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GUEST COLUMN: Hazel & The Sarnia tornado

Published on

By Bob Boulton

Bob Boulton

I met her once. Hazel McCallion. Mayor of Mississauga for 36 years. Hurricane Hazel.

We met years after the October 1954 hurricane catastrophe that ripped through the Toronto area. Before I encountered her, she had already acquired the cheerful brash nickname that reflected the impact she had on her surroundings.

I don’t want to make our meeting sound like more than it was. It was an event for me but one of a long list of business-as-usual who-are-these-people-again assemblies for her. She was five foot three (maybe) in a pair of chunky no-nonsense Mary Jane heels and a presence that filled the room. I was part of a cluster of half a dozen mortals.

After she and I were introduced (a quick nod, a straight-ahead practiced smile, a firm one-pump handshake) our group offered our opinion about something or other. She told us straight away that we were wrong. And why. We were flat-out charmed even as she schooled us about what was decidedly what.

As for the 1950’s weather, there were differences between the Toronto hurricane and the tornado that tore across Sarnia/Port Huron a few months earlier in May 1953.

For instance, the winds came from different places. The Sarnia Tornado originated in Montana and South Dakota. Hurricane Hazel began in the Caribbean near Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

The damage each caused was horrendous but different in scale. The mile-wide Sarnia Tornado killed seven people, injured 117, and battered — or reduced to rubble — over 250 buildings including 150 homes. Hurricane Hazel killed 81 people in and around Toronto and left 4,000 families homeless.

Certainly, there are also technical differences between a hurricane and a tornado. But as one commentator stated, “If you’re in the middle of either one, the difference between a tornado and hurricane seems pointlessly academic.”

Even in times of momentous historical crisis, it’s often the unreported and personal that makes the difference we remember. I was a child in Sarnia during its tornado. After the All Clear sounded, my father took me downtown to see the damage first-hand. He parked our 1948 black Dodge sedan just off Front street.

Then he and I climbed, in contravention of all the signs, over official sawhorse barriers so we could get a better view of the destruction. He said we were looking at the back of Taylors Furniture, a store I knew about mostly because we had a yardstick from there. This was the one and only time I recall my father doing anything even vaguely illegal. He did it for me.

And by the way, if anyone wonders how Hazel felt personally about her nickname, she named her cherished dog Hurricane.

Bob contributes regularly to our opinion column. His verse, short stories, and articles have been published in a variety of small magazines. His blog, Bob’s Write from the Start, is aimed at others who are also renewing writers.

Have a guest column you would like to submit? Guest columns have a 400-word limit, and should include a tagline with a brief description about the author. Send to [email protected].

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