It was a Friday night in October of 1954. The rain had started coming down late that afternoon, but most people in Toronto weren't worried. Hurricane Hazel might have killed more than a thousand people as it tore through the Caribbean and the eastern U.S., but it was supposed to have died down by the time it reached Ontario. The last official weather report came out at 9:30 that night: it would rain for a couple of hours with some strong winds, but Hazel was weakening. It sounded like everything was going to be fine.
"The firefighters did a good job," he said. "But for every one we got out, there was another we couldn’t get out."
By the time the sun came up, the hurricane had killed 81 people in Toronto — nearly half of them on Raymore Drive. Neighbourhoods all over the GTA were in ruins, leaving thousands of people homeless. The clean up would be massive: the military moved in with flamethrowers to burn the wreckage; it was months before all the roads and bridges were repaired.
From across the river in Weston:
Slightly upriver at Lawrence Avenue:
Other photos of the storm:
If you're willing to suffer through two (ugh!) ads, the CBC has a neat video about Hazel (which I'm also told might not work for everyone):
A version of this story will appear in
The Toronto Book of the Dead
Coming September 2017 from Dundurn Press
Available for pre-order now