The Winds of Georgian Bay

Photo Credit: Jim Sutton

Wind – a four-letter word to many, a blessing to sailors!

The Southern Georgian Bay Area has had more than its share of wind, one of Nature’s strongest and most destructive forces. The “Halloween Storm” of November 1st, 2019 is the most recent example of this, when Wasaga Beach, Stayner and Collingwood were hit by a severe storm. It’s not that the residents are not used to high winds. Most of us can hear the waves crashing on our beaches regularly, commenting only “Oh, it’s windy on the shore again!”.

The summer and fall of 1954, after our arrival in April, made us wonder if we had come to a safe place. It was the hottest summer on record at that time, with 52 days of temperatures over 35 Celsius, some with 38 and 39 degrees. We slept in High Park with hundreds of people. They could not stand the heat in their old late 1800 / early 1900, mostly Victorian, Edwardian and Tudor-style 2 to 3-story homes.

Then came Hurricane Hazel on October 5th, 1954, which swept away entire streets along the Humber and Don Rivers. As a Senior Scout I was called to be a “dead body spotter” along the Humber River. We found lots of them in trees and bridge debris. Almost all bridges into and out of Toronto were washed out. Our job was to the Authorities of the locations so that they could pick them up, usually by helicopters. Eighty-one people were killed by Hurricane Hazel.

Hazel McCallion, popularly called “Hurricane Hazel”, got stuck with this name because of the speed with which she conducted her business as Mayor of Mississauga during her 35 years of office from December 1, 1978 – November 30, 2014. When I met her in 1982 at the opening of the Minolta Camera Head Office in Toronto, I asked her if she minded the title, which was associated with a storm of so much economical and human cost. She replied simply “I’ve been called a lot worse by quite a few people!”

My first memory of hearing about the vagaries of the Wasaga Beach winds is during the fall of 1981 when then-Mayor of Wasaga Beach, Walter Borthwick, visited one of our windsurfing regattas in St. Petersburg, Florida, while a hurricane had its way with the trees, roofs, camping trailers and anything movable in the area. We talked quite a bit, and I told him that my father was also named Walter. I jokingly asked him to please make certain that we had no such weather occurring during our upcoming Wasaga Beach regatta, and he said “We are never without wind, but not ever that much!”

Knowing, of course, that he had no control over wind and weather, I still agreed to hold the Boardsailing Canada National Championships at Wasaga Beach from August 6th to 12th, 1982. That week we brought about 10,000 visitors to Wasaga Beach during that week, but I believe that Walter Borthwick went into hiding, because for our entire week while there was not a breath of wind on the Bay there was also no Mayor to be seen to welcome the sailors. They had come from as far away as France and Hawaii, and sought their fun by having their boards towed behind motor boats and pursuing a variety of other activities, which included a great Party at the old German Club and Restaurant.


Read Part 2 of The Winds of Georgian Bay


Written by

Peter Iden is a resident of Wasaga Beach and a Naturalist and Photographer who has a broad range of knowledge of the natural world. Peter is also a volunteer Warden for the Piping Plover Recovery Programme with the Friends of Nancy Island.


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