How soon we’ve forgotten the big mud slide

The corner of Laird and Millwood during the 1985 mud slide.
The corner of Laird and Millwood during the 1985 mud slide.
The corner of Laird and Millwood during the 1985 mud slide.
The corner of Laird and Millwood during the 1985 mud slide.

Last December we suffered through a horrific ice storm followed by a deep freeze. Almost everyone was without power and heat for an extended period of time. It was an experience we are not likely to forget and yet how many of us can remember the other severe ice storms of 1959, 1960, 1961 and 1968?

That’s not really surprising if you weren’t born then. But it is surprising just how few long time Leaside residents remember much if anything about the time our telephone service was cut off in 1985.

Just before Christmas on Sunday, Dec. 8 that year, two lanes of pavement on Millwood Rd. just south of the railway overpass across from the Ontario Hydro Transformer Station together with 100 tons of mud slid into the Don Valley ripping out a utility tunnel and eight telephone exchange cables, cutting off service to about 15,000 Leasiders with 421, 422, 424, 425 and 429 telephone exchanges.

Because of the mud slide, traffic on Millwood had to be diverted from Laird to Wicksteed via Beth Nealson Dr. and Thorncliffe to Overlea.

In the days before cellular phones everyone with one of those telephone exchanges was cut off from communicating with the rest of the world unless they walked, drove their car or took a bus to make a phone call.

Bell Telephone set up 10 free telephones in a van parked on the Sunnybrook Plaza and 10 more at the Leaside Memorial Community Gardens parking lot.

One man who had walked a long distance from his home to reach one of these phones became livid with himself when he discovered that he had left the telephone number he intended to call back at his house. Another had to walk back and forth from his home several times because he kept getting busy signals. Two residents of Killdeer Cres. drove to their church located just west of Yonge St. to make their telephone calls.

Bell set up a portable telephone in the house of an 80-year-old lady on Laird Dr. after learning she suffered from a severe heart condition. Fearing  for the safety of other residents who had no way to communicate in case of an emergency, East York moved additional fire trucks to the Leaside station on McRae, which then together with police cars from 53 Division, patrolled our Leaside streets as they never had before nor since.

But the telephone outage didn’t just affect Leaside residents, it impacted on Leaside businesses and industries as well.

Long time Leaside resident, the late Herb McGroarty who had purchased the former Leaside town hall at McRae and Randolph from the Borough of East York when it was sold as surplus to the needs of the municipality, had been fortunate enough to lease the building to the Bank of Montreal for its computer centre.

When the phone lines went down so did the Bank of Montreal’s computer systems. As you can imagine it wasn’t long after this that the bank moved out leaving McGroarty with an empty building.

Why did this happen? A number of possible explanations were given at the time.

Some said it was the great amount of rain that had fallen shortly before the outage occurred. Others felt it was due to the road construction on Millwood just before the mud slide. Still others thought that it was caused by the vibrations from the trains travelling over the nearby railway overpass despite the fact that trains had been travelling on those same tracks for about 100 years prior to the mud slide.

The real reason was an undetected water main leak that had washed away the road bed turning the earth under it into a sea of mud and finally causing the whole kit and caboodle to slide into the valley.

The good news, however, was that telephone service was restored more promptly than anticipated. Better yet, memories soon faded. The same will occur with our recent ice storm and our kids born after 2013 will never even know it happened unless you tell them.


About Alan Redway 30 Articles
Alan Redway is a retired lawyer, born in Toronto, with a degree in Commerce and Finance from the University of Toronto and a law degree from Osgoode Hall law School. Mr. Redway served for ten years on the council of the Borough of East York, six of those years as the Mayor of East York and a member of Metropolitan Toronto Council and Executive Committee. Later he was elected to the parliament of Canada where he served for almost ten years as a Progressive Conservative member of the House of Commons and as Minister of State (Housing). He has written for Leaside Life and the East York Chronicle. In 2014 he published his first book, "Governing Toronto: Bringing back the city that worked."