I discovered Hurricane Hazel: Canada’s Storm of the Century by Jim Gifford while perusing the bibliographies (as I always do) of the Toronto history books I most recently read. It was a short read of 101 pages, and filled with black-and-white photos of the devastation that struck Toronto on the night of October 15, 1954 when Hurricane Hazel plowed through Toronto, killing 81 and leaving four thousand families homeless. It was not as if I had never read about this natural disaster before, yet this book, published in 2004 to mark the fiftieth anniversary, had never crossed my path.
The text was rich with history and made for captivating reading, as this was much more than a photo album. Gifford found witnesses to the hurricane and persuaded some who lived through it to give interviews. Some of these people provided their own photos for inclusion, thus the “more than 100 never-before-published photographs” were a highlight of this book. What I found most amazing was the confined regionality of the devastation; for example, people who lived in eastern Toronto were oblivious to the carnage that decimated their city only a few miles away. When the Humber River flooded, it washed away houses, cars and people. Sixty-six years ago boy scout troops were sent out to comb the river for dead bodies. That would never be done today.
As I was reading this book I had a most peculiar feeling of déjà vu. While I was reading Al Brierley’s account of driving through the flooded underpass just east of Dufferin and King, I was on a streetcar heading east on King towards Shaw. I was struck by that coincident moment, put the book down and looked out as the streetcar just then rode through that very same underpass.