Toronto's heat wave of 2018 reminds me of another summer. In 1953 our family pulled up roots from our Saskatchewan home and headed east to Ontario. It was a big adventure for my parents and their four children as my father prepared for a new job in Toronto. Saskatoon in 1953 was not a big city, less than 50,000 as I recall, The six of us were loaded into the family car and off we went. I had recently obtained my driver's license so shared the driving duties with my father in our heavy, gearshift car, built in the days before power steering. Signalling was done by sticking one's arm out the window. The trip was eventful, we saw the Paul Bunyan statue in Minnesota and crossed over Lake Michigan by ferry. At one motel we spotted a television set in the lobby and were immediately drawn to it. Since television had not yet found its way west this was our first exposure to TV and I can recall to this day that the program, My Little Margie was showing.
Eventually, after a long, very tiring, hot drive we arrived in Toronto and house hunting was immediately on the agenda. As we sat in a Yonge Street restaurant with the real estate agent, I noticed outside a tremendous amount of traffic was backed up and hardly moving so commented that there must have been an accident. He looked out the window and said "No, just usual Friday traffic. People heading to the lake for the weekend." The 400 and 401 highways were still in the future and Yonge Street was struggling to cope with the influx of vehicles as its already overflowing roads faced gridlock.
After much chasing around in Toronto, we found a newly built house in a district called Humber Valley Village which was located in Etobicoke and we quickly settled in. It was a very hot summer, hotter than anything we had ever experienced before. I was going into my last year of high school and managed to get a summer job with an insurance company in downtown Toronto. Thei company was in an older building on Wellington Street and this was before the days of air conditioning. The heat was so oppressive that one day at work I stuck my head under the cold water tap in the washroom to just try and cool off.
Many heat records now being challenged in 2018 were set in 1953. The Toronto subway was still in the future so to go to work I would take a bus to Six Points, then the Dundas streetcar to downtown Toronto. As we worked our way downtown, sweating people jammed onto the hot, overcrowded streetcar.. By the time I reached work, the combination of the rank smell, the humidity and the heat had wiped me out.
Our two story house, like all houses in those days, did not have air conditioning. During the summer hundred degree days of 1953, we found sleeping in our hot bedrooms which never cooled off at night to be almost unbearable. One night my parents decided to move the mattresses out to the deck off my brothers bedroom. It was still hot and the sound of loud chirping crickets made sleep difficult but at least it was a slight improvement. Slight that is, until there was a flash of lightning and a sudden downpour. Six of us were soaking wet as we dragged our mattresses inside and once again were subjected to the intense heat and humidity of the night. High humidity was something new to us after coming from the dry prairies and even the hottest days in Saskatchewan usually cooled off at night. We always took a sweater with us when we went out for the evening.
After that first summer, we eventually became acclimatized to the weather of Ontario but the summer of 1953 definitely hit us with the intensity of a blast furnace.