Chapter 14 of BOOM: A Child of the Beaches in Toronto Remembers the 50s looks back at the night Hurricane Hazel hit

Hurricane Hazel hit Toronto on the night of Oct. 15, 1954. Photo: James V. Salmon, Toronto Public Library Archives. Inset photos show a Toronto Telegram headlines, former Ontario Premier George Drew, and Dr. Leonne Farrell.

Below is Chapter 14 of BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s.

Every Tuesday over the next few months, Beach Metro News will post up another chapter of the book on our website at for readers to enjoy.

To see our earlier story on Black, and to read Chapter One, please go to

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BOOM: A Child of the Beach in Toronto Remembers the 50s

CHAPTER 14: ‘Delivering newspapers during Hurricane Hazel’


“The bullets were flying like bees” Sally Hawkins, a waitress, told a newspaper reporter.  It was Thursday, Oct. 9, 1958.

It had started a couple of hours before when two masked men held up Lazenby’s Drug Store on Kingston Road. Shortly thereafter police accosted three men as they were leaving Lim’s Café on Queen at Brookmount Avenue. Numerous shots were fired with one striking one of the fugitives, William Eagles, who was arrested and taken to the hospital. The other two took off and ultimately separated. None of the police involved at that time were injured.

Police found out that one of the missing men lived at 1963A Queen St. E., at Kenilworth Avenue above a tailor shop and when they approached that apartment, the real gun battle began. During the next 20 minutes, over 100 shots would be fired, a rookie police officer, Harold Mulvogue would be seriously wounded with a gunshot to the stomach, and a suspect, Dean Pelton who had been wounded four times would be arrested.

The residents of Toronto were startled to hear the news; gunshots were rare in the city and a gunfight of this magnitude was shocking. The people of the Beach, many of whom had heard the gunfire were stunned. One of the hardest tasks the police had to perform that night was to keep the citizenry safe;  hundreds of folks had shown up to try to get a glimpse of what was going on while the “bullets were flying like bees”.

Curiosity can get people to do strange things. Speaking about curiosity, on the following Saturday some friends and I rode our bikes to the scene to examine the bullet marks on the storefronts: the tailor shop and the newly-opened Nevada Restaurant next door. It was exciting; we had never seen bullet holes before.

I have always enjoyed reading articles that begin “whatever happened to….”. You might like to know that Constable Mulvogue recovered from his wound and served 30 years with the Metro Police. At the time of his shooting he had two children and would eventually have six.  He enjoyed a lengthy retirement before passing away in 2008 at the age of 75.

William Eagles, the first individual arrested had a very lengthy record and was sentenced to 25 years and was never heard from again. The fellow who disappeared into the night, a Mr. Read, was arrested in Montreal two weeks later, and was sentenced to five years. He too vanished back into the night; I don’t know what became of him.

As for the leading actor in the drama, Dean Pelton, he recovered from his gunshot wounds and was given 25 years.  He was paroled in 1971, settled in Moncton, New Brunswick, and established and ran a non-profit organization for many years called “Let’s Face It” dedicated to helping paroled inmates find jobs and accommodation. He was often invited to participate in meetings and symposiums along with representatives of the Canadian Penitentiary Service, the National Parole Service and the Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police. One publication referred to Mr. Pelton as being “an employment service, a chauffeur, an advisor and a friend”. It’s good to know that there are some success stories within the “correctional” system. I wonder if he ever apologized to Constable Mulvogue.

Over the years, before fading totally from view, the shooting on Queen Street East became known unfairly as the gunfight at the Nevada Restaurant. The restaurant, like many others, was an innocent bystander. But fade from view it ultimately did. All events whether good, bad, or otherwise tend to be expunged from our collective memory at a rate that depends on the number of people impacted by the event and the intensity of that impact.

The incident in the Beach on Oct. 9, 1958 was certainly unique but not many individuals were directly involved so it was soon forgotten. I remember it but I don’t know why. I was in bed.

On another October day four years earlier I helped my brother with his paper route. I mentioned in a past chapter that I had a paper route but that was later in the decade. My brother, being four and a half years older had one much sooner and I would occasionally help him if he had made some plans and wanted to get through it quickly. He didn’t ask often; he had to pay me.

On that particular Friday though, he hadn’t made plans, he wanted help because it was raining and the faster that they were delivered the less chance that the papers would get wet. Plus it was forecast that the rain would intensify as the evening approached.

Actually, the weather forecast that morning had said that the day would be cloudy with rain in the afternoon or evening. The newspapers that my brother and I were delivering said that the day would be overcast with rain during the day and that night. In fact, it was absolutely pouring and it was extremely windy. We got soaked. From that day onward until he died about 60 years later, whenever my brother heard the words Hurricane Hazel he would immediately say “I delivered papers during Hurricane Hazel” and if I was present, I would say “and I helped”.

