By Bill Longworth
April 29, 2009
Over 10 ½ inches of snow had fallen on January 3, 1943, one of the worst snowstorms in Toronto’s history, and most of this was still blocking the roads on that blustery Sunday night of Jan. 17, when a determined 21 year old woman in her nightclothes crawled groggily on hands and knees through the deep snow up the drifted dark laneway beside 1568 Kingston Road in Scarborough.
The frigid night air and the cold deep snow undoubtedly helped to partially clear the fog out her head, but obviously she was in deep distress.
On reaching the front of the lane, she struggled to stand, but fell unconscious against the front door of the house, attracting the attention of those inside.
The door opened, and the startled woman was confronted by the collapsed bare-footed female body in nightclothes with her face mostly buried in the deep snow. Turning her over, she recognized the unconscious woman as her neighbor Dorothy, who lived in the rented quarters down the lane at the rear of the house.
“Dorothy! Dorothy!” she screamed. “What’s the matter?” Over and over, the woman called, “Dorothy! Dorothy! Dorothy! Wake up!”
Dorothy seemed completely oblivious to her surroundings and only groaned inaudible utterances in response. The woman pulled Dorothy inside and began shaking and slapping her to try to restore her consciousness.
After what seemed an eternity, she heard Dorothy mumble, “It’s my children. My three children. They’re all inside the house.”
Not fully comprehending the problem, but sensing the seriousness of it anyway, the women’s husband rushed down the lane and forced his way into the smoke-filled rooms. He felt his way around and found the children sleeping soundly, indeed too soundly, completely unaware of the emergency around them. He quickly carried each of them outside, laying them gently on the snowy mattress of the lane. Once he had accounted for all three, he carried them, two-year-old twin boys and a one-year-old baby girl, to the warm comfort of his quarters, where his wife had already alerted the police and fire department.
It wasn’t long before the emergency help arrived and oxygen resuscitators revived Dorothy and her children. Meanwhile, firemen went back to clear the smoke out of Dorothy’s house and investigate the cause of the problem, which was quickly found. The chimney flue of the kitchen cook stove was tightly closed, imprisoning all of the smoke and deadly gases inside the house.
The firemen scolded Dorothy for closing the flue. “Lady”, they exclaimed, “don’t you know that the flue has to be opened to let the coal gas escape? Your flue was tightly closed, trapping all of the deadly coal gas inside. Why was the flue closed? Were you trying to kill yourself and murder your babies?”
“I didn’t close the flue,” Dorothy countered sharply. “We’ve lived here for almost two years now and we’ve never had this problem before. Tonight, my husband was going out and he closed the flue just before he left. He said it was bitterly cold outside and that closing the flue would keep the heat in the house.”
Surely the husband knew better. The mystery of the saga is why the husband closed the flue before he left and what was he doing on that Sunday night? He did have a reputation as a “ladies man.” Was it possible that he was out gallivanting that night? Was it possible that his wife and three children were becoming a burden on his social life and he wanted to “clear the track” for another woman he was seeing that night? Who knows?
Fortunate in all of this, is that while the marriage didn’t survive, the victims of the closed flue did, and as of last count, sixteen living and breathing human beings, direct descendents of Dorothy, all owe their worldly existence to her spunky vigilance that night.
You might wonder how I know all this. Dorothy was my mother and I was one of her three babies trapped inside that gas-filled house.
Our survival, at least from my point of view, is surely a gratifying conclusion. Maybe it is to you too, dear reader. With any other outcome, it is clear, I would not have written this story…and you would never have known anything about, “The Saga of the Flippin’ Flue.”
But what is truly amazing to contemplate, everyone who exists in the world today, owes their very existence to an infinite set of equally fortuitous untold circumstances going back to the very beginnings of time.
1568 Kingston Road...We lived down the lane at the back of this house. The "rescuers" lived in the apartment behind the 2nd floor bow window.
The narrow lane has now been "closed off" and "roofed" and is part of the storage between the house and the former garage to the east. Both buildings and the lane between now house one business. Tow trucks used to go through this lane and one flattened my brand new tricycle parked in the lane. I never got another one since my maternal grandparents who bought the first said I should have known better than to leave it there!
News story in Toronto Star, Jan 18, 1943, Pg. 8
Richard Dawkins, quote from TV appearance on CBC, "The Hour", Sept. 29/09, discussing evolution said, "The odds of me being here are infitesimally small" referring to the infinite accidents of nature going back to the beginning of time that caused his unique being to exist...a prior observation made independently as the "basic truth" in this story.