Flooding in Ontario: A Recent Timeline
Some of the most dramatic urban flooding occurred on July 8, 2013, when 120 millimetres of rain fell on the GTA during afternoon rush hour, causing $1 billion in insurable losses and stranding thousands of commuters — including 1,400 passengers on a GO train marooned in floodwater from the Don River.
In spring 2017, record flooding hit shoreline communities in eastern Ontario and western Quebec, forcing thousands to evacuate and causing more than $200 million in insured damage. In Northern Ontario, many First Nations communities were affected by flooding in 2017 as well. The Kashechewan First Nation sits in the Floodplain of the Albany River: members have voted to relocate up river to prevent flooding.
Much of the Greater Toronto Area was hit hard, especially Durham Region and the Toronto Islands. Islands flooding cost the Parks, Forestry, and Recreation Dept. millions of dollars.
In May, torrential rain and record runoff around the Great Lakes from an unusually warm winter raised Lake Ontario one metre above normal spring levels, its highest level in more than a century.
In May 2017, Lake Ontario came knocking in Clarington. Sarah Delicate and other lakefront residents had already contacted local authorities, anticipating the event. “We’re talking violent flooding: it’s not just, a slow increase of the water, you’ve got three days to get your bags in place… it’s a wall of water hitting your second-floor windows, knocking you back. Terrifying.”
Tim Calhoun, deputy fire chief with Clarington Emergency and Fire Service, said that more work needs to be done at all levels of government to prepare for future disasters. “Residents pulled no punches while conveying their thoughts regarding our initial and utter ill-preparedness as a municipality to respond, mitigate and recover with any depth of service.”
Brantford was hit by flooding in February 2018: however, they had robust disaster relief plans in place. Six months prior, the city had run a full-day training exercise that simulated a hurricane strike. As a result, Maria Visocchi, Director of Communications and Community Engagement, said, “We felt competent in making the decisions that that had to be made in the the time that they had to be made.” Because the waters rose so swiftly, primary consideration was public safety and preservation of life. The flooding caused extensive damage, but due to the quick response of local authorities no lives were lost.
On August 8, 2018, a highly localized “ninja” storm dumped over 100 millimetres of rain in less than two hours. The storm was not forecast, and was so concentrated that its track evaded detection by TRCA’s real-time precipitation gauges. Flows in Black Creek in the Rockcliffe neighbourhood of Toronto, a highly flood vulnerable area, rose over two metres in 75 minutes, spilling into nearby properties and stranding two men in an elevator when they attempted to retrieve their vehicles from underground parking. Submerged by the rising water, they were rescued by first responders just in time.
Prominent floods have devastated many Ontario communities in recent years. In spring 2019, heavy rains paired with melting snow and a sudden temperature caused significant flooding throughout southern Ontario. 23 municipalities and one First Nation declared emergencies, with households, commercial properties, and key infrastructure like roads and bridges impacted.
The 2019 spring floods in Ontario were exceptional; flooding along the Ottawa River was recognized as Canada’s most important weather event of the year.
“The cause of the exceptional 2019 spring flooding can be described in just a few words: rain, rain and even more rain…. record rain volumes and peak water levels in the Ottawa River and its tributaries, exceeding those set in 1974 and 1976.”
— Federal Government Review of flood