Lessons learned from the downtown Toronto flood

On July 8th, 2013 about 126 millimetres of rain fell on downtown Toronto in two hours. I have been in a few downpours in my lifetime and didn't think too much of it as I was biking from my office in Liberty Village to Harbourfront Centre pick up my daughter from day camp. Luckily it was about 25°C because I had forgotten my Torrentshell jacket at home. I did however have my level 6 Goretex pants and boot covers with me.

As I traversed the city, I noticed larger than usual puddles along King Street, but nothing that really struck me as abnormal. I had just changed a flat tire for my front wheel in the morning, and left my extra tubes at my desk. Of course this was a mistake because just before Spadina, I went through a  puddle, which was actually a pretty huge pothole, and was rewarded with a pinch flat. I reluctantly did the walk of shame into MEC, with my soaking wet T-shirt, and purchased a few extra tubes.

At this point I was REALLY late in regards to picking up my daughter, so I figured I'd just ride the less than 2km route to the daycare to try and dodge the astronomical late fees that are usually charged. Everything was looking good until I got to the underpass on Lower Simcoe. It was completely flooded. At this point I figured I'd probably be left off the hook for charges since the camp was essentially cut off from the city. But my attention was quickly shifted to the now infamous Ferrari that was almost submerged to the windows. I chuckled to myself but also felt bad that the owner might be beside me as I snapped a few pictures. So I did it quickly and then got some directions from a policeman as how I might be able to get to the lake.

Up until this point, my legs and feet were happily dry. That all changed when I got to the Gardiner though. The intersection was completely submerged in water. I guessed that it was about a foot deep and could already hear Cadre Jason from GoRuck in my head telling me to get in. As I waited for the light to turn green, I lifted my feet to dodge the wakes left by cars driving by. When it was my turn to go, I instantly noticed that the water was probably closer to 1.75 feet deep. Now I was completely soaked. I wish I had my GoPro because it would have made some pretty awesome footage; my iPad mini would have died in the rain. 

A view from the south side as the rain started to let up.
 Harbourfront Centre lost power as I walked in the door. The kids were moved to an upper level. The elevator was out of the question, and the hallway needed an access key. When I spoke with the security desk, the guard seemed understandably preoccupied with more pressing tasks than escorting me upstairs, so I found my own way to the third floor.

My daughter and I had been making a habit of biking all the way uptown to get home after camp. We decided to just bike across the lake and then take the bus up town instead of doing the whole trip. Once we both accepted that we were going to be wet, it turned out to be a lot of fun! Riding through puddles and taking in the sights of abandoned cars and almost a completely empty bike path along Lake Ontario was definitely unique.

At one point we came to a flooded intersection and I told my daughter I'd go first to see how deep it was. Like the Gardiner, I found it was pretty deep so I advised we take it slow and that she take her shoes off so they don't get soaked. She laughed and pointed down the street to where there wasn't a puddle. I was embarrassed to say the least, but proud at the same time. Not bad for a tween!

This photo was taken right before a bus drove by which almost engulfed the abandoned car with water.
When we got to the bus stop, we waited long enough to start feeling a bit chilly so we started to bike north. Each stop we passed had at least 50 people waiting. When we got to Bloor, we hadn't seen a single bus going south and we hadn't been passed by any busses. I relayed the information to the people waiting that taking a cab might be a faster alternative.

If I could summarize in one word my experience during the storm, it'd probably be lucky. When we left Harbourfront, I had no idea to whether or not the rain was going to keep up. It's unlikely that we would have been stuck there, but it's also abnormal that we got a month worth of rain in the span of two hours. Luckily I had some water with me, as no one in their right mind would drink flood water. Sure I had a few bucks on me for bottled water, but I think it's always a good policy to have water with you.

Going forward, I am going to do my best to have the following things with me as often as possible when I'm biking around:

1. Arc'teryx Axios 35L pack
2. 1L MSR water bottle
3. Assortment of energy food
4. Rain gear (PCU level 6 Jacket/Pants and Boot covers)
5. Tire repair kit and pump
6. First aid kit
7. Flashlight/headlamp
8. Money
9. Cell phone
10. GoPro


  1. I remember that day well... A couple days before, I had just gotten my Beyond Clothing Gore-tex jacket and pant set and actually had the set with me, that very wet day. Happily, between my Arcteryx gore-tex socks and my Beyond gore-tex set, I was dry

    1. Woh woh woh, wait a second you have the Mattock Drysocks? Jealous! I have Sealskinz... and they are disappointing to say the least. Can you submerge yourself? Or do they just turn into expensive buckets? Cheers!

  2. Whoa...? Yes, I have a set of Mattock Drysocks(in Crocodile, not-the-MultiCam). And yes, one can submerge themselves as long as that submergence is below the kneecaps...