Hurricane Hazel Personal Accounts

Barbara Flanagan was only eight years old, and what an impression Hazel left

My name is Barbara Flanagan. On October 15, 1954 I was eight years old and my name then was Barbara Williston. We lived on Island Road in Etobicoke, which is now Marie Curtis Park.

On the day of Hurricane Hazel, I remember walking home with my sisters and my brother in the pouring rain and wind so strong you could hardly stand up. My memory goes from there to nightfall when I remember my father checking the banks of the creek, to keep an eye on it.

The next thing I remember is water coming into the house; apparently my father had come into the house and tried to call for help to get us out of there, but no help came. My dad had put my brother, Blair, and I on my bed, and we started screaming for my dad—"We're sinking!" Of course, the bed was floating. The next thing we knew the water was up to my father's waist. Dad put us all up on the counter top (my mother had always been grateful that the lady who had owned and built the house originally was "tall", as the kitchen counters were higher than normal).

My dad was on the kitchen table, and he danced and sang most of the night to try and keep his family from being scared. At some point, he put two chairs on the table so he could try and rest. I recently asked my sisters about that night and my sister, Joy, said that she remembers trying to stay awake as she might have fallen off of the counter and drown!!

My parents had gone shopping that night—as it was a Friday night—and I can still, to this day, see the groceries floating around the kitchen.

At some point during that night I remember hearing Cliff Thorpe screaming for my father to save them, as their house was being washed down into Lake Ontario. (I recently confirmed this with my mother and sisters to make sure that what I remembered was correct. My sister, Gail, said that there were more screams that night than just the Thorpe family; she remembered hearing people screaming a few times that night. We all remembered the lights coming down the road, and we all thought help was on the way, only to find it was a house trailer or a car.)

I asked my mother if we lost our hydro that night, "Yes, of course" was the answer. I told my mom that I could remember seeing faces and around the room, and she told me that we burned candles when the lights went out.

My sisters Gail and Joy, who were 14 and 12 at the time, put their bathing suits on and said that they wanted to swim up to the lakeshore for help! My mom and dad told them NO! They laugh about it today, but really thought they could swim for help that night.

The next morning, around 7:00 a.m., the firemen came in boats to rescue us. I remember seeing cars piled on top of one another. We were taken to a restaurant called the Four Brothers on the lakeshore, where we were all fed breakfast. After breakfast they took us, I believe, to a police station on the lakeshore (it could have been a church, I'm not really sure) where the Red Cross and the Salvation Army came to help the survivors get clothing and find a place to live. My sisters and I went to live with a family by the name of Swan. I don't remember much about them except that they were a nice family. I believe we stayed with them for about one to two weeks. My parents kept my brothers, aged seven and two, with them while they tried to find a place for us all to live.

I called my mother recently and we talked about Hurricane Hazel. I asked her why, through all of the years, we really never spoke about the hurricane, her answer was simply, "I guess we just wanted to forget that night." Mom and dad lost everything, not just clothes and furniture, and the car, but all of their photographs. Five children and not one picture left of any of us—such a tragedy.

I was only eight years old at the time, but what an impression it left with me.

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