Hurricane Hazel Personal Accounts

Edo Knibbe remembers his harrowing night on the marsh

The flooding of the Holland Marsh on October 15, 1954 is one occasion that is not easily forgotten by those who were part of the Springdale community at that time.

It had already rained for weeks. We were behind in harvesting and most of the onions were still in the field, bagged up and stacked in long rows.

On that Friday, the rain kept pouring down and an all-time rainfall record of seven inches was recorded for the Toronto area.

At 7:30 p.m. that Friday evening, we received a phone call telling us to leave for higher ground. Laying sand bags on the dikes had proved to be a hopeless task, as the water rushing down from the surrounding hills was just too much.

We put some suitcases on the truck and left our house with our children, Rita, age five, and Norman, age two. For a few minutes, the rain stopped, the sky was clear above and the stillness was eerie. Then it started again; the rain, the wind and it was very dark. Nothing seemed the way it was supposed to be. The road was full of gullies. Weston Road, then called the Sixth Concession of King Township, was under construction and had turned into a river of mud. The water in the canal was close to the top (this was the old canal, before Highway 9 was built and a new canal was dug).

I got out of the truck to check with a long stick whether the bridge was still there. We followed the townline (now Highway 9) eastward. A three-foot wide creek east of Highway 400 had turned into a raging river, boiling two feet high over the small bridge. A line of about ten cars was there, the drivers debating whether it was safe to cross the bridge. "Maybe we could try it with the truck," someone suggested. One look at it was enough for me and we turned around and went back to the wooden canal bridge, again checking it, and followed the South Canal Bank Road to Wist Road. This was also full of gullies from washouts of water coming down from Highway 400. We followed the service road and finally were heading south on the 400 when we encountered a huge landslide. The whole side of the hill had slid down, almost blocking the southbound lane. A Grey Coach bus was laying on its side in the median. That was it-we turned off of the highway at the Aurora Sideroad and sought refuge at the home of George and Helen Sportel, who were living in a farmhouse. Already thirty people were there. At 11:00 p.m. I went back to take a look at our house. Yes, it was still there, but the land was under water and it was creeping up to the driveway.

The next morning at 6:00, we climbed the hill and saw the Holland Marsh-it was now a large lake; only the roofs of the houses seemed to be above the water. It was a cold, still morning, but sunny, and we realized that for the first time in weeks, it was not raining. We managed to drive down to the dike as far as Holancin Road. A red-framed house across the road from our house had disappeared and was later found to be sitting in the field of C&L Gardens (Davis Brothers).

On Monday, Arend and Janny Van Loenen managed to get a boat to go to their house, which was at the corner of the townline (Highway 9) and the West Canal Bank Road. Imagine their shock and dismay when they found that their house had disappeared! Parts of it had drifted all over the place. The West Canal Bank Road was washed out (from the inside) in large sections, all the way past the north branch of the river. Several of the immigrant houses on River Road had also floated away. The most southern one was occupied by the John De Peuter Sr. family, who stayed in the house as it drifted like a boat, finally coming to rest at Highway 400.

The other house at Highway 400 was vacated early in the evening. The third house that left River Road was the home of the Bassie family, and they had also sought shelter outside of the marsh, but their house rode the waves and after hitting the Radder greenhouse, it became entangled in hydro lines. There was also a house near the river that was moved a short distance. Two homes on the Second Concession contained families. The Postmas' fled to the attic and were rescued the next morning. The other house was the home of the Cor Krygsman family and they had also moved into the attic, spending the night sitting on the ceiling joists. There were no windows in the attic, so no way to attract attention in the morning, but Mr. Krygsman did manage to break a small hole in the roof and wave his hand until they were found and rescued.

Mr. Arend Hanemaayer woke during the night and pulled his hand from under the covers and realized that there was six inches of water on the floor. The family moved up to the second floor bedrooms, and in the morning a rescue boat came to the upstairs window and ferried them to dry land.

Most of these houses were returned to their original sites; any building that moved more than two feet from its foundation was considered a total loss. All crops were confiscated. The damage done to homes was not only from water and mud, but also from such things as diesel, gas and furnace oil, fuel tanks that floated and broke the fuel lines, causing serious damage. The level of water in the houses was three to seven feet above the floors and very little furniture was not damaged. After three weeks of drying, glue let loose and it all fell apart.

Busloads of Mennonites arrived to help in the repair of our homes. People in Bradford and Schomberg opened their homes to those in need of shelter, although many of them had also suffered losses from the storm and rain. Donations began pouring in from all over Canada and the world. Two trailer camps were set up to house the refugees. Pumps were set up, the dikes were repaired, and after the fields dried off sufficiently, miles and miles of ditches had to be dug again.

Highway 400 and two hundred feet to the west was covered with piles of bags of onions, potatoes, wagon platforms, outhouses, fuel tanks, gas tanks, crates and anything else that would float. A field of six acres of potatoes, 18 inches deep, floated up to the surface of the water and drifted toward Highway 400. You can imagine the surprise of the Davis brothers when they found a field of potatoes on top of their carrot crop, and the chagrin of the Valentine brothers, when they saw a large hole where their potato field had been. It took a small army of dump trucks all winter to move the field back to the owner's land.

In the spring, it was all back to normal and the fields were ready for seeding, the roads repaired and all the wooden bridges were either renewed or temporarily replaced by Baily bridges. As with everything else, the Springdale Church had to be repaired after Hazel's visit. After months of hard work, the building was ready for use. May of 1955 came and we were back in our own place of worship again. Other churches and the Mennonite Brothers helped greatly in the reconstruction of our church and many of the homes and barns.

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