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This past week marked the passing of 27 years since the May 31st day in 1985 when Barrie residents learned first hand what being in the path of a tornado is all about. That hot and humid Friday afternoon my long time friend Stan and myself jumped on our bikes and left Toronto heading north up the 400 hwy for a weekend in cottage country. The weekend Hwy 400 traffic was almost as heavy then as it is today.
As we passed through the long flat stretch of the Holland Marsh you could see a dark line of cloud stretching from north to south a mile or so to the west and heading our way. The black soil of the marsh came to an abrupt end in the distance where the edge of the storm was moving towards us like a blue grey curtain.
The storm caught up with us around the Cookstown exit and turned the day dark as night in a few seconds. The traffic slowed, the wind whipped up and we were pelted from the left with a monsoon like downpour that stung as it hit. Lightening flashed every couple seconds and the rumble of thunder was steady. You could not see the cars ahead, just the tail lights, barely visible through the rain and the wake from their tires as the water hit the road faster than it could run away. The rain lasted no more than 5 minutes then gave way as fast as it came to the bright hot sun once again.
The pace of the traffic picked up once more and we continued on, our clothes and our gear completely soaked. When we hit the point where the Molson's Beer store exit used to be around what is the Mapleview Drive exit today the traffic ahead came to a sudden dead stop. The Essa road exit lay just beyond the crest of the road so we decided to drive along the shoulder passed the stopped cars to the highway exit.
At a certain point just beyond where the recently closed McDonald's Restaurant and gas bar stood along the 400 hwy you suddenly have a clear view of West Barrie in the valley below. But instead of the expected vista of our home town we were bombarded with a fast series of surreal images that are etched in memory. For me it was the quick realization that the tractor trailer lying on its side across the Essa Road exit was the cause of the traffic jam. A simple enough deduction for a second anyway until I noticed the movement of horses wandering between the cars on the highway just beyond. Steam was rising from the road in the brilliant sunlight and people were out of their cars some standing, some running, some wandering aimlessly along with the horses among the cars which I then noticed were pointing in random directions.
My glance then went towards the Barrie Raceway grounds to the east of the highway were I figured the horses had escaped from to see that many of the horse buildings there were leveled. My awestruck gaze continued to pan to the right and up the hill to the side of the Holiday Inn. The entire hillside where Tim Horton's, Pizza Hut and Wendy's stand today, looked like a landfill site covered completely in the debris of shattered homes, businesses and their former contents. It was a mere few seconds of observation that contained more lasting and vivid detail than anything else I have witnessed in my lifetime. We stopped our bikes and just gazed on what 20 minutes earlier was the familiar landscape where Stan and myself grew up but was now totally unrecognizable.
Emergency vehicles continued arriving to the area and sirens sounded from all directions as we weaved around bent and scattered vehicles, abandoned and pointing every which way, appliances, splintered 2 by 4's, window frames, doors and snapped power lines. Bits of hay and straw were everywhere along with sections of steel barn roofing carried along by the twister from miles to the west to their resting places wrapped around trees street signs and lamp posts (some pine trees behind homes on Moon Drive still have metal wrapped around them with the bark grown over it)
While larger items were crushed and often hard to identify, many smaller items of every sort found in a home remained in tact and scattered everywhere you looked. Trees not layed flat or broken completely off at the base in the tornados path were strewn with paper, clothing, bedding, bits of pink insulation and even larger items, one had a toilet resting in the v of 2 large branches 20 feet off the ground.
I saw a car on its wheels sitting in what I believe was once the living-room of a raised bungalow. The roof and the front of the home were gone but strangely beside the car was an end table with a lamp still sitting on it.
The visuals came faster than the mind could comprehend and though much of that day is crystal clear, much of it remains a blur. We made our way through Allandale Heights where many of our high school mates still lived. There were people alone and in groups frantically sorting through the remains of homes while others just stood gazing in shock holding onto family, friends or neighbours. Others walked aimlessly through the debris not knowing what to do. Nobody really did.
My friend and I spent the next week and many weekends after that helping people sort their lives out and within a year it was amazing to see how peoples lives and the City had returned to normal as neighbourhoods were cleaned of debris and homes and businesses were rebuilt. Today there are few signs of that day other than the thousands of stories that live on with the people who were part of the 1985 Barrie Tornado.
Disclaimer: ActiveRain Corp. does not necessarily endorse the real estate agents, loan officers and brokers listed on this site. These real estate profiles, blogs and blog entries are provided here as a courtesy to our visitors to help them make an informed decision when buying or selling a house. ActiveRain Corp. takes no responsibility for the content in these profiles, that are written by the members of this community.