Hurricane Hazel Personal Accounts

Nicholson's attempt to save Jack Bates

Nicholson shares his story of his brave, yet unsuccessful attempt to rescue Jack Bates, who was later rescued from the Don River when a boat pulled him to safety.

"I live close by the Pottery Road bridge over the Don, and when the river started coming up, I went down there to stop cars from trying to cross. On one side of the bridge, the water, I'd say, was four feet over the road. I got soaked standing in the water and went home to change and get a board to barricade the road when someone said a car had gone in. I ran back and heard a man's cries for help.

"He was clinging to a small clump of trees in the middle of the water. When I tried to help him, the current caught me. I was going downstream when I got on the man's overturned car. I was on that car in the river for two and a half hours. Then I felt it starting to shift under me. It was as though someone was lifting it bodily.

"I decided to get off in a hurry. The water took me along and each time I passed some trees or bushes, I tried to grab at them. I was able to hang on for awhile, but the river carried me away from them. Then I got a grip on a tree and managed to hold on. I stayed there for three hours, while the lifesaver got a line to the other man hanging on in midstream and pulled him out.

"They couldn't get the lifesavers' boat to me. Each time they tried, the current swept it away. I waited there and watched the river. It was going wild. I'd say it was 300 feet across at one point.

"Then I heard the sound of a fence being broken and saw the end of a truck backing toward the river. It was a fire truck, and next I saw a great ladder going up in the air and over the river. I said to myself, 'Here's help at last.' They lowered a rope to me and I wrapped it around my body. I'd tried to get my raincoat off, but the cold water had stuck it to my body.

"I thought I was a goner twice. I was sinking into the river, when the rope around me tugged me up again. Then I was out of the water and they were using the ladder as a derrick to swing me ashore.

"I was blue. They brought me to the hospital and started rubbing me with alcohol. I shivered for an hour," said Nicholson after his rescue.

Globe and Mail, October 18, 1954

Jack Bates tells the story of how he became stranded in the flooded Don River. He was the man Nicholson tried to save before he became endangered himself.

"I stopped my car at the Pottery Road bridge and hesitated when I saw the water. But I decided to give it a try and got almost across when the water took hold of my car and just lifted it into the river.

"I was there for about 20 minutes when I felt the car turning, and got off before it rolled over, with me underneath it. I grabbed some small trees, and then a floating stump hit me in the back. I won't say now I wasn't scared. I really was. I was yelling for help all the time, as I thought the people on shore would lose sight of me when I went under the water.

"I clung to my last tree for three hours. I tried to swim, but it was impossible in that current. Several times, when I had water in my lungs and the trees were giving way, I thought, 'This is it, I've had it'."

Globe and Mail, October 18, 1954

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