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25th anniversary of Grand Valley tornado remembered

by Mike Robinson

GRAND VALLEY - About 100 people were on hand May 29 to remember the 25th anniversary of a moment that changed this community.

“On Friday, May 31, 1985, our community was hit by one of the most powerful tornados ever recorded in Canada,” said Rick Taylor, chairman of the East Luther Grand Valley Historical?Society, of the storm that claimed the lives of Barry Wood and Matilda McIntyre.

“For their families and the hundreds of other families affected, this event will never be forgotten.”

In 2008, with the assistance of photos taken by a local resident, a DVD?was produced showing the town as it was in the 1950s.

Last year, with the assistance of the same individual, the group was able to produce another video depicting the 1960s, including movie footage of the centennial parade.

Taylor said, “While this tornado devastated Grand Valley, it did not destroy the spirit of the people. Relatives, families and friends converged on the scene and worked tirelessly to clear debris and restore our community.

“Our community survived that tragedy 25 years ago, and though Grand Valley may not look quite the same, it still remains a close knit community. After 25 years, the buildings have been rebuilt and the trees replanted.”

The loss of the town’s three oldest churches, the Orange Hall and the Carnegie Library was devastating. He said many of the oldest homes, were among the 65 houses destroyed or that had to be torn down.

Jim Irvine, a councillor in 1985, acknowledged the council of the day as well as clerk Les Canivet, chief librarian Shann?Leighton, and fire chief Irvine Moore.

“This is not a day of celebration, but of remembrance of what happened to the community,” said Irvine. “It was a terrible thing. But as a community, we pulled together like no one had ever seen. The volunteers came out of the woodwork in huge numbers from all over Ontario, the United States and as far away as the maritimes.

He made special note of the Mennonite community helping not only the community but the affected farmers between Ar­thur and Grand Valley.

“What the community really saw was how everything came together at the community centre ... which became the focal point of the community for the next month. Hundreds of meals were served there.”

He added support came in very

 

 

 

 

quickly after the tornado, in­cluding generators, to provide power for the grocery stores to keep supplies available.

Irvine said, “In a bad time, the community pulled together, and it brought us closer. While there were only two lives lost, it was two too many. There were scars left on many people.”

He said that Canivet and Leighton who were both in the Carnegie library building when it was destroyed, went through a lot.

“Shann with her quick thoughts ... remembered how many children were in the library at the time. A lot happened that day, and we hope it never happens again ... not only in Grand Valley ... but to anyone.”

Taylor said with it being the 25th anniversary of the tornado, the historical society thought it was appropriate to document and record that major catastrophe in the town’s history.

“Not only is this date dedicated to unveiling the plaque, but also the launch of the new DVD Twister In the Valley.”

The two hour documentary commemorates the killer tornado of 1985.

The plaque begins, “On Friday May 31, 1985, an F4 tornado” roared across the fields of West and East Luther flattening farm fields and hydro towers. It only took seconds to devastate much of the village, killing two.

Taylor hosts the documentary, presenting homes as they were before and after the tornado. As well the documentary contains interviews with citizens who were there, along with TV?newscasts and video footage.

“We hope that people find this project informative; we have tried to make sure the information is accurate.”

Taylor said the project would not have been possible without the expertise of Dave Mayle, of ADD Analogue Digital Duplication. “He has worked countless hours putting all these pictures together.”

Taylor added in 2005, Laura Lennox and Brock McKinney created the book Tornado Town, remembering the 1985 tornado.

They donated the proceeds from the book to the historical society with the understanding the funds be used towards a tornado-related project.

The society decided a plaque would be appropriate use of the funds.

McKinney said, “Laura and I decided to write the book when we saw it was coming up to the 20th anniversary. We were only two years old when the tornado went through, so we didn’t experience it directly. Still it was part of our experience growing up in this community.

“It was still a part of our subconscious. Everyone who grew up in Grand Valley looks west when it gets stormy any time between May and Octo­ber.”

He cited the tornado drills at the public school, “I don’t think every community does that.”

Current East Luther Grand Valley Mayor John Oosterhof said the speakers did an excellent job of describing what happened 25 years ago.

He said out of all the disasters people hear about in the news, “It happens far away and doesn’t affect us the same way as when it hits home.”

Oosterhof said a lot was learned.

“We can learn to be prepared, to look at what others have gone through, and see how we can do things differently so we don’t get caught the same way.”

He added, “Out of things like this, we have now, in this community and across the province, we have emergency plans and emergency planning.

There are lists of people who can help in different situations and government agencies  know where to get supplies and equipment.

Oosterhof concluded, “Be­cause of this, this and many oth­er communities across On­ta­­rio will be much better prepared.”

 

 

Vol 43 Issue 23

 
 

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