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'It's a historic storm,' Remembering the Barrie tornado 38 years later


May 31, 1985, started like any other day in Barrie, but all that changed later that afternoon when the sky changed colour, suddenly and without warning, plunging the city into chaos.

With wind speeds topping 400 kilometres per hour, the F4 tornado cut a path through the heart of Barrie, leaving destruction in its wake.

The tornado's impact was swift and severe.

Entire neighbourhoods were reduced to rubble, with houses torn apart, trees uprooted, vehicles tossed, and lives forever changed.

Pictures from the Barrie tornado in 1985 (Courtesy: Frank Callaghan)

The widespread devastation left a lasting mark on the city's landscape and residents.

Environment Canada says 14 tornados, including the one in Barrie, swept Central Ontario over six hours on May 31, 1985.

When the clouds finally shifted and the winds calmed, the long and arduous road to recovery began.

Firefighters were among the first to arrive at the scene of the devastation.

"I thought a bomb had dropped or something," Jim Lemieux, deputy fire chief in 1985, said in a 2015 interview.

Neighbours helped neighbours, strangers reached out to lend a hand, and emergency responders worked tirelessly to rescue survivors and provide aid.

"It was amazing how a community could pull together in an emergency. Everybody in the community did what they had to do," Lemieux added.

The spirit of community solidarity shone amidst the darkness that had engulfed the city.

Pictures from the Barrie tornado in 1985 (Courtesy: Frank Callaghan)

In the immediate aftermath of the tornado, shelters were set up, and relief efforts were launched to provide food, clothing, and support to those affected.

As the days turned into weeks and months, the focus shifted towards rebuilding the city and restoring a traumatized community.

In all, 12 people lost their lives that fateful day, including eight in Barrie, two in Grand Valley, and two in Tottenham. Over 150 people were injured.

The Northern Tornadoes Project (NTP) said it was the worst tornado to ever touch down in Central Ontario.

"It’s a historic storm. We haven’t had an F4 in Ontario since that time. So that tells you how rare these things are," said NTP executive director Dr. David Sills. Top Stories

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