By CVC’s Kimberley Holt-Behrend
Sixty years ago this month, Hurricane Hazel left her mark as one of the fiercest and most costly hurricanes in history. In the weeks leading up to it, southern Ontario had unusually high rainfall andater levels were already above average.. Beginning in Haiti, Hazel moved north wreaking havoc on southern Ontario. The storm stalled over Toronto in an area of high pressure, violently dumping 285 millimetres of rain in 48 hours.
Homes, highways and hopes were destroyed by Hazel’s fierce force. On Oct. 18, 1954, it was determined that 81 lives had been lost and 1,868 Torontonians were left homeless. There were no flood precautions taken before Hazel’s arrival. The storm was predicted to pass east of Toronto. By the time it ended, more than 50 bridges, seven major highways and thousands of homes were ruined. The total cost of destruction in Ontario was estimated at $100 million (about $1 billion today).
After Hazel, the provincial government amended the Conservation Authorities Act so an authority could purchase lands for recreation and conservation purposes, and regulate that land for community safety. Together, conservation authorities, local municipalities and the province made flood control and water management their top priority. Hazel allowed the fledgling Credit Valley Conservation Authority (CVCA), formed on May 13, 1954, to quickly prove its worth. Conservation authorities such as CVCA made improvements to dams, reservoirs and rivers that were vulnerable to flooding. They built concrete walls and brick frames and planted and native trees to help withstand rising water levels to prepare against future flooding. Conservation authorities secured lands in floodplains to reduce flood risk and to double as recreational areas for communities to safely enjoy.
Safety remains a top priority. Conservation authorities have an important system to inform municipal coordinators, emergency services, media and the public of potential or imminent floods. Hurricane Hazel taught communities that we can’t fight Mother Nature, but we can be prepared for her different visits.
Visit CVC’s Flood Warning & Forecasting page to learn more about flood monitoring and safety.