15 minutes of terror touches a father and son in Dunrobin

A Dunrobin gift shop housed in a 10-metre tall yurt was torn from its foundation and flew into the air as the tornado unleashed its power in the village - but the owner says thankfully no one was injured.

Jim Bowen's shop Heart of the Valley flattened, while his son feared for his life

Jody Bowen, owner of the Heart & Soul cafe in Dunrobin, Ont., cleans up after her gift shop in a yurt blew away. (Jennifer Chevalier/CBC)

Jim Bowen was driving to work Friday afternoon when he found himself in "heavy and quick circular winds." He pulled over until it passed, but when he arrived at his shop, he couldn't believe what he found.

"Pretty much every tree on my property is down, 100-year old trees, mature pine, black walnut and silver maples," said Bowen.

His gift shop, Heart of the Valley — housed in a 10-metre-high yurt — was torn from its concrete foundations during the tornado that ripped through the village of Dunrobin. 
Heart of the Valley gift shop was torn from it concrete base and flattened by the tornado. (Reno Patry/CBC)

"The yurt is gone, it's history," said a shell-shocked Bowen. "Half of it's across the street and I'm looking at part of it and it's hanging from the hydro pole across the intersection."

The Heart of the Valley was located on the corner of Dunrobin Road and Thomas Dolan Parkway, an area in the west end of Ottawa that was devastated by the tornado. 

"The stuff from the gift shop is strewn all over the property," said Bowen, who estimates he lost about $200,000 for both the yurt and the clothes, jewellery and crafts that he sells.

Matthew Bowen lives on the second floor the restaurant that is next to the gift shop. (Reno Patry/CBC)

Close call for son

"No one was hurt, thankfully, because the gift shop closes at 4 o'clock," said Bowen.

But it was a close call for his son Matthew.

He lives with his roommate in the apartment above The Heart and Soul Café, the restaurant on the Bowen property, next to the gift shop​.

The restaurant is only open for breakfast and lunch, so there were no customers there when the tornado hit. But Matthew and his roommate were home. 

I looked outside and everything was gone and we were lucky to be alive.- Matthew Bowen

When the storm hit, Matthew ran downstairs to the front door and saw golf-ball-sized hail stones hitting the ground and "roofs were being torn off." 

Matthew and his roommate first tried to open the door, but then decided it was better to struggle to keep it closed.

"All I saw was a hailstorm of green flying by me and hit me in the face," said Matthew, describing how huge branches were flying at the restaurant. "Honestly all that was on my mind was getting my door closed and hiding." 

For 15 minutes, Bowen and his roommate crouched down behind the front door. 

"As much hail that hit, that was the least of our problems — it was the trees flying and hitting our restaurant and other houses and tearing things apart." 

"After the storm was gone, I looked outside and everything was gone and we were lucky to be alive," he said.

As he walked out of the restaurant, a crying woman approached Matthew and pleaded with him to check on her relatives on Porcupine Trail, a nearby residential street.

"I went over there and 20 to 25 houses are gone," he said. "Flattened."

Matthew and his roommate went into the home of the women's elderly relatives and searched everywhere for them. 

He described the house as if "it's been rotting for 100 years. There's no roof, the walls collapsed on themselves."

Happily, though, a firefighter arrived and told the relieved group that the couple were being treated for minor injuries. 

"I feel really bad for the people involved in this and there's going to be a lot of rebuilding to do," said Matthew Bowen.