Hurricane Hazel Personal Accounts

The De Peuter Family

The Holland Marsh became a lake in the flood and one house became a life raft for an entire family. The De Peuter family spent the night stranded in their house as it floated around the marsh. The house was flooded up to the windows of the first floor, so the parents, 13 children and one cat fled to the second floor, where they remained all night as the house floated for two miles around the marsh. Three of the children became sea sick as the house 'bobbed like a cork'. Hydro remained connected to the house for the first 15 minutes.

Henry De Peuter describes the night he and his family were adrift on the marsh:

"The amazing part was all the lights in the house stayed on, because we were moving towards the hydro lines, and they were slackening."

"The house just took off like a boat, a real Noah's Ark. From 11:30 p.m. till 6:30 a.m. we floated aimlessly through the marsh, bumping into houses, greenhouses, barns, hydro poles, everything. The area over by the Holland River had a faster current and somehow our house got caught in that current and started spinning like a top, faster and faster, and rocking to and fro. We all—all 15 of us—would run from one side of the house to the other when it tilted, trying to balance it out. One of my younger brothers, Bastian, actually got violently sea-sick.

"Until then, we had been too busy to really worry and then one of the younger ones asked if we were all going to die. My mother said that only one person knew that, the Lord, and we all knelt down and prayed—the Lord's Prayer. And we did get out of the current and finally come to rest against a service road near the 400, where a complete field of carrots had floated up to the surface and helped hold us in place. We were two and half miles away from where we started, with lots of side trips that had often taken us near our original place.

"At that time, there were still cars going along the 400 and we shouted and waved to attract their attention. I even fired off a .22, but with the noise of the wind and the water, it couldn't be heard. Then we waved bedsheets, and motorists saw us, and soon an amphibious truck from Camp Borden came along. One man got out, tied a rope around his waist, and plunged in to swim towards our house. We were about 250 feet away, and the water was pretty wild and cold, but he made it. We knocked a window out downstairs and pulled him in. Then another man came along the rope in a canoe, which kept tipping, but he told us we'd be okay with the extra weight of two people in the canoe. So we made it out to the truck in seven trips, and were taken into Bradford, where we stayed in the Bradford Town Hall.

"We never found out the name of the man who swam out with the rope to rescue us. Then one day, my brother was in Barrie, in Jack Oates' paint store, and he got talking about the wet weather and how it wasn't as bad as Hurricane Hazel, and one thing led to another and they found out that he, Jack Oates, was the man who had saved us."

Hurricane Hazel, Betty Kennedy, 1979; p. 100-101

After the marsh was drained of floodwater, the De Peuter home was moved back to its original foundation, intact.

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