Looking back at the record-breaking central Ontario tornado outbreak of 1985

Randi MannDigital Reporter

On this day in weather history, tornadoes hit the Barrie-Grand Valley-Tottenham area.

This Day In Weather History is a daily podcast by Chris Mei from The Weather Network, featuring stories about people, communities and events and how weather impacted them.


On Friday, May 31, 1985, a tornado outbreak hit Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Ontario. A total of 44 tornadoes were recorded that day and 14 of them landed in Ontario.

It's both the largest and most aggressive tornado outbreak in this region.

The first tornado hit Wiarton, Ontario, just before 2 p.m. The final tornado was recorded around midnight in Tobyhanna, Pennsylvania.

The States was badly hit. There was one F5 tornado in Ohio that killed 18 people and injured 310.

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Niles Park Plaza 1985 tornado

"Damage from Wheatland F5 tornado at Niles Park Plaza, Ohio." Courtesy of Wikipedia

Among the tornadoes that hit Ontario that day were an F1 near Wagner Lake at 5:40 p.m., an F1 in Reaboro at 6:05 p.m., an F2 in Ida at 6:20 p.m., an F3 at 6:25 p.m. that touched down in Rice Lake, and an F1 in Minto at 6:35 p.m.

The most noted tornado from this outbreak is the one that formed in Simcoe County near Barrie.

A previous tornado in the area knocked out a hydro transformer, causing a blackout in Barrie at around 4 p.m. Because of this, people were sent home early from work.

The tornado that formed near Barrie picked up steam and started snapping and destroying trees. The tornado's damage path was approximately 600 metres wide at this point.

Courtesy TWN

Courtesy TWN

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Just before 5 p.m., the tornado crossed into southern Barrie. It fully took out a square block of homes on Crawford Street and Patterson Road. Five people died.

The tornado travelled to an industrial area called Molson Park, where one person died. Then the twister crossed Highway 400, where it damaged many buildings including farms. A man died when the tornado pulled him from his car.

Courtesy Barrie Police

Courtesy Barrie Police

The tornado's path narrowed to around 300 metres as it continued to wreck homes in the area. It continued its path, killing a boy on his bike in the Tollendal Woods and Minets Point area.

The tornado damaged or destroyed homes, cars, and boats before it briefly turned into a waterspout over Kempenfelt Bay and dissipated. This tornado killed eight people and injured 155.

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. Several homes and three churches were completely destroyed.

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

There are many other tornado stories from that day, but listen to the podcast as the host, Chris Mei, has stories of his own.

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Thumbnail: Courtesy TWN