Hurricane Hazel News Bulletin Cover

Date / Period
Object Type
Books, Guides and Manuals
Canadian Red Cross
Disaster Management

Major tropical storms do not usually travel through Ontario, but on October 15, 1954, Hurricane Hazel crossed Lake Ontario and battered areas north and west of Toronto. Governments, individual citizens, and voluntary organizations rallied in the face of this catastrophe. As the image on the cover of this Ontario Red Cross magazine shows, the Canadian Red Cross was there to help.

The weakening hurricane brought high winds and dumped two months’ worth of rain on south-central Ontario in a 24-hour period. The accumulated water then caused disastrous flash floods in four watersheds around Toronto. By midnight, firefighters, police, and volunteers were rescuing people from homes, rooftops, and trees, in whatever boats could be scrounged up.

The Humber River at the western edge of Toronto saw some of the worst devastation, with hundreds of homes engulfed or swept into the raging current along the river’s course. Hundreds of people were left homeless when the swollen Etobicoke Creek destroyed several trailer parks, while 350 farms were submerged when dykes broke in the Holland Marsh area north of the city. Eighty-one people lost their lives that night. 

Toronto branch Red Cross leaders were woken by midnight phone calls on Friday night alerting them to the unfolding disaster. They roused local Red Cross volunteers and as a first step immediately set up an emergency shelter in a public school near Jane Street, for Black Creek flood victims. 

“Red Cross must truly be ready for the unexpected.”

The next two days saw a surge of volunteer assistance and donations pour into the Red Cross. Two thousand individual offers came in from Torontonians wanting to help, ranging from volunteer typists to donated paper cups. The women of the Canadian Red Cross Corps, trained to respond in such emergency situations, earned special praise for their work in various affected areas.

In the year following the hurricane, more than 12,000 flood victims received some form of emergency assistance from the Red Cross. The hurricane also prompted a new attention to disaster preparedness – planning ahead of time to coordinate relief efforts both within the Red Cross itself, and between the Red Cross and other agencies. Municipalities changed their attitudes toward watershed management as well.

National Disaster Services Chairman John S. Morgan concluded in his 1954 annual report that “Red Cross must truly be ready for the unexpected.” This philosophy continues to animate Red Cross disaster planning today. 

Hurricane Hazel News Bulletin Cover

Hurricane Hazel News Bulletin Cover
Hurricane Hazel News Bulletin Cover
Hurricane Hazel

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