Black Friday 1985: Remembering one of Canada's biggest tornado outbreaks

Known as Black Friday, the infamous tornado outbreak in southern Ontario on May 31, 1985 killed 16 people and spawned 14 twisters.

Skies were certainly dark on May 31, 1985, the day of one of the deadliest tornado outbreaks in Ontario, so Black Friday is very fitting for what took place.

Thirty-seven years ago, powerful thunderstorms unleashed 14 tornadoes in the southern part of the province, killing 16 people. Hundreds more were injured and several thousand were left homeless.

Six of the twisters were rated F3 or greater on the Fujita damage scale, meaning winds higher than 250 kilometers per hour. Two of the supercells produced tornadoes with winds exceeding 330 kilometres per hour.

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Note: Prior to April 2013, tornado damage in Canada was rated on the Fujita (F) damage scale. The Enhanced Fujita (EF) scale was adopted on April 1, 2013.


Barrie, Ont., suffered the biggest loss from the event, as the strongest twister, F4-rated, swept through the city and killed eight people. The tornado uprooted trees, tossed cars, demolished factories and homes before dissipating over Lake Simcoe. It left behind a 5-kilometre-long damage path, up to 600 metres wide, within the city boundary.

While impactful, the path of this F4 twister that devastated Barrie was much shorter than the Grand Valley tornado. The evidence of that storm's destruction, however, would be seen for years to come, as it remains Canada's seventh deadliest tornado.

1985 Barrie tornado damage

Damage from the 1985 Barrie tornado. Photo: Barrie police.

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The cleanup effort was a monumental task, as people waded through the rubble, calling out to family and friends in a scene that could be described as a war zone.

Ontario tornadoes 1985

Grand Valley, about an hour northwest of Toronto, also took a direct hit from an F4 tornado that completely obliterated the public library and remained on the ground for more than 100 kilometres.

The tornado claimed two lives in Grand Valley, and killed two more in Tottenham, farther east, before finally dissipating near Mount Albert, about 80 minutes later.

Thumbnail courtesy of Barrie police.