For those of us who have only wandered Toronto's ravines over the last few decades, it is hard to imagine what things must have been like when Hurricane Hazel hit the city on the night of October 15, 1954. Its aftermath is well documented: bridges swept away and destroyed, entire homes shattered and strewn across the river banks, thousands left homeless, 81 people killed. Our entire approach to urbanization and floodplain management was upended, leaving us a legacy that still unfolds in municipal planning offices to this day.
On that one night, over 200mm of rain fell upon an already saturated watershed. The waters rushed across streets and lawns, pouring into our river valleys from every side, down every slope. Our rivers overflowed in a heartbeat, flooding the surrounding areas, and rising to levels not seen since. Words don't do it justice, the photos of the time only hint at the extreme forces at work, but in King's Mill Park an innocuous metal sculpture may offer the best aid in understanding Hazel's wraith.
There's an entry point to the park just east of the Old Mill hotel. Follow the road down to the Bloor Street bridge and look up. Here you'll find a black and bronze plaque of sorts, a strip of six waves (pictured above) placed maybe 5 meters up the central support that holds the bridge aloft above the Humber Valley. This marks the height of the Humber River that tragic night. Now look left and right, and try to visualize the waters stretching the reach of the valley from slope to slope. It's an almost overwhelming thought, difficult to process against today's backdrop of lush greenery and passing cyclists, but made all the more real by one tiny, understated sign.