Power of Nature, Power of Community
Just imagine a hot July evening without a breath of air stirring. The type of evening that is so quiet that you get an almost eerie feeling, like you know something ominous is brewing. This was the atmosphere Friday, July 13th, 1973 around 7:15pm, when a tornado touched down in the centre of Brighton.
The storm which spawned this tornado began about 4:45pm over Lake Simcoe. It built up steam as it passed over Peterborough and headed south-east. When it reached the shoreline of Lake Ontario, the storm intensified into several cells, one of which became the Brighton Tornado of ‘73. While this cell dissipated quickly, residents had to shelter from 7: 15 – 8:00pm as the storm tore through the downtown core.
Memorial Park took the main hit, partially demolishing the old Town Hall building, which also acted as the Firehall garage too. There was also extensive damage to homes west along Main Street and also many houses on the blocks both north and south of Main Street.
In its wake, the tornado left debris all over the downtown core from fallen trees and damaged houses that took town workers and local residents a number of days to clean up.
2023 marks the 50th anniversary of a tornado touching down and if you have lived in Brighton long enough, you no doubt have heard stories of the Big Tornado of ‘73.
“The original Town Hall, located in what is now the stage area in Memorial Park today — I understand that the storm ripped the roof off this building and some of the walls also came down in the storm,” said Mayor Brian Ostrander. “The irony of the damage to the building is that the Town Clerk/Treasurer of the time, Shirley Patterson, had just sent the tenders out to companies to cost the proper demolition of the building.”
Although this was a frightening event, neighbours helped neighbours to keep people safe and to get Brighton back in order.
“The community came together, and they didn’t worry about liability as we do now in those days, and people brought their own tractors and loaders to help with the clean-up,” added Ostrander. “It was the northern part of the municipality coming to the aid of the southern part, rural helping urban, with the tractors and loaders coming into town, down highway 30 like a parade of equipment coming to aid.”
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Brighton Tornado, the Municipality of Brighton struck a special event task force that includes Mayor Brian Ostrander, Councillor Emily Rowley, Wayne Jefferson of the Downtown Business Improvement Area, Ralph De Jonge from Brighton Digital Archives, Nancy Anderson from the Brighton Heritage Committee, Lloyd Hutchinson from the Events and Civic Awards Committee, Greg Taylor from the Brighton Public Library and municipal staff members Jessica Holly, Ben Hagerman, Caroline Birch, and Jim Millar.
The event task force is organizing an event on Saturday, July 8th, at the King Edward Community Centre that will feature videos of people speaking about their first-hand experience and large storyboards of photos.
“We reached out to the public to see if people had photos of the aftermath, and we received over 200 to sort through,” said Ostrander. “The task force is organizing some of these photos onto large storyboards so that people can see the magnitude of the storm and the clean-up effort that brought people together.
A true Brighton Heritage Moment, and those volunteers had the town functioning again in a few days.”
The 1973 Brighton Tornado showed the power of nature and also the power of community. The residents of the time worked together to recover from it, and I think they would be proud of the residents who, 50 years later, assisted stranded motorcyclists when the Christmas Super Snowstorm of 2022 shut down the roads along with Lake Ontario, showing how the legacy of their neighbourly support after a storm has been passed on to the next generation of Brightonians.