Monday, May 31, 2010

May 31, 1985

Twenty-five years have past since that fateful day -- Friday, May 31, 1985. Some details are now vague.  I thought I'd never forget each little detail. I am sure for those who lived through that day, they still have vivid memories.

According to my calendar, Friday  had been a regular work day for me at the library. As was our routine, when my parents and I had nothing on in the evening, we were sitting in the family room of our 10th Street West home watching a television program. I don't remember what we were watching when the program was interrupted to say that there had been a devastating tornado in Barrie and in other parts of southern Ontario.

My mother became very anxious. Trying to be optimistic, I said that perhaps, my sister and her family might have been lucky to have escaped and we shouldn't panic until we knew more.

Then the phone rang. Who was calling? Would it be my sister?

It was a friend of my sister's calling to say that Nancy and the children were okay. (A was 8 1/2 and H was 6.) My brother-in-law had been at work when the tornado hit. Yes, Nancy and the children had been in the house at the time. Yes, the house was badly  damaged and unlivable, but the main thing was they were fine.

When we finally talked to my sister, we learned more about what happened. It was about quarter to 5 on Friday after a normal day at school.  A. was to be spending the weekend at cub camp and my sister had already packed the car with his stuff.  She didn't want to head out in the storm so they were just putting in time without power when the tornado hit.  The sky was an eerie colour and when the winds picked up she decided to shut the front door, but she couldn't close it; something told her to get the kids down to the basement, even though she had never heard of a tornado in Ontario.  She grabbed H; they had been sitting in front of the living room window.  They ran for the basement and she yelled for A. who was playing in the dining room to run too but he didn't make it as far as they did.  She described the sound like an airplane perhaps crashing close by.

There wasn't enough time to get to the basement. A. was still  on the main level of the split level and he ended up  under the dining room table saving him from being hit by a shelving unit. Nancy and H. were on the lower level. It was into that room a tree came through the window.  They too escaped being badly hurt.

It was over in a matter of seconds.  The roof was gone. The car had been lifted up. Furniture and appliances were shifted. The lawn furniture was swept away.

When their house was in the Toronto Star, we hardly recognized it.

They got back into their house in mid-September.

Here are photos taken when my parents and I visited them on Father's Day - June 16.
A view of the front of the house three weeks later.

The kitchen on the main level

A's bedroom on the top level.

 Information on the Barrie F4 tornado can be found on many different websites. It was only one of several tornadoes that hit Ontario and parts of the United States that day.

It is quite eerie to watch the videos. Today, the television station will have extras about it on the news and the Barrie newspaper will likely have more articles on it too.

The CBC archives has a video of one of the news reports on June 3, 1985
CKVR (Barrie station)  video report
Barrie Examiner May 27, 2010

Thanks to my sister for clarifying some of the points for me.

© 2010 Janet Iles


  1. Janet, I didn't realize that today was the day. My house is very close too (if not in) the path that the Tornado took. I didn't live in Barrie then but I learned very quickly when I got here that my neighbours across the street had lost their 12 year old son that day. I also have a good friend who was in the same situation as your sister. Her house was ruined but her and the kids were okay. Glad your family was okay and that you reminded me about the anniversary. We are expecting severe thunderstorms later today, aren't we?

  2. Living in Ohio, we are no stranger to tornadoes. We are only about 20 miles away from Xenia, Ohio, where an F-5 tornado struck on April 3, 1974. Just as you, I can remember in great detail everything that happened that day. It's something you never forget.
    Thanks for sharing.

  3. Really hard to read and watch the news reports. I remember it like it was yesterday. I don't think I ever heard how you and grandma and grandpa found out though. Thanks Janet.

  4. What a close call your sister and family had! On the TV news tonight they showed footage from that memorable disaster.

  5. Janet,
    I live in Tornado Alley as well, so I know the fear you feel when the sky turns that eerie shade of green. So glad to know that your family escaped injury that day. God had his angels watching over them that day.

  6. Living in the Mid-West, we are no strangers to tornadoes and 'straight line winds.' However, that does not diminish the terror and devestation your sister and her family endured. How blessed they are to have lived through this experience, thanks in part to your sister listening to her 'inner voice' that told her to move to the other level - angels were certainly watching out for them.

  7. I too remember that day vividly. I was in Midland, 25 minutes North of Barrie, out in the backyard with my 5 year old son. The sky turned an eery yellowish colour and all the birds stopped singing and the wind, which had been fierce, died. The air was so still I got very frightened, grabbed my son and ran inside the house. I can't tell you why, I had not listening to the news, had no idea a tornado was on the way. My brother in law in Barrie just escaped having his home destroyed, neighbours all around were not so lucky. My son's VP at the school he attended was wiped out. A dreadful memory really!

  8. Thanks everyone for sharing your memories of that day or of tornadoes in your part of the country.

    I think we have more tornadoes in our area since 1985. Last year, several parts of our county had tornadoes that caused considerable damage with one young lad being killed.

  9. I still remember it and was called back into my mind when tornado warnings were issued yesterday (May 25, 2011) for Erie County PA. I didn't witness the devastation as it happened but saw first hand the damage. My then boyfriend lived 1 mile from the tornado which hit Linesville, PA. We often drove through Albion when going to his house for the weekends.


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