Every summer brings the danger of tornadoes. Wellington County has suffered from some severe ones, though destruction on the scale experienced by the Grand Valley area some years ago, or the one that passed to the north and east of Fergus more recently, is mercifully rare.
There are several accounts written by early settlers that describe swaths of uprooted trees in the primaeval forest, obvious evidence of tornadoes perhaps 200 years ago.
A particularly strong twister hit the new town of Guelph in the summer of 1828, not long after the community marked its first anniversary. Details of that storm are sketchy at best, but the winds made a mess of the handful of buildings there. The high cost of the repairs and rebuilding may well have been a factor in the removal of John Galt as the operating head of the Canada Company.
The tornadoes in more recent years seem to be more destructive than earlier ones, but that is in large part a result of the sprawling growth of towns and the increasing number of rural residents in the later decades of the twentieth century. A tornado that flattens a couple of grain fields seems less destructive than one that destroys a couple of houses.
One of the major tornadoes in the county’s history is largely forgotten today, but stirred much interest and wonder 84 years ago. That storm hit the lower part of Eramosa Township on the afternoon of June 15, 1925, rather early in the tornado season.
From assessments made afterward of the havoc, it appeared that the tornado touched down in a swamp on the farm of Henry Royce, on the sixth line of Eramosa, roughly a mile west of Everton. The path of destruction, perhaps 500 feet across, followed a zigzag path, moving generally northeast, passing Everton and Crewson’s Corners before losing its force and energy as it neared Acton, more than seven miles from its origin. Rail fences disappeared in places, and large limbs were torn from trees. The wind ripped a few completely out of the ground as the tornado headed toward Everton. Other trees were broken off completely near ground level.
It appears that the storm reached its zenith in strength at Everton Corners, the intersection on what became Highway 24, now county road 124, and immediately northwest of the hamlet of Everton. It had once been a minor hamlet on its own account, with a store, hotel and blacksmith shop. Only the latter still operated in 1925.
The tornado caught William Smith’s small barn, roughly 25 feet by 35 feet, demolishing it to a pile of kindling. Next to go were the verandah on his house and the roof of the kitchen wing. The roof on the main part of the house stayed in place, but was completely and neatly stripped of its wooden shingles. Most of the panes of glass were smashed, on every side of the house.
Smith operated the blacksmith shop. At the time of the storm he was away, but his son Percy was at work in the shop. He seemed unaware of the danger fast advancing on him.
Daughter Vera, 14 years old, was alone in the house. She became frightened at the noise and the breaking limbs, and decided to rush to the shop to warn her brother. She got part way there when the wind slammed her against the pump in the yard. As it turned out, that was a lucky break. She grabbed the pump and held on for all she was worth.
It seemed like an eternity to young Vera, but the intense energy of the tornado passed by in a matter of seconds. It crossed the main road, and ripped the verandah off the residence of John Weatherston. The building was a very old one, and before prohibition had been the Half Way House hotel.
In addition to his verandah, Weatherston lost the majority of the wood shingles from his roof and all the windows in the building. The barn behind the house, once the hotel’s livery stable, was the next victim. Boards from the roof and walls were later found more than a half mile away. Shingles from both the Weatherston and Smith structures rained down across a wide area, to be discovered weeks and months later in fields and roadside ditches.
The hotel’s old driving shed was also still standing. As the tornado approached, several people were returning from a funeral in Everton in buggies. Unlike most twisters, this one had the classic funnel shape, and the colour of thick dark smoke.
As it approached closer, they could see pieces of debris and tree branches rotating in the cyclone. Recognizing the danger and anxious to take cover, they drove into the old hotel yard and took shelter in the driving shed. There they witnessed the destruction all around them as they cringed out of fear for their own safety. By good fortune the driving shed suffered almost no damage, though the wind blew a large limb into a wall, where it was embedded.
The witnesses reported a tremendous roar as the tornado passed, followed by a silence that seemed eerie. The tornado continued to move eastward, missing the main portion of Everton. It seemed almost miraculous that the course avoided most other buildings on its erratic course. As well, the force of the winds seemed to diminish quickly as it tracked to the north of Crewson’s Corners.
As is so often the case, there were some strange consequences. W.J. Smith had a milk cow in a stall in his barn. The family discovered the animal still in its stall, unharmed and munching quietly on hay, though the structure had been completely demolished and the rubble lay waist deep all around the cow.
John Weatherston had a mare in his barn. The horse was also unharmed by the storm, though a little restive after the experience. It had been tethered in a stall at the rear of the barn to a stone wall. The masonry undoubtedly saved the animal. Weatherston cleared a path through the wreckage to his horse, calmed the animal, and led it out of the wreckage.
In total quantity of damage, rail fences suffered the greatest toll. Few of them in the path of the tornado remained intact. Some lost one or two rails, which came to rest near the fence and could be put back easily. At the other extreme, some fences disappeared completely, their rails scattered to the four points of the compass, and landing as gifts from the skies on adjoining farms.
The 1925 tornado is probably still recalled in the folklore of some old Eramosa families. For those who experienced it, the storm was a hair-raising demonstration of the forces of nature that could suddenly turn violent and destructive. Altogether, the tornado lasted three or four minutes, but it provided a lesson that no one who experienced it could ever forget.
Had it touched down to the west, at Rockwood, or had it continued at full force into Acton, the damage would have been far worse, and injuries and even deaths would certainly have resulted.