Three decades later, The Barrie Tornado Remembered!

A week from this Sunday is May 31. If you lived in Barrie in 1985, that date, near suppertime, is frozen in your memory. It’s right there with where you were when John F. Kennedy was killed, and when the towers fell on 9/11.

Eight people, two of them young children, died that day. A ninth died later in hospital. Many many more today live with injuries sustained when vehicles flew through the air, crashing into unlikely sites.

The tornado ripped through our community, and through our hearts. And, like the tornado that devastated part of Angus last summer, so much goodness came out of this event.

These stories are the things that Judith Banville hopes to open light on from 6 pm to 9:30 pm on Tornado Day. Opening the downtown’s Mady Centre theatre for the event, she wants to capture a conversational setting where people have the opportunity to share their stories about one of Barrie’s defining experiences.

“It’s on the actual day of the tornado, and we’ll have displays never before seen by Fire and Emergency Services and Environment Canada,” she says. Her company, Word Portraits, is one of the sponsors of the evening. “Speakers are pre-arranged, followed by opportunity for comments and questions from the public.”

“We want to have a moment of remembrance for people who were killed in the tornado and we’re still looking for photos of those people who died.”

Jack McAllister, Barrie Fire Chief at the time, had been involved in the Medonte train derailment three years before and had appeared before Mayor Ross Archer and council to plead for an $80,000 Emergency Command Centre for future use. He got the portable centre, with no expectation it would be so important, so crucial, just three years later. Jack will speak at the event, and share photos from the command centre, photos never seen before. All of this without email, internet, or cell phones!

A doctor will tell her remarkable story; a Barrie police inspector who was just a new recuit when it happened; other speakers will be sharing their unique stories.

While the city has waived the rental fee for the theatre, there are still costs associated with lighting, audio/visual, staff etc. Judith is also producing a keepsake program from the event, and so sponsors have been very important to even producing this evening.

Of course the City of Barrie is a sponsor, as is Pratt Homes. There are a number of community sponsors such as Realty Executives, Anna Small, Barrie Police and Fire Services, Kwik Kopy, Retrobox Media.

For Judith, this event has been a year in the making. “I’m doing this event to give people a chance to share their stories and a chance to speak to people of Barrie for what they did,” she says. “Travis Doucette of Retrobox Media Transfers has been incredibly helpful in collecting photos and videos, scanning and cleaning and organizing hundreds of images into two slide shows.”

If you’ve got pictures you’re able to share, and especially if you can contribute to the memorial for those who died in the tornado, Judith would love to hear from you:

This event is already 75% ‘sold’ out. While it’s a free event, your name must be registered to gain entry on May 31, so you must register ahead of time to be able to attend. The web link is

There will be no registration at the door.

What an opportunity to remember, recognize, and reacquaint ourselves with an important part of our past.

Thanks, Judith.