The truth is that when it reached Toronto, Hurricane Hazel was no longer a hurricane. The wind in Toronto never exceeded about 65 miles per hour. But it was a devastating storm nevertheless made worse by two factors; above average rainfall had been experienced during the first half of October saturating the earth, and a high pressure area north of the city combined with a storm approaching from the southwest caused Hazel which was coming up from the south to stall directly over the area. An enormous amount of rain fell and the water had nowhere to go but to race across the surface until it reached Lake Ontario.

Some western parts of the city received about five inches of rain while some communities to the northwest such as Snelgrove saw over eight inches of rain. One analyst stated that it was the equivalent of all of the water in Lake Simcoe being dropped on the city. It all flowed south.

The large number of rivers and streams travelling south to the lake rapidly flooded, particularly those in the western regions. In some places, the Humber River was flowing more than 20 feet above its normal level.

Eighty-one people died and more than 4,000 were left homeless. The storm of Oct.15/16, 1954 was certainly the worst natural disaster to ever hit the city.

About three-and-a-half inches of rain fell on the Beach. Many of the streets in the area run downhill from the north until they reach Queen where they level off and then they continue with a lesser incline to the lake. As the streets run, so do the storm sewers under them which carry off the rainwater and snowmelt. During Hazel the system could not handle all of the water; the sewers were full.  Flooding at the lower ends of these streets was extensive and many sections of Queen St. were flooded as well, particularly from McLean to Glen Manor.

The build-up of water pressure under Queen was so great that several manhole covers blew off resulting in great mounds of water gushing up about six-feet high in the middle of the street including one at the intersection of Queen and McLean in front of our apartment.

There were stalled cars everywhere. Periodically during the evening, my father, brother and I would venture out to the front of our apartment building to survey the mayhem on Queen. Mother elected not to go.

In the Beach, the damage was comparatively mild; several sections of the boardwalk were washed out, many homes suffered basement flooding and sewer backup, the old boathouse opposite the lyrically named street Alfresco Lawn was moved from one side of the boardwalk to the other (or, that is, what remained of the boathouse), and the frame concession stand at the foot of Glen Manor Drive was no longer on its concrete pad; it had moved about 20 feet to the north but was largely intact. It was all very exciting.

However, when the reports started to emerge as to just how devastating and deadly the storm was, and the enormity of the damage which had been done, the thoughts of adventure and excitement soon subsided and a pall settled over the city.

This took a while. There were no Sunday papers in those days and radio reports could not convey the severity of the damage and television mobile units were few and rudimentary. It wasn’t till the Monday papers were printed with their lengthy reports and numerous photos that it all sunk in.  The name has been retired; no future hurricanes will ever be named Hazel. Sixty-five years have now passed and the memory of this momentous event is waning.  There are fewer people now who remember it. I do. I delivered newspapers in Hurricane Hazel.

My brother and I had great plans for one Saturday. It was in 1957 or 1958. We and friends of ours were going to pretend that we were operating a radio station. We took our small Seabreeze 45 r.p.m. record player and a stack of records and met up with a couple of buddies each of whom had their own pile of records and one of them had a real working tape recorder.

We then lugged all of our stuff over to the home of another friend who lived on Waverley Road near Norway Avenue, a lengthy walk. In his basement he had an old radio/record player combo to which he had managed to hook up a microphone. We were going to sound just like a real radio station with an announcer, recorded commercials and music. It was going to be a blast! It wasn’t.  It was a disaster; a complete failure. We couldn’t get anything to work. We tried everything we could think of and ended up sitting there scratching our heads. And then we realized what was wrong and who was to blame. It was George Drew’s fault.

A couple of months prior to our ruined Saturday, a gentleman had called at our apartment and had our mother show him every electrical device that we had. He had made a note of the make, model and serial number of each item and told mother that she could expect another caller in  two-and-a-half months. Sure enough, two weeks or so after our failed radio debut another fellow arrived at the apartment and simply asked if there had been any additions to or deletions from our list of appliances. He also confirmed the date and hour of what he called our “Cut Day” which was two weeks away.

On the designated day a few men appeared right on time; one went down to the basement to attack our washing machine, one was in the kitchen assaulting the refrigerator while another busied himself with all of the other smaller appliances. Within an hour they were gone, leaving us with modernized and refurbished equipment some of which got brand new electric motors and inner workings. It cost us nothing.

But these men who worked for Canadian Comstock Limited didn’t just invade our apartment, nor did they simply attend to every apartment in our building; they modernized, refurbished or replaced every electrical device in every home, business or farm in a 13,000 square mile area of Ontario and it took them 10 years to do it.

