Hurricane Hazel Rages Across Toronto

October 15, 1954

Old Mill Road

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Hurricane Hazel was one of the most devastating and unpredictable tropical storms of the 20th century. It was first identified on October 5, 1954, in the Caribbean, where it smashed into Haiti and then battered the Carolinas. The storm struck Toronto on October 15 with winds of 124 km/h and record rainfall.

Many acts of heroism took place during Hurricane Hazel as rescuers risked their own lives taking to boats on the swollen rivers (courtesy Toronto and Region Conservation Archives).

By 7:00 PM the winds had abated, but the worst was yet to come. The flood plains of Toronto’s several river systems, deforested and already saturated by days of rain, simply could not contain the downpour. Dramatically overflowing its banks, the cascading Humber River ripped entire homes from their foundations, killing over 30 victims on Raymore Drive alone.

Many brave rescue efforts were undertaken, even though the current on the rivers imperiled rescue boats. In Weston, off-duty police officer Jim Crawford and Herb Jones, a contractor, risked their lives on the turbulent Humber saving 50 lives. Five firefighters from the Kingsway-Lambton Fire Station were killed when they went to rescue people stranded in a car by floodwaters from the Humber River.

In all, Hurricane Hazel left 81 dead in Toronto, nearly 1,900 families homeless and caused over $25 million in damages.

As a result of the tragic loss of life and lack of preparation, local municipalities and the province developed a comprehensive plan for flood control and water conservation that has transformed the region. The resulting public acquisition of valley lands and restrictions on development in flood plains have left a legacy of treasured green spaces in the city and beyond.

By James Marsh

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on Hurricane Hazel

Members of the Toronto harbour patrol haul Alex Nicholson from the swollen Don River (courtesy Associated Press, New York Times). View the image gallery