The following quote is from the novel “Arse Over Teakettle,” a humorous story of a Toronto family that managed to smile while coping with the depravations of the Great Depression and the horrors of the Second World War. Reading about the heat wave of 1936 makes our present-day hot temperatures seem not so bad, although I admit that when I was sweltering on a city street today, I found it difficult to adopt this attitude.
In 1936, the daily temperatures for the month of June had been above normal, several days reaching 38C. However, no one was able to predict that the worst heat wave in the modern history of Canada would begin the following week. Before it ended, 1180 people died of heat stroke and exhaustion, most of them the elderly and infants. Over 400 people drowned while seeking relief from the extreme heat in public pools, lakes, rivers, and ponds.
In Toronto, on 5 July the temperatures commenced soaring. By 8 July, it climbed to 105 Fahrenheit (40.5 C), and continued for three consecutive days. In this decade, except for a few homes in the wealthier neighbourhoods of the city, there was no air conditioning except in movie theatres and department stores. People flocked to these venues, as well as to Sunnyside Beach beside the lake, the Don and Humber river valleys, and the Toronto Islands.
After dark, families spread blankets on lawns, in backyards, and in public parks. Single men slept on public benches. Vacant lots on city streets became makeshift campgrounds, which each morning folded away and disappeared, until after sunset the following evening. “Humidex readings,” a Canadian invention, were not in use until 1965. The Humidex calculates the amount of humidity in the air and combines it with the temperature readings. High humidity prevents the moisture on the skin from evaporating, thus raising the body temperatures. A high Humidex reading is very uncomfortable. No such statistics are available for 1936, but it is not difficult to imagine how uncomfortable the Humidex readings would have been.
To read a factual and amusing account of how the family coped with the heat, “Arse Over Teakettle”