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1979 Woodstock tornado

A tornado is the stuff of nightmares. Amid heavy rain and hail, huge thunderclouds roll in and the skies turn greenish-black. And then a rope-like funnel cloud punches down, smashing everything in its path. Tornadoes can be the most violent storms on earth, and Canada averages 80 of them each year. From scientists and storm chasers obsessed with their destructive power to the victims left in a twister's wake, we look at Canada's deadliest tornadoes of the past century.

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Tornadoes generate the most headlines when they strike a city, but the vast majority of them occur in rural areas. On Aug. 7, 1979, a tornado in southwestern Ontario devastated city and country alike. Dairy farmers in the area were hit particularly hard. In this clip we meet a farmer who loses his wife, his farm, and hope -- until local Mennonites show up unexpectedly to rebuild his barn.
. The Woodstock tornado was actually three tornadoes spawned by the same storm. Two were powerful F4 twisters, with wind speeds of up to 400 kilometres and funnels two kilometres wide. The first one struck southeast of Stratford, Ont., at 6:18 p.m., carving up a path 33 kilometres long before it ended near the town of Bright.

. A second, larger tornado touched down northwest of Woodstock at 6:52 p.m. It crossed Highway 401 and struck the city's south end, cutting a swath 89 kilometres long before crossing Lake Erie and ending in New York State. A third, weaker twister struck south of Woodstock. Two people died in the tornadoes, 130 were injured and a thousand were left homeless.

. Woodstock wasn't the only populated area affected. Several tiny communities including Oxford Centre, Vanessa and New Durham were wiped off the map. Damage was estimated at $100 million.

. According to the book Blame it on the Weather by Environment Canada climatologist David Phillips, a live pig was found stuck in the fork of a tree following the Woodstock tornado. Phillips also reports that a local newspaper carrier called to ask his employer if he was still required to deliver papers to houses that had disappeared.

. Mennonites are Christian Anabaptists who follow the teachings of European religious leader Menno Simons (1496-1561). They believe in pacifism, non-violence and simplicity. The Anabaptists (meaning "re-baptizers") arose from the Protestant Reformation. They rejected the idea of infant baptism, believing the practice should be a voluntary expression of faith. Their descendents include the Amish, Baptists, Hutterites, Mennonites and Quakers.

. According to their website, The Mennonite Disaster Service shown in this clip was first organized in Kansas in 1950. It was an extension of the Mennonite practice of mutual aid, and the belief that their faith is best expressed through daily caring for one another. When church members or neighbours lost a barn in a fire, flood or tornado, the Mennonites would raise a new barn "to represent the love of Jesus Christ and the power of collaboration."

. The Mennonite Disaster Service now claims the involvement of more than 3,000 Anabaptist churches and districts. They organize and manage volunteer labour, but do not provide direct material or financial donations to victims.
Medium: Television
Program: Heartland
Broadcast Date: Jan. 29, 1980
Guest(s): George Reichson, Delmar Zehr
Host: Sylvia Tyson
Duration: 10:23

Last updated: August 9, 2013

Page consulted on September 3, 2014

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