A day Waterford will never forget

Evening thunderstorms are not unusual at this time of year so I didn’t think much of the jet black sky as I pulled out of the driveway at our farm on Townsend Road 12 near Cockshutt Road.It was the evening of Aug. 7, 1979, and I was heading into Simcoe to pick up a friend. As I made the road, I looked to the northwest and was surprised as the woodlot at the rear of our farm disappeared behind a solid wall of white.As I headed west, I braced for an intense downpour and that happened predictably enough. However, a few seconds in and the deluge turned to hail stones the size of golf balls. I began to panic. I was driving a late-model Grand Prix and I didn’t like the sound that was coming off the paint.By then, I was a few hundred yards from the VanDenHurk farm (the present-day Bonnieheath Estate Lavender and Winery) at the top of the hill near the Bonnieheath gravel pit. I saw their pack barn to my left and made a beeline for it. Thankfully, the main door was wide open and I got my wheels out of the weather. The VanDenHurk kids came out of the house once the storm had passed and were more than understanding about my desire to preserve my paint job.CB radio was our social media in 1979 so it didn’t take long for word to get around that Waterford, Vanessa, Kelvin and area had taken a hit. I was in Waterford soon after and was amazed by the extent of the damage. Waterford has long been famous for its tree-lined streets. Starting around Church Street and heading north, streets were virtually impassable due to the large number of uprooted trees and fallen limbs. Many parked vehicles took direct hits. As bad as the damage was south of Alice Street, Main Street north of the CN bridge was a no-go zone because so many trees, limbs and wires had fallen. The north end of Waterford incurred a great deal of serious structural damage.The twister came cloaked in a storm but there was no mistaking its intensity. Tree lines and wind breaks between Vanessa and Waterford were stripped of leaves and branches. Left behind were skeletal markers bearing silent witness to nature’s fickle, awful fury.In a final destructive act before it vanished, the tornado nearly wiped out the Crane farm in Townsend Centre about three miles north of our place. Everyone who lived through this ordeal will remember how caring strangers poured into the local area to help with the cleanup. The Mennonite community from the Elmira area was especially noteworthy for sending in gangs to comb through corn fields and pick out every last bit of debris that might damage a combine. They asked for nothing except the opportunity to help a fellow farmer in need. Those of us who saw it won’t forget it. It was a timely reminder that — where there is bad in the world — there is also good, and that it is incumbent upon the latter to persevere and outlast the former.


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