In North America, virtually all electricity supplied was a current alternating at a rate of 60 cycles per second except for a large swath of Ontario from Windsor and Sarnia east to Whitby and south to Niagara Falls in which the rate was 25 cycles. I won’t bore you with the details as to why this was or the problems it caused; let’s just say that officials knew that at some time they would have to confront this anomaly. The can kept getting kicked down the road.

George Drew was the Premier of Ontario from 1943 to 1948 during which time he was able to get the Frequency Standardization project approved with it being scheduled to commence in 1950.

It was a mammoth undertaking with a battalion of red Comstock panel trucks infiltrating one neighbourhood after another as they identified electrical apparatus and then ordered replacement parts for 147 different models of refrigerators, 140 different makes of clocks, and dozens of diverse record players, tape recorders, clock radios, furnace motors and small kitchen appliances. In total they re-worked or altered or replaced 6,213,000 items at a cost in excess of $300 million (more than $3 billion in 2019). It remains one of the largest infrastructure projects ever undertaken in the province.

The Comstock crews completed their colossal task so efficiently and were in and out of neighbourhoods so quickly that they were like an apparition making little discernible impact and leaving merely a wisp of memory. I remember it because of the disappointment I felt on that Saturday. Our failure stemmed from the fact that the Waverley Road “cut day” had come and gone while ours lay weeks in the future. The electrical current at our friends place was 60 cycle; our equipment was still on 25. Our great plans were short circuited by an anomaly. Like I said; it was George Drew’s fault.

Localized events happen that have repercussions outside the immediate neighbourhood; the gunfight on Queen made residents throughout Toronto realize that there were really bad people out there. Some things occur that have the same effect as a stone landing in a pond with concentric circles emanating from the epicenter losing their impact as they travel outwards. Such was the case with what remained of Hurricane Hazel as it stalled over the western regions of Toronto.

Then there are problems to which a blind eye is turned in the hope that they will resolve themselves. But like a tumour they continue to grow and fester until there is no option but to act; in the case of Frequency Standardization, it became necessary for an army of technicians to descend on a specific area of the province including the Beach, but the entire province was saddled with the enormous bill.

And then there are events that don’t frighten people, cause death and destruction or create debt.  Instead they are liberating. I remember times during the early years of the Fifties when my mother and a few of her friends would talk in soft and somber tones about something which I couldn’t quite comprehend. I knew that whatever it was that it wasn’t good. It was worse than that; it was a sinister presence waiting to pounce, primarily on children, usually in summer, and mostly in urban areas.

Each year as summer approached, parents were terrified. An outbreak of polio first appeared in Canada in 1910 and the annual number of cases remained relatively constant at around 400 until the mid 1940’s with two spikes in 1937 and 1941. And then, starting in 1946, large increases were seen with nearly 4,800 cases in 1952 and almost 9,000 in 1953.

And then, in April of 1955, relief came in the form of a vaccine created by Dr. Jonas Salk in Pittsburg. Children across the country started to line up in schools to be inoculated. I remember it well. There were smiles on the faces of all of the adults and there was a joyous party-like atmosphere.  And there were surprisingly few tears; we kids seemed to sense the dissipation of the terror felt by our parents. The number of cases of polio started to drop immediately.

And then, in 1962 an oral vaccine created by Dr. Albert Sabin was introduced. In 1965 there were three cases of polio reported in the country. Soon, Canada was polio free.

There was a Toronto connection to the polio battle. The University of Toronto’s Connaught Laboratories had earned a tremendous reputation in the prevention and treatment of diseases since being established in 1914.

One of the biochemists at Connaught was Dr. Leone Farrell, one of the first women to be awarded a PhD in the sciences in Canada. She developed a procedure that was called the “Toronto Method” which enabled the mass production of the Salk vaccine, something which was vitally needed around the world.

Over 30 years later, in 1986, Dr. Farrell died and was buried in an unmarked grave. About 20 years later, her name finally appeared on a headstone along with an engraved account of her achievement.

And then, in 2016, although not chosen, she was one of the nominees selected to appear on the face of the Bank of Canada’s new $10 bill. It took quite a while, but the happy story also had a happy ending.

Happy is good so let’s see if we can keep it going.

To read earlier chapters of BOOM, please see below:

To read Chapter Two, please go to

To read Chapter Three, please go to

To read Chapter Four, please go to

To read Chapter Five, please go to

To read Chapter Six, please go to

To read Chapter Seven, please go to

To read Chapter Eight, please go to

To read Chapter Nine, please go to

To read Chapter 10, please go to

To read Chapter 11, please go to

To read Chapter 12, please go to

Tor read Chapeter 13, please go to

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