The Thanksgiving flood of ‘54

If you were in eastern Canada around Thanksgiving Day of 1954, you’ll remember Hurricane Hazel. Hurricane Hazel killed at least 400 people in Haiti and caused 95 fatalities in the U.S. It struck Canada as an extratropical storm, raising the death toll by 81, mostly in Toronto when it slammed into the city on October 15. It left 1,868 Ontario families homeless.

In the weeks prior to Hazel, Toronto had received eight inches of rain. Toronto’s infrastructure also took a major hit, with as much as 50 bridges being washed out by the rising waters.

Farmers of that era might remember the International Plowing Match being held in Waterloo County near Kitchener, Ont. The 1954 Plowing Match, a farm exhibit show, was drenched by rain on its first two days, and on Oct. 15 it was struck by the full force of the hurricane. More than 100 tents were destroyed in the tent city.

As the deer

I thought of Hurricane Hazel the other day when I leafed through an old Dutch Bible on a bookshelf in our basement rec room. It was published in 1941 and was a wedding gift to my parents when they married in 1944. It’s in remarkably good condition except for the bindings, which have been taped over a few times. Between the thick black covers are 1,355 pages of Dutch.

I grew up listening to Scripture read in the Dutch language, at home and in church. My sisters and I couldn’t always understand all the Dutch words, such as opperzangmeester (song leader) and menschenkinderen (people and children); however, I’m sure we had a general idea what the words meant.

Leafing through the old Bible I stopped at numerous places and read a few favorite passages and Psalms, such as Psalm 42 vs. 1: Gelijk een hert schreeuwt naar de waterstroomen, alzoo schreeuwt mijne zeil tot U, o God! (As the deer pants for water, so I long for you, Oh God).

There are so many Dutch words that can’t be translated into English, and if you do find similar-meaning words, they are not the same. Take the word gezellig. There’s no exact translation. Imagine you’re having family or friends over for a birthday celebration. The house is neat and clean and the food, coffee and refreshments smell so good. People are having a wonderful time chatting away. That’s gezellig. Translating it to cozy, snug, chummy or a pleasant evening just doesn’t cut it.

Clear skies ahead

The large Bible has also been a place where many important letters from Dutch relatives (uncles, aunts and grandparents) were safely stored during our early immigrant years. Perhaps the letters served as bookmarks for certain memorable passages. There are 10 such letters still tucked in the Bible, all dated from the ‘50s and early ‘60s. Our family immigrated in September of 1953. In one letter of December 1954, my grandfather from Ermelo (Holland) wrote that he had read about Hurricane Hazel in the Dutch papers.

Three cream cheque receipts in the old Bible are a reminder of what dairy farming was like during those early immigrant years. One cheque statement of June 15, 1956 shows that my father received $57.13 for cream he shipped to the local creamery for the first two weeks of June. Back then, nearly every farmer shipped cream. In 1951 there were 244 creameries in Ontario with 60,272 cream producers.

As I write this, the weather for the upcoming International Plowing Match in Wellington County at Minto looks good, with warm weather and maybe a few showers. No rain. No storms. I’m sure some of the older folks will recall the plowing match of 1954 in Wellington County.

We have a lot to be thankful for as we celebrate Thanksgiving Day this year. A day of general Thanksgiving to Almighty God for the bountiful harvest with which Canada has been blessed.

Have a blessed Thanksgiving!  


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