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East York people, places, events & insights

EAST YORK ADVOCATE 036: The Great Mud Slide of 1985

‘Twas just before Christmas when all through the house not a telephone was ringing, absolutely nothing was ding-a-linging…

The year was 1985 when, on Sunday December 8, two lanes of pavement on Millwood Road 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 East Yorkers with 421, 422, 424, 425 and 429 telephone exchanges.

Because of the mud slide Millwood was closed to both southbound and northbound traffic.  Southbound traffic had to be diverted across Laird to Wicksteed via Beth Nealson Drive and Thorncliffe Park Drive to Overlea Boulevard then back to Millwood Road.  Northbound traffic on Millwood had to do the reverse route, Millwood to Overlea to Thorncliffe Park to Beth Nealson to Wicksteed to Laird.

In those days before cellular phones were ubiquitous, 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 in 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 Crescent drove to their Church located just west of Yonge Street to make their telephone calls.

Bell also set up a portable telephone in the house of an 80-year-old lady on Laird Drive 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 Station on McRae Drive, which, together with police cars from 53 Division, patrolled our local streets as they never had before nor since.

But the telephone outage didn’t just affect East York residents —it also impacted on businesses and industries as well.  Long-time East York resident the late Herb McGroarty, who had purchased the former Leaside Town Hall at McRae Drive and Randolph Road 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 Herb with an empty building.

Why did this mudslide 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 before the mudslide.

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 Don Valley.

The good news, however, was that telephone service was restored more promptly than anticipated.  Better yet, memories soon fade and anyone born after 1985 will never even know it ever happened unless you tell them.  Or unless they read this article!

Have a Merry Christmas and a Healthy and Happy 2018.


Alan Redway’s 2015 book, “Governing Toronto: Bringing back the city that worked,” can be ordered online from Chapters/ or or ordered for you at any book store. Visit for more info.
If a local organization is looking for a speaker he would be happy to make a presentation of his book and can be reached at


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