­ri­cane left death, de­struc­tion in its wake

Toronto Sun - - NEWS - MIKE FILEY

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.

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.

Just to con­clude this col­umn on a hap­pier note: the per­son elected in 1954 to serve as the city’s mayor for 1955 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.

See also: toron­to­sun. com/au­thor/mike-filey An event that had Toron­to­ni­ans cheer­ing was when, at 8:04 p.m. on Sept. 9, the city’s own Mar­i­lyn Bell be­came the first per­son to swim across Lake On­tario. In this photo, the Toronto school­girl is about to touch the break­wall in front of the Boule­vard Club on Toronto’s western beaches. 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 (soloswims.com/swims.htm) of those who have been suc­cess­ful in swim­ming across Lake On­tario. PHOTO COUR­TESY MAR­I­LYN BELL DILASCIO Well, so much for 1954’s good news sto­ries. Later that same year tragedy struck big-time when on Fri­day, Oct. 15, 1954 (64 years ago to­mor­row) a 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 hon­ored 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 re­port­edly in trou­ble was never found.

The year 1954 was a mere three months old when Toron­to­ni­ans cel­e­brated the open­ing of the city’s, as well as the na­tion’s, first sub­way. In­ter­est­ingly, the term sub­way was still a bit con­fus­ing for an older gen­er­a­tion of cit­i­zens since up un­til the vote to build the a tran­sit route un­der Yonge St.(as well as one un­der QueenSt.) was placed be­fore the elec­torate in the fall of 1946 the term “sub­way” had been used al­most ex­clu­sively to de­scribe traf­fic un­der­passes such as those con­vey­ing cars, buses, trucks and pedes­tri­ans un­der rail­way tracks. From as far back as the late 1800s/early 1900s when the first com­ments re­lated to the build­ing of an un­der­ground tran­sit line for Toron­to­ni­ans sur­faced the con­cept was al­ways re­ferred to as a “tube”. Nev­er­the­less, it wasn’t long be­fore the Yonge sub­way (all 4.6 miles of it — no met­ri­fi­ca­tion back then — from Union Sta­tion to Eglin­ton Ave.) was in full op­er­a­tion and the word sub­way was as com­mon as the words street­car and bus. And its pa­trons couldn’t be prouder. In fact, “Take that, Mon­treal!” was heard all over town. In this pho­to­graph, former TTC ar­chiv­ist Ted Wick­son cap­tured one of the iconic “red” Glouces­ter sub­way trains at the Dav­isville sta­tion, where open­ing cer­e­monies took place on March 30, 1954.

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