On May 31, 1985, a devastating tornado touched down in Barrie and left eight dead, hundreds injured and countless homes and businesses in ruins. Despite the passage of time, for survivors, there are some scars that will never fully heal and memories that will never fade.
The following is a collection of comments and recollections from Barrie residents, aggregated from social media channels and our own inbox. To share your story, feel free to email us at [email protected].
Nicki Lefebvre Redekop
I don’t remember that day. I was a survivor, suffered fractured skull, punctured lung, broken jaw and put into a medically induced coma for two weeks. My mom and brother were taken that day, as well as my dear best friend, and two neighbors. Our neighborhood was flattened. We lived Crawford Street/Patterson Road neighborhood.
My father owned Tompkins and Heels monuments which was right on the edge of the tornado and unfortunately did most of the monuments for the ones that passed away during this disaster.
Our men were in the shop and my mom was in the office with my brother. They could see the tornado coming all of a sudden the roof of the curling club ended up on our property on the tombstones, a huge maple tree was ripped out like a crater and our tenant upstairs was caught. Our compressor room with lifted up. I can remember getting to the property and asking if the power was off. It took quite a long time for everyone to get power back.
My brother called the men out of the back and then went into the root cellar in the Victorian home on the property, which belonged to my great-grandparents. My mom was going to go out in the truck and after the tornado there was a huge construction plank right through the window where she would have said and the truck has been bounced around against a fence near Barrie Burger.
An ex-boyfriend was in forensics and he came to my place two days later and had been working for 48 hours straight and gave a pretty descriptive account of what he saw. Freed on the idea that there were girders that were twisted like corkscrews in the industrial area, horses lay down on the offside in their stalls at the race track and fortunately they didn’t lose anything. A white stucco house on the corner had a stick that was embedded in the side of the house.
I went to the property at Anne Campbell and the military were already there. They were out in the evening to prevent looting. The Victorian homes are double-brick so those whole homes withstood the force of the tornado however the new homes up on the hill and at the base of the hill were basically kindling all in a matter of seconds.
The tornado crossed Shear Park and made a pass through some of the pine trees that my great-grandfather Shrigley helped plant. Years later I was down at a quilt auction and met two of the Mennonite groups that helped come to clean up in the fields around the area and I thanked them profusely.
I mentioned in my post that I went to teaching Toronto for 13 years at Marc Garneau Collegiate Institute. This tornado was so devastating in my life and I noticed there was a lot of natural disasters starting to happen around the world so I started to teach natural disasters as part of the geography course.
It was a beautiful sunny day. I was 15, sunbathing around the deck my dad came flying in the driveway telling all of us to get in the basement. When we asked why he said look at the sky – it was black and green and you could not hear a pin drop. You couldn’t hear a bird, nothing. So we all ran into the basement – Dad kept running upstairs just see what was happening to the sky once it had cleared over we all drove over to Allandale as at the time we lived on Letitia Street. We could not believe the devastation.
No one was there yet to help so we started going up to people to see if we could help. There was one little girl holding a teddy bear sitting on the curb, crying that her house was gone. The only thing standing on the second floor was a toilet, everything else was gone. She was pretty dirty and wet but we helped to get her to safety. I don’t remember her name to this day, and she couldn’t remember her name. She was maybe five or six.
I had been in my new house less than a year! The destruction as my daughter and I walked to the homes of her school friends in the Clover, Briar and Greenfield area, to be sure they were all OK, just took my breath away. Thankful that they were all OK.
My grandpa’s neighbour on Patterson Road…he found is mother in the basement. The house totally gone. He carried his mother up the basement stairs and at the top she died in his arms.
My wife and I were living in Toronto at the time, but I’d gone up to Barrie to visit my parents that morning. In the afternoon, Dad had gone to cut somebody’s lawn near the bottom of the Anne Street hill. He never heard or saw anything from there, but when he got back home, he said the sky turned the most hideous shade of green he’d ever seen.
After supper, a friend and I had gotten word of the tornado and headed to the south end in his car. This was before the army was sent in from Camp Borden. Two bizarre sites that I’ll never forget: On the one southwest corner of Innisfil and Tiffin, a mesh gazebo stood untouched, but on the northwest corner, a fencepost was embedded in the second-wall of a brick house.
Then, later, after the sun went down, we sat on the deck at the Merriman and looked across Kempenfelt Bay (complete darkness on the south side from Allandale eastward to Minet’s Point (maybe further).
I remember it well, as I was driving along Tiffin Street, going home to our home near Yonge Street and Little Avenue. All I could think of was our children, as I was looking south, I could see debris flying all over the place. But made it home to find the children OK and all kind of debris all over the yard and some minor damage to the house.
But thanks be to God, we were all OK. I will never forget that day and the days, weeks following.
I was packing my house up with my mother because I was moving to Ottawa when suddenly the hydro went out. I told my mom we should run to the corner to grab a coffee from Mr. Corned Beef before the coffee would be cold. So we went for the coffee and suddenly, all we could hear were sirens. Somebody said that the Holiday Inn was on fire so we just continued drinking our coffee.
A short time later, Uncle Billy (one of the regulars), came in looking very sad. He told us a tornado went through and took out his rental house and he lost one of his tenants.
That was a very strange day. My dad didn’t come home because he was an electrician and had to help with the ruins. We had many relatives from Holland call to see if we were okay. And my sister said they could feel the effects of that storm system all the way in Ottawa with heavy rain.
I lived very close to Dunlop and Anne Streets and didn’t even know that anything but a thunderstorm went through until I was told otherwise.
I remember it well and Kevin Frankish reporting about everything he had seen left a lasting impact. I am married to a survivor.
I remember this day very well as we were sitting at the kitchen table eating dinne. When it was over we had the Barrie Raceway on our front lawn and up the road, total destruction. We were very fortunate that day!
I lived in the only house in a trailer park on Burton Avenue, beside Jean’s Variety. My sister and I were walking to Jean’s to get candles because the power had gone out. We heard the tornado before we saw it. Scary day for a nine year old.