Mayor Ford visits Birch Cliff

Jul 19, 2012

Elsie Ritchie and Mayor Rob Ford

87-year old Elsie Ritchie has lived in Birch Cliff for 60 years and says not even Hurricane Hazel did as much damage to her house as Sunday’s torrential rain storm.

Ritchie, who lives in a low-lying section of Kalmar Avenue, says her basement was filled with eight inches of storm water and raw sewage.   She’s lost a lifetime’s worth of possessions, including the cedar hope chest her late husband gave her when she turned 18 in 1942.

If that wasn’t bad enough, her insurance company says she’s not covered for flooding or sewage damage.


Mayor visits Birch Cliff

Ritchie had a chance to tell her story today to Toronto Mayor Rob Ford who stopped by for a visit to find out first hand what Birch Cliff residents have been dealing with as a result of the storm.  Ritchie made sure he knew there is a problem on Kalmar.

“They’ve been working now for the last six or seven years on the sewers,”  Ritchie told the mayor, referring to obvious patch jobs on the road outside her home. “They said it’s the budget. Money comes down in dribs and drabs.”


Elsie Ritchie meets Mayor Ford

“I can assure you we’re working on this as fast as we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Ford replied.  “We’re going to try to help you out the best we can.  I’m here to help you and support you.”

Ford, who described the situation as “heart-breaking”, brought along senior staff members from Toronto Water and asked if they could give Ritchie a specific timeline on when the situation might be rectified.

“Unfortunately I don’t have a timeline for this area.  It has been looked at.  I need to confirm the upgrades that have been identified,” said Michael D’Andrea, Director of Water Infrastructure Management.

D’Andrea went on to explain that Birch Cliff was hit by what’s known as a “100-year storm” and the city’s infrastructure simply isn’t built to handle that.  Environment Canada has confirmed that 88 millimetres of rain fell on southwest Scarborough in just two hours.

Other Kalmar residents have their say

In addition to talking with Ritchie, the mayor spoke with a group of Kalmar residents who gathered across the street.  Most of them live in the twenty or so houses that were flooded on Kalmar, between Freeman and Hollis.

Kalmar residents

They included Helena Below who has home insurance but is currently unemployed and says she can’t make a claim because she doesn’t have the $2,000 deductible.

Carolyn Flear, who found condoms, fecal matter and cigarette butts floating in her basement  told the mayor that Kalmar residents have spent thousands of dollars over the years on sewer problems and now want a permanent solution:

“We’re paying taxes for as safe a system as we can provide with an aging infrastructure.  But now we’re also looking at paying extreme deductibles because of this particular catastrophe, which was unusual. We’ve got people who don’t have insurance that want to put claims in with the city and could be waiting a long time. We’ve got suggestions from adjusters and plumbers who say put in a ‘back-up flow thing’, but they’re very costly, so there’s another situation.  We’d like to know we’re on a list to say in a year’s time or two year’s time… to say this is a priority because we keep having these problems.”

Mayor Ford told the group that he would be meeting soon with the Toronto Water General Manager Lou Di Gironimo to discuss the situation in Southwest Scarborough.

Ward 36 Councillor Gary Crawford, who accompanied the mayor on his visit, suggested what would be on the agenda:

Mayor Ford and Councillor Gary Crawford

“One of the things the mayor will be doing in meeting with Mr. Di Gironimo is looking at the priority areas and saying maybe it’s time this is a priority area, this  part of the city.  We’ve dealt with other parts of the city successfully and maybe we need to put the resources on a priority basis in this particular area.”




Ford says he decided to visit Birch Cliff after the severity of the situation was brought to his attention by Councillor Crawford, who has been meeting with homeowners every day this week.

Tour of Ritchie’s basement

After the mayor left, Crawford and a senior staff member from Toronto Water toured the basement of Elsie Ritchie with Richie’s daughter, Carroll Lefebvre.  Given that Ritchie’s insurance company says she’s not covered, all of the clean-up has been done by Lefebvre, who is 65-years old.

After the flood water and sewage drained away, Lefebvre pulled up the carpets herself and was then left with three inches of contaminated mud, which she

Carroll Lefebvre

removed.  She’s been sweeping away the remaining dust to the point where she’s hit concrete again.  Her next step is to disinfect.  Most other homeowners in Birch Cliff have professional restoration companies tackling this job, despatched by their insurance companies.

Elsie Ritchie is nervous

Lefebvre just happened to be visiting her mother from British Columbia when the storm hit and Ritchie is nervous about her leaving:

“If it hadn’t been for my daughter I don’t know where I’d be.  She leaves on Monday, I’m going to have a panic attack.”

Elsie Ritchie will be turning 88 years old tomorrow.

“It’s no way to spend your birthday,” she said.

Written by Hedy Korbee, a journalist who lives in Birch Cliff


  1. Lisa Birch

    I think they put their foot in their mouths today…..”We have had success in other areas will look into making this a priority.”…it is because we do not have the right address as with many other issues in this city. If things get fixed…only because of the damage and media coverage. This area has been plagued with problems since I have lived here. (ie sewer)…remember we campaigned for speed bumps along Freeman, how many accidents at Freeman and Manderley???…it is a school zone and major pathway to the school…but no. Hmmm….Fallingbrook has them…..Courcellette path. Like I said address and area. Lets see what he does. Not much faith. My heart goes out to all who suffered damage….it must have been awful from a health perspective and personal, sentimental belongins.

    • admin

      I think a lot of people in Birch Cliff are frustrated Lisa. I spoke at length with the folks at Toronto Water today and have a lot of data/research from them with more coming tomorrow. We are working on a story about why Ward 36 flooded so heavily on Sunday (196 flooding calls out of 529 city-wide) and yet we are not one of the 32 “chronic flooding areas” included in the Basement Flooding Protection Program launched in 2009. I took a quick look at a map today with the general manager of Toronto Water. At first blush, it seems to be because Ward 36 didn’t flood heavily during the last major storm in 2005. Need to check this out though. The other thing I learned today that is interesting is that only 25 – 30% of the city has combined sewage and storm sewers. Birch Cliff is one of those areas with storm water and sewage running in the same pipes. Looking more into that too and hope to have something comprehensive in the next day or two. Thanks for following Birch Cliff News!


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