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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Hurricane Hazel leaves her mark

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When Hurricane Hazel reached Toronto on October 15, 1954, residents of the Humber River Valley were hardest hit. Many of them lived in newly minted suburban homes built right on top of the river's floodplains.

When the record rainfall could not seep into the ground fast enough, the flood waters tore through their neighbourhoods. At times, water levels reached six metres high, sweeping away houses and washing out entire streets.

Eighty-one people were killed, and thousands were left without homes.

This tragic event had a profound influence on the way the city addresses its natural topography. As a direct result of the hurricane, the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority was created, and was given the power to buy floodplain land from private owners and conserve it as public space.

Today, the Humber River's floodplains are home to a network of parks and trails. This network makes it possible to walk alongside the river all the way from Highway 401 to where the Humber Bloor Bridge crosses the river at King's Mill Park. If you visit King's Mill Park, look for the blue line painted up high on the side of the bridge (photo above).

This line represents the height of the flood waters in the area, and serves as a reminder of Hurricane Hazel's legacy.