Hurricane Hazel Personal Accounts

Ted Ryan describes flooding in the Rouge River Valley

Ted Ryan described the flooding in the Rouge River Valley to Betty Kennedy:

"Shortly after 10:00 that night, the phone rang. It was my friend and neighbour, Fred Hunt. He asked me if he could borrow my auto-top boat, which we used for duck hunting, as he had gotten word at the corner store that there were one or two families stranded in the lower Rouge River due to flooding.

"Fred was at the house in a few minutes to pick up the boat and said he was headed to the foot of Island Road, which was the logical place to commence operations. I asked him to wait for me there until I got more appropriately dressed. When I was racing out the door, my wife, who was eight months pregnant, said, 'Don't you be going down the river in that boat.' There was no way I was going to miss out on this adventure as the Rouge area was quite rural at this time and this sort of thing was one of our pleasures. Of course, I had in mind that we would serenely cruise down the river and, with some luck, possibly rescue a damsel in distress.

"When I arrived at the launching site, the scene was much different from what I had imagined. There were a few people gathered around one of the local fire trucks and the firemen (volunteers) were playing search lights down river, illuminating what appeared to be some cottages of houses in the distance. The wind was now a high-pitched scream. There was no river; the whole valley was a raging torrent trying to discharge itself into Lake Ontario, but was being partially dammed by the Rouge River railway trestle at its mouth. My boat was sitting at the water's edge, but Fred was not there. When I asked regarding his whereabouts, they said, 'Oh, he's gone down the river in another boat with one of the firemen.' This made me angry to think that he would go without me, as we had spent many hours in boats together.

"Gil Read, the owner of the corner store, arrived on the scene and I asked him if he would go with me. Gil was a little reluctant—maybe he figured he had had enough close calls in the tank corps during the war and shouldn't press his luck. In any event, I talked him into it—and I may say here that I would not do it again, at least not in a 12-foot, lat-end canoe.

"Well, with the help of the firemen, we got the boat out into the water deep enough to mount the motor. Gil got in the front, myself in the back. Both of us are over six feet in height, weighing over two hundred pounds, so you can see we had a fair load to start with. After a few cranks, the motor caught and we slowly moved out to the main stream.

"That was the last time we had any positive control over the boat. I knew we were in trouble, and it would be just a matter of time before we would upset.

"All sorts of things were tumbling downstream with us—pieces of houses, furniture, and I can remember one huge uprooted tree thrashing around just to the right of our path. We went past it at the right time, otherwise we would have cracked like an eggshell.

"We were now running over people's front lawns, which were eight feet under us, and then we ran into a tree. (Although we didn't realize it at the moment, this tree saved our lives, and a few other lives, as we shall see.) I was able to hold onto a substantial branch of the tree, which was at chest level. I don't know what caused it, but the boat started to sink beneath us, and then, in seconds, the current whipped it away into the darkness. My tree limb was strong and, needless to say, I was holding on for dear life. Gil was not so fortunate. All he could grab was a light branch that was already starting to give way. We were both stretched out horizontally in the silly current, and this is where long legs can come in handy. Gil made a desperate lunge and managed to get a hold of my ankles and crawl slowly over me and then up into a higher branch of the tree. There we both were, sitting in the tree like a couple of wet owls, not too proud of our seamanship.

"In the meantime, Fred Hunt and Howard Morgan, in a boat not much larger than ours, had evacuated two women and we could now see them coming down the river again to pick up two youths who were standing in the upper window about thirty feet from where we sat perched in their tree. We could not make ourselves heard above the howling wind, and at that time no one knew what had happened to us.

"We watched them load up the lads and a dog, and then nose their boat out to head upstream. About halfway between the house and our tree, what looked like a dog kennel came tossing and turning, hitting the nose of their boat, causing the current to force them right against our tree. We exchanged greetings, told our story, and chitchatted back and forth, with all of us trying to figure out a solution to get their boat, which was broadside, nose upstream, without capsizing it. Fred had handed a flashlight to me, with which I was making simulated Morse code signals upstream to make someone up there aware that we had problems.

"Moments later, I happened to shine the light into their boat. Water was pouring over the back, and within 30 seconds we had six bodies in the tree. The boat disappeared with the dog and I never did find out if he survived. To my knowledge, the dog was the only casualty on the Rouge River during Hurricane Hazel. We were all shuttled to safety, eventually with a more powerful boat, driven by Murray Brown of Murdon Marine, Port Carling. Murray was a volunteer fireman in West Rouge at that time.

"I went to work the next morning, a Saturday, remorseful over the loss of my boat and motor. In the afternoon, I went down to the Rouge and was greatly surprised to see that the water had completely receded, leaving a devastation of caved-in houses and cottages, with a layer of silt two to three inches thick over the whole valley.

"I walked down the road toward our saviour tree, which was an odd-shaped cedar, and the last time I was down that way, it was still there. A little further on, there was my boat caught in a wire fence with the motor attached and, of course, full of silt. Jammed under the seat was an Eveready lamp, still faintly glowing."

Hurricane Hazel, Betty Kennedy, 1979; p. 73-77

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