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.
There 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 lightning.
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 bodily.
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 neighbor's.
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 died there.
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 that building.
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.