Life along the Humber River in today involves a nice walk on a sunny fall day — a stark contrast to the scene 65 years ago when hurricane Hazel hit Toronto.
More than 80 people were killed and approximately 4,000 families were displaced, many of whom were living near the banks of the Humber River when flood water swept away their homes.
“It was four times the height it would have been. You had dead cows, human bodies, refrigerators and couches floating down that river,” said Dave Phillips, a senior climatologist for Environment Canada.
Phillips said the forecast for that day called for rain. What Toronto got was 200 millimetres of rain and a flooded Humber River. Hazel became the country’s biggest natural disaster.
Hurricane Hazel hit the coast of South Carolina as a category 4 storm and it was still registered as a category 1 when it slammed into Toronto. Five firefighters were lost when they responded to a car trapped in Humber River.
“The truck got caught in the flow as they made their way down beside the Humber. Many of them were never found again the truck was just washed away,” said Toronto historian Mike Filey.
Filey said organizations and municipal planning changes in Toronto following the deadly hurricane.
The Toronto Conservation Authority was created by the province and flood plains were designated along the Humber and Don rivers. Families were removed from the low areas and homes were knocked down.
Phillips said because of climate change, another storm event equal to, or greater than, is possible. But technology and communication has advanced since 1954.
“Now with communication people would be alerted to it,” he said.