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Life Will Never Be the Same

An August 7 segment on CTV News by Zayn Jinah reminded many people in southwestern Ontario of one of the province’s most devastating weather events.

On that date 40 years ago, two massive tornados descended on Oxford County. The first landed not far from Waterloo Region, hitting ground just south of Tavistock and winding through an area between Bright and Hickson. The second funnel landed in southwest Woodstock and proceeded in an eastern direction ending an incredible 60 kilometres away near Jarvis. The length of destruction has made this storm historic across North America.

The village of Oxford Centre, south of Woodstock, was gone. The community known for upscale residences among heavy tree coverage was reduced to basements looking up into the sky. Near Hickson and Bright, eighty foot silos were literally ripped out of their foundations and dropped to the ground. Today, there are bushes in the area where the tornado’s path is still clearly evident.

In the summer of 1979, I was about to return to Mitchell District High School for the now legendary Grade 13. Neighbours of ours had relatives near New Durham whose farm was at ground zero. The house, barn and all contents were gone.

My dad and a group of other farmers from Fullarton Township went to the site on Thursday, after the tornado hit on Tuesday night. The first step in any recovery is the clean-up which, after a catastrophic event like this, can take weeks.

Prior to the storm, a wedding dress stood in the living room of the farmhouse for a Labour Day weekend ceremony. The dress was gone with the house in a matter of seconds.

Dad was in a cornfield collecting debris between the rows when he came upon what was left of the garment. Returning it to the family was devastating for them and him. It was in many ways a small symbol of the massive impact the tornado had on a farm and the community.

The wedding proceeded on Labour Day without the dress, a testament to the resiliency of farmers and small towns across Ontario.  Life was not the same, but everyone just moved forward.

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