Hurricane Hazel: Canada's Storm of the Century by Jim Gifford (Dundurn), 104 pages, $19.99 paper. Rating: NNN Rating: NNN
With Hurricane Katrina hammering home the inherent dangers of building on hazard lands, Jim Gifford's 2004 50th-anniversary book on Toronto's only comparable event has great significance. It's only the second book to tell the story of this major turning point in Canadian history.
Read Hurricane Hazel and you'll find disturbing comparisons between Toronto in 1954 and the Third World countries where the poor live in shantytowns on flood plains. In the 50s, many low-income Canadian families lived in cottages and trailer parks vulnerable to floods.
Toronto's few environmental regulations were poorly enforced. For instance, Gifford reveals that an illegal Humber Valley dump, after being innudated, unleashed a plague of rats into the homes of flood survivors.
In the New Orleans disaster and in response to Hazel there were no efforts - or time - to organize evacuations. Twenty residents of a trailer park died in their sleep after a dam on a tributary of the Humber collapsed.
Gifford's text is interspersed with riveting photographs of destruction and heroism. The most striking is that of Alec Nicholson, who directed cars away from flooded areas on Pottery Road at the risk of being washed away in the turbulence of the Don.
While his book is full of the drama of the actual storm and immediate reconstruction efforts, Gifford mostly avoids dealing with the fury that ensued over the next 50 years of flood plain politics in Ontario. Only four pages are devoted to this topic.
His brief post-disaster summary highlights only the best aspect of the response, the creation of 26,000 acres of parkland in Toronto.
Ignored are the more questionable dams and stream channelization projects and the contentious future of the Lower Don. These are the focuses of key current debates and ecological restoration efforts.