Hurricane Hazel Personal Accounts

After reading the stories on this site, the heroism shown by so many people and the sad recollections of hearing neighbours' and strangers' voices cease after frantic calls for help, my story seems small and insignificant, but in some respects it has fuelled a lifelong interest and career.

When Hurricane Hazel struck, we were living on the townline of Toronto Township, about ½ mile north of Highway 5. Our property included the main branch of Loyalist Creek, which was generally a stream channel about 10 to 15 feet across and about two to three feet deep—it flooded in the spring because of surface runoff and ice jams, and dried up most summers. Among the trees, close to the creek, was where my swing was built and a succession of pet rabbits lived in relative luxury in their hutches. The then current resident was Timmy the rabbit. This was a great place for a kid of four to live—building runoff channels through the snow (but not too close to the creek) in the spring, catching pollywogs in the summer and lots of room to explore.

Our house itself was about 100 feet from the creek and built on a terrace. I recall the rain that day in October 1954 (no playing outside), and the concern on my mother's face as she listened to the radio reports and observed the weather. In retrospect, I expect she was thinking about trying to keep the sump pump running and hoping my father would get home safe from work in North York, as in 1954 there was no 401 and his travel route would be along the Dundas Highway, across the Humber and Credit rivers.

Towards the middle of the afternoon, with water two feet deep over the entire property, and deeper and faster flowing near the channel, my mother pulled on boots and a rain coat and waded towards the creek to carry Timmy and his rabbit hutch up onto the front steps, so he would be safe and a little girl would be happy. In the evening, when my father finally got home, I recall a discussion about how to keep the engine dry on the Studebaker because, by then, the driveway and garage were under about three feet of water-the solution of course was to drive the nose of the car up onto the terrace as far as possible and hope for the best.

Fifty years have now past; Loyalist Creek was piped years ago when the Erin Mills community was developed; both parents are now gone and so is the house and terrace, but I can remember my mother saving a pet rabbit and that car, nose pointing in the air to keep the engine dry. The ruts in the grass on the terrace stayed for years as a reminder of that day. My choice of career, as well, owes much to the memories of that storm, as years later I became a planner, with my first job working for the Grand River Conservation Authority reviewing development plans to ensure they weren't within a flood-prone area, and explaining about floodplains and regional storms to people who had no experience with Hurricane Hazel… some experiences stay with you forever.

Barbara Jeffrey, MCIP, RPP

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