In October 1954, a category-four hurricane pounded Haiti, ploughed up the Eastern U.S. seacoast to New York, and turned inland. Over Pennsylvania, it met and joined a solid cold front. The two systems, like allied armies, set course to invade Canada.
Even after exhausting much of its energy along the way, Hurricane Hazel advanced across Lake Ontario carrying, with it, the wallop of a category-one hurricane. It caught everyone by surprise. In Toronto, eighty-one people died. Property damage cost $1.2 billion in 2018 Canadian currency.
Hazel hit, after several weeks of steady downpours had already saturated the ground. It stalled over the area, rotating like a huge flattened out tornado, letting loose torrents of more rain and relentless winds gusting up to, and sometimes more than, 100 kilometres per hour.
Fortunately for Brampton, a major 1948 downtown flood event had alerted the city to the urgent need for some kind of mitigation strategy. The problem was Etobicoke Creek, which naturally wended its way through the downtown area. The solution was a bypass operation to reroute it around the city’s heart. The completion of the concrete channel, east of downtown, in 1952 played a big role defending Brampton against Hurricane Hazel’s onslaught in 1954. If not for the bypass, flood damage would have been catastrophic.
Since Hazel though, there’s been a lot of talk. The city hasn’t initiated any new flood control measures. The immediate concern, outside of the unpredictable but certain eventuality of more major weather events to come, is the prohibition on downtown development due to the potential for flooding despite the bypass.
For Brampton to ever realize its cherished 2040 vision, which foresees a futuristic city centre, the city must address the flood threat issue first.
To that end, the city held its first public information session on Nov. 7 to spell out the options for flood control and to gather public input. The turnout was modest for something so important, but as the issue gathers steam with the coming public meetings in 2019, it’s sure to gain a great deal of attention.
Several options, all of which present challenging public infrastructure costs, include a wider and deeper bypass channel, strategically located berms to contain high water volumes, broadened plains or reservoir catchments and even relocating Ken Whillans Drive.
One of the options, or a combination of several of them, is required to pull Brampton out of its inertial past. The alternative, inaction, would herald the end of Brampton’s 2040 Vision, leaving new development plans unlikely and the downtown core perpetually vulnerable to the next big weather event.
As to cost, city senior environmental manager Laurian Farrell said, “Until we have a consensus on a strategy, financing is not something we can really talk about at this early stage. We expect provincial support, and private together with public investment is something we’ll definitely be looking at.”
Stay tuned. The city, looking for public input, will advertise upcoming public information meetings online and in the local newspapers.