Protecting people and their property from flooding and other natural hazards (such as steep slopes, etc.), is a daily challenge for conservation authorities across the province and Saugeen Conservation (SVCA) is no exception!
The occurrence of Hurricane Hazel in 1954 was a real wake-up call for Ontarians. This major storm resulted in the loss of 81 lives. In addition, 32 homes were washed away, and 4,000 people were left homeless. The total cost of damage, at that time, was over $100 million dollars (approximately $1 billion today). Prior to this tragedy, adequate controls with respect to development, did not exist. As a result, in many cases, the wrath of mother nature took its toll.
A quote from that time from volunteer fireman Bryan Mitchell (Toronto Star, October 14, 1954) stated “…It was a gigantic flood with smashed houses and uprooted trees bobbing like corks, everything going down the river so fast. Houses crashing into the sides of other houses, people everywhere screaming. And then you couldn’t even hear the screams anymore.”
Corner of Yonge and Durham Streets, Walkerton (pics were donated to SVCA from Irwin Lobsinger, Town of Walkerton, 1994)
“In her wake, Hazel left debris, disaster and death. In Southampton, two railway employees were killed when the tracks were washed out. https://brucemuseum.pastperfectonline.com/photo/99A554AE-0F5A-48A1-9DEB-512295289498
When she had passed and when the initial shock had been assimilated, the horror that had been Hazel resulted in important advances in conservation” (Conservation by the People, 1974). Indeed, Hazel laid the groundwork for the development of regulations that would keep development out of flood plains and away from natural hazards, such as steep slopes, helping to ensure that the loss of life and property damage experienced on this scale, would not occur again.
“We’ve been in this business for many years now and it’s interesting to note that other countries throughout the world seek out conservation authorities in Ontario, and the ‘regulations’ model of keeping people and their property safe from flooding and erosion, as an effective and successful means of dealing with people and development”, says Erik Downing, Manager of Environmental Planning and Regulations with the SVCA. “Other locations throughout the world, are not so fortunate. In many instances, people are allowed to build again, many times in the same location, perpetuating the cycle of loss of life and property damage from storms and extreme weather occurrences – something that we are becoming all too familiar with today, given the extremes of climate change today”, he continued.
Recently, for example, the Ottawa-Gatineau area experienced two major storms within 24 months. In some cases, “insurance companies are responding to the dangers of allowing development in floodplains and hazard areas. Homeowners who discover they can’t continue their insurance coverage may also hear from banks that they won’t keep servicing their mortgage. With no insurance, mortgages on homes in flood-prone areas may become too risky for mainstream lenders” (Global News, May 2019).
Conservation authorities across the province protect 46,000 homes and prevent an average of over $100 million / year in damages (Conservation Ontario’s ‘Dodging the Perfect Storm’, 2013).
In addition to protecting lives and preventing property damage, regulations (formally referred to as Ontario Regulation 169/06 Development Interference with Wetlands and Alteration to Shorelines and Watercourse Regulation), help protect valuable wetlands that reduce the effects of flooding.
Saugeen Conservation is proud to implement a core mandate of Ontario’s conservation authorities which “is to prevent loss of life, property damage and social disruption from flooding and other natural hazards.” This is a role which we take very seriously”, says Downing. “Not only do we help ensure the safety of watershed residents and their property, first and foremost, but we also help in the protection of the natural environment where we all live, work and play!