A knock on a door sealed the fate of two families on the rainy night of October 15, 1954. They lived on Raymore Drive in an idyllic neighbourhood by the shore of the Humber River. That night, radio stations had warned of a dangerous hurricane making its way north that would dump more heavy rain onto an already saturated ground.
Autumn in Ontario is a time of transition. The province occasionally finds itself in the path of extra-tropical hurricanes that are usually shadows of their former selves by the time their energy supply of tropical air has been cut off. This hurricane, named Hazel, was different. It had wreaked havoc in many areas of the United States. Instead of becoming a rain event, Hazel managed to re-energize itself by finding and merging with a cold low pressure area and using that to squeeze out more wind and moisture.
As the evening progressed, the storm parked itself over the city and the already swollen Humber River began to rise higher than residents had ever seen it. In wintertime, ice jams would bring water and inconvenience to the doorsteps of a few homes at the lower end of Raymore Drive but this time was different as the higher water level ceased to be an annoyance and started to become a threat. The roaring water surged wildly with no sign of levelling off.
As water lapped over thresholds into homes near by the river, one family thought it wise to ask neighbours on higher ground if they could bring over furniture threatened by the rising waters. This was the fatal knock. While the two families focussed on moving furniture to the higher house, their single-minded dedication to the task may have prevented them from acting quickly when events took a sudden turn for the worse.
What neither family could see and what would end up costing the lives of 35 residents of the neighbourhood was an unpredictable turn of events. Straddling the river hung a suspension footbridge. It was then, as its replacement is today, a convenient short cut from Raymore Drive to the bustling town of Weston, a centre of commerce for miles around. It was known as the swing bridge, not because of any mechanical abilities but like any suspension bridge, it could be coaxed into swinging by rhythmic walking or jumping.
As the water continued to rise, the western abutment of the footbridge was dragged off its perch into the river a few metres downstream where it anchored itself in the position it occupies today. The cables of the bridge held and in effect, re-positioned the bridge diagonally across the river forming a barrier which, thanks to the debris washing downstream quickly became a diversionary dam. Suddenly and without warning, the river was steered directly into the path of the homes at the end of Raymore Drive engulfing our two families and taking a total of 35 lives at this location.
Today, the western abutment is still resting in the river, standing as a grim witness to that terrible night. The eastern end of the bridge remains in place and as mentioned previously, was decorated with a (now badly peeled) commemorative mural in 2002. Raymore Park itself contains no memorial to the people who lost their lives that day. Perhaps this would be a worthy project.
Readers are invited to add their own memories or anecdotes of Hurricane Hazel.