By Samuel Farmer
It would be more satisfactory
if one could mentally follow the path of the storm,
and picture the tremendous sweep of the wind as
it rushed across the country. But that is not
possible. The eyes that saw that terrible scene
are closed in death's sleep, except in rare instances,
and to those who remain the picture is one only
of confused terror, for those who saw that storm
were but children then.
Each little spot was a world
of itself, hemmed in by broken trees, and wrecks
of houses and barns. Each group of people had
to struggle with the elements as best they might.
Around and above the storm raged with a noise
and fury that words cannot depict. Here and there
along the track of the storm were ruins and tragedies
that changed prosperity into desolation, and of
these and some freaks of the storm's work, the
notes which follow will deal.
Sixty-three years ago the storm
came - July 5th, 1850. It was one those curious
pranks of Nature that go to prove that no section
is free from her savage moods, when the damage
is done without warning of its terrible extent.
People knew that there was going to be a storm,
and began to say the usual things - "How dark
it is getting," "Did you see that flash of lightning?"
But they did not know until afterwards what wreckage
that storm would leave in its wake.
had been great heat in the morning. About noon
clouds began to gather, and the thunderheads piled
high like battlements and towers. Everything was
curiously still and expectant. By degrees it grew
very dark, and in the distance forked lightning
was cutting the back masses of cloud, making a
grand but terrifying display. Three hours passed
and then the storm broke. Wind and hail came together
- hailstones as large as walnuts and wind such
as we never wish to experience. Everything was
driven helter-skelter before that storm. Nothing
could save what was in its track. The wind, which
blew from north-west to south-east, was a whirlwind
which followed the course already indicated. The
track covered was from Lake Simcoe to Lake Ontario.
It passed through the northern townships, Reach,
across the south end of Scugog,into Cartwright
and the north-west corner of Darlington, and on
through north of Bowmanville to Lake Ontario.
But little seems to be known
here of what occurred to the north-west of Greenbank.
So far as people of this locality are concerned
that was the starting point of the tornado.
If you were to travel a little
west of Greenbank you could find James Ianson
living on his farm, spending his time looking
after his bees. Sixty-three years ago he was a
lad of eight years. On the day of the storm his
father was on his way home from a trip to Niagara,
a journey he had taken on horseback; but he did
not get back until next day. Usually there were
other men about the Ianson place for they ran
a sawmill; but on this day they were away at a
logging bee over at William Real's. This left
Mrs. Ianson alone with her two boys - James, eight
years old, and John twelve years - and Mrs. Hunter,
a sister who had been in Canada but three weeks.
The family could see the storm coming from the
north-west. Out there on the hills the trees could
be heard crashing down, and some of the giant
pines could be seen falling. That picture lasted
but a few moments, for the wind was coming with
a tremendous rush. The Iansons ran into the house,
and waited for a few moments in terrible suspense,
while outside the shriek and roar of the wind
mingled with the artillery of hail, thunder and
What happened in the next few
minutes on the Ianson farm cannot be described
with any degree of fullness. All one could do
would be to pile up adjectives depicting destruction.
The house was caught in a whirlwind, and scattered
in pieces here and there over a distance of two
miles. The big old fashioned chimney, built of
brick from the ground up, fell on Mrs. Hunter
and killed her outright. John Ianson was struck
by a beam, and his neck and arm were broken. James
and his mother were buried under a mass of ruins.
When they freed themselves after a time they entered
a new world - a world of chaos. They attempted
to make their way to a neighbor's, but the paths
were blocked. All around was a hopeless confusion
of twisted and broken trees that shut from view
everything but the sky. Household effects, clothing,
harness, hens mixed with bits of board and limbs
of trees filled the air and some of these things
were carried as far as Scugog Island. Every fence
was levelled, and the roof was torn from the sawmill,
a one story building that escaped worse damage.
Logs that had lain on the ground until they were
half buried by bark and rubbish, were ripped out
and blown here and there. Every tree on the place
was blown down. As Mr. Jas. Ianson put it there
was nothing left on the place higher than a stone
pile. One dish only was saved from the general
smash up, and that was the butter dish which had
been placed in the cellar. Nine hens, a rooster
and one chicken formed the remnant of the Ianson
Poultry flock. The rest were blown away. It was
curious in the weeks that followed the storm to
see the rooster brooding that lonely chick and
feeding it. One incident was very peculiar. When
the storm started there was a large potash kettle
in the yard filled with ashes. Next day the neighbors
were wandering about the yard looking at the ruins.
