'Oh my God . . . that's a tornado'
Massive winds blew and big raindrops periodically fell like blotches onto the ground. The sky then turned a strange hue of green and the rain blew in sheets, sideways. You could feel the thickness of the air as you breathed in. The unrelenting
wind worsened. A tornado was ensconced in the rain and it wasn't at all visible, but its impact clearly was.
It was May 31, 1985 -- a defining day, not just for Barrie, but for much of Central Ontario.
The Barrie tornado was actually one of a series which devastated the province that afternoon.
It began at 3 p.m. when a small tornado touched down 1.6 kilo-metres southwest of the coast of Georgian Bay, near Rush Cove north of Wiarton, moving northeast over Barrow Bay.
At 4:10 p.m., a funnel cloud dipped down from a severe thunderstorm near Hopeville and Grey County Road 8, north of Highway 89, in a remote, mostly unpopulated spot.
The worst tornado ever seen in Ontario at that point registered as an F4 on the Fujita measuring scale -- which classifies F5 as the worst possible -- moved northeast tracking at a speed of roughly 400 kilometres per hour.
It ripped through the landscape, skipping into the air occasionally and made landfall again as it approached Lisle.
It jumped right over most of CFB Borden and then disappeared, touching down briefly in Essa Township, and a 600-metre wide strip clearing through a stand of pines at Ardagh Road, approaching Crawford Street, showed where it entered Barrie.
In minutes, two other tornadoes appeared to the south.
A second, just as mighty as the first, hit the ground hard just north of Arthur, tracking a path parallel to the first. Hydro towers were crushed and the only lines carrying power from the Bruce nuclear plant to the west side of Toronto went out of commission.
It then crashed right into Grand Valley, ripping out the mighty maples for which the village was known.
Cars without drivers moved down the road, the roof of the library was tossed 200 metres onto a house.
One-third of the town of 1,300 people was destroyed. Matilda McIntyre, a 76-year-old visitor from Scotland, was killed. Farmer Barry Wood died while driving his truck to his horse stables.
The Grand Valley tornado tore 107 kilometres straight across the countryside without lifting up, lasting nearly an hour.
Along the way it sucked up the Mono Plaza on Highway 10, narrowly missing Orangeville, and headed for a farming community south of Tottenham.
There, Jack Oldfield, 66, became trapped under a collapsed equipment shed on his farm. He died of his injuries. Yvonna Rabbetts, 59, died as well when the nearby house she was in was destroyed.
Another, much smaller tornado hit Alma almost simultaneously. It, too, tracked an eastward path parallel to the first, travelled for 15 minutes and disappeared aloft.
The Barrie tornado crossed Crawford Street, blowing cars hundreds of metres into the bush and stomping down houses.
Patricia Lefebvre, 30, and her son, Danny, 5, were swept away when everything but the concrete pad of their Crawford Street home was destroyed.
Their bodies were found a few hundred metres away by rescue workers.
Neighbour Todd Wilson, 14, died trying to get to the basement. Nine-year Paula Bodenhams was killed while playing outside the family home on Patterson Road.
The twister blew apart the Schoneveld's home on the same street killing Willemina, 66.
Twelve factories were destroyed and another four just downwind were very heavily damaged.
David Vandeburgt, 27, was at the entrance of the family business, Barrie Retreading, when the neighbouring building slammed into his building, killing him.
The tornado followed an eastward track, crossing Highway 400 ripping through the Barrie Raceway off Essa Road, ripping down outbuildings and making a mess of a huge parking lot. Luke Tremblay, 27, was sucked out of his car in the parking lot, later dying in hospital.
It then raged into the Allandale residential area, making a mess of a townhouse complex on top of the ridge on Adelaide Street. The entire neighbourhood, including parts of Innisfil Street, Debra Crescent, Marshall Street and Joanne Court, sustained heavy damage.
Parts of the IOOF home on Baldwin Lane was damaged, but everyone there survived.
Shingles, debris from houses and the raceway, including shards of glass and manure, as well as personal effects littered the neighbourhood. The place was a mess and quickly became an emergency zone.
The tornado d its path narrowed to 50 metres as it raged along Briar Road, then pummelling Trillium Crescent, heading east destroying warehouses near Highway 11 and crossing Yonge Street at Minet's Point Road through an area that hadn't yet been developed.
Damage at the Brentwood Marina was severe. Thirty-five boats disappeared, cement anchors embedded in the bottom of the lake were gone.
Jonathon Poechman, 9, had been fishing and tried to pedal home, but he never made it and was killed. The tornado then skipped over Kempenfelt Bay and disappeared.
At least nine tornadoes blasted through Ontario that day over the course of two hours and 25 minutes.
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Life-changing day:Barrie residents reflect on a day that altered their lives.
Pages A8 and A9