They passed the kettle on their rounds. Presently
they heard a lamb bleat, but could not locate
where the sound came from. At last they discovered
the lamb safely tucked away under the potash kettle
which had been turned upside down by the wind.
Among the odd things seen two might be mentioned.
A rail was found which had been driven endwise
into a stump several inches. A tree was also found
which had been broken off, the stump ripped out
by the roots and turned upside down, so that the
top of the stump was driven into the group and
the roots were left sticking up in the air.
A short distance from the Iansons
the Horns lived. Fortunately for them Harry Bewell
ran in and warned them of the approach of the
storm, inducing the family to go down cellar.
That likely saved their lives for they had barely
got down cellar when the house was blown away
As the wind swept on it cleared
a passage through the bush so that one could see
all the way from Borelia to Greenbank. The trees
were mowed down in an immense swath, and remained
in that condition in some parts for years. It
grew to be a great slash where berries of all
kinds were plentiful. Another open space was made
from Borelia to Prince Albert. Before the storm
the view was shut in by trees every way, and one
could see no distance at all.
Mr. Bagshaw, who lived west
of Saintfield, and whose daughter Mrs. Pound now
lives in Port Perry, lost everything he had. His
cattle were killed and his buildings destroyed.
He had to cling tightly to a stump to keep from
being blown away himself.
At Borelia a man named Savage
was living on the Lund property, then run as a
nursery by Corson. Mrs. Savage had a sickly boy
who grew very frightened when the storm came up,
and begged to be taken out of the house. To pacify
him his mother picked him up and carried him to
Vansickler's, nearby neighbors. Scarcely had they
left the house when the roof fell in right where
the child had been lying.
Baker's house, that stood where
Mr. Cassidy now lives, was turned right over and
blown into Crandell's field across the road. Mrs.
Baker and her two children had gone over to a
Hurd's sawmill was blown to
pieces, and logs which had been lying there for
years were blown right out of the earth.
Isaac Fralick's house and barn
were both unroofed. In the barn was a cream colored
horse that escaped unhurt. A new wagon was whirled
across a twelve acre field, the tongue run full
length into the ground and the wagon turned right
over so that the wheels were up. Peter
Lansing's eldest daughter was sitting in the attic
of their log home near Shirley. The house was
situated beside a lane which ran between their
farm and the Beatty place. A day or two before
her brothers had found a woodpecker's nest with
some young ones in it. They had brought one home
or a pet,and the young woman was fixing a next
for the bird in an old barrel that had been filled
with rags. Suddenly the wind struck the building
and lifted the roof off bodily, dumping it into
the lane. The three top logs were carried away,
too, and the girl went with them. When she was
able to realize what had happened, she found that
she had been blown out of the attic to the ground,
and that the logs were still surrounding her,
although she was unhurt.
Lansing and his two sons were
in the fallow with a yoke of oxen. When they saw
the storm coming they unyoked the oxen, and the
animals at once fled to the woods, where they
were found later penned in by trees. Indeed it
took half a day to cut away the trees so that
the cattle could get out. It is said that many
cattle were penned in the woods in this way and
After the oxen were gone the
Lansings had a wild time. Peter was blown about
ten feet in the air. When he fell to the ground
he was rolled over and over like a bundle of hay.
Finally he caught hold of a stump and managed
to hang on. After awhile he began to look around
a bit and saw things blown everywhere. Presently
he glanced up and saw a small hemlock, roots and
all, sailing by like a big umbrella.
His oldest boy caught hold of
a post in a rail fence and hung on like grim death.
James Beatty says that whole fence was blown down
except the one spot where the young fellow was
clinging for support.
The Beattys had come up that
day from their other place in Whitby to do some
work on a six acre fallow which they were clearing.
They had put up a shanty for their accommodation
on these occasional visits, but when the storm
had gone by not a board was left on the roof of
At McLeod's home not far away,
the old man was killed. He was in the house with
his little grandchild, and, thinking the place
was not safe, he picked up the child and started
to run out into the open. Just as he reached the
door a log struck him in the head and killed him
instantly; but the child was unhurt.
In front of McCoy's place there
was an enormous log. It had taken two yoke of
oxen to put it there; but the wind came along
and drove that log back through the fence onto
the farm again. McCoy's bush was totally destroyed,
becoming nothing but a slash which was extremely
difficult to clear.
Many other incidents might be
related, but these are sufficient to indicate
the force and destructiveness of the great tornado,
and to show the immense amount of work required
to put things to rights again.
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