Big Winds Windsor - June 17, 1946

Southern Ontario is in pandemonium. On June 17, 1946, a killer tornado roars across the Detroit River, smashing homes in Windsor, Ont. At the time of this CBC Radio news report, power is still out and there's "an epidemic of looting." But nurses, truck drivers and boy scouts are all pitching in to help police. This report also features an eyewitness interview with one Mrs. A.L. Wheeler, a war bride who came to Canada three weeks ago, only to experience the country's third-deadliest tornado. Hear it Here

This is a story of our start in Canada in June 1946. There is a link near the bottom to an article my Mum wrote for me about her memory of this most tragic day. When I look at my life and talk with others about life I can truly share that I know there is a God and He has a plan. The fact that I am here writing this at 57 is proof enough for me. The three photos and the face Logo of Environment Canada I took from an article found on the Internet about that day. I often wonder what life for us would have been like or my life in particular. Would we have done anything different. Where we grew up, the trees we climbed, the Devonshire horse race track, so much would have been different.

Welcome to Canada! Sometimes when you have big plans you can never know how they will end up. When Mum met Dad, it was 1940 in war-torn England. They could have never known how their years would be. They were married in 1942. Peter and I were born two years apart. He in '44 and I in '46.

We came to Windsor, Ontario Canada via Halifax. The arrival in Windsor was a wonderful time. The Wheeler family, who had as yet never met my Mum or the two little boys she had in tow, felt it was time for a party. The Royal Canadian Legion Branch 12 also decided to honour their arrival. The party was a large affair about 100 family and friends. I would imagine, would have been repeated numerous times as so many war brides found their way to Canada.

Dad had a home for us in the county. The old house was a frame house with wood siding. There were three bedrooms upstairs. My Grand Parents, on Dad's side, had one room. Mum and Dad had one and a small one Peter had. My bed was the carry cot, which sat on a small table, Mum brought me in from England. Downstairs was a dinning room, living room, kitchen and a pantry. Sandwich East Township was on the very edge of Windsor, Ontario. Windsor took over Sandwich East in the late 50s. We lived until April 1968 at 856 3rd Concession. The 3rd Con. became the E.C. Rowe Expressway in the late 60s early 70s.

The area, when we moved there, was quite rural. To the west of our home was a farm field. A few hundred feet from the fence was the farm house. The Marentette family owned this property and had cows there. To the east was another house, then farmland beyond. North of our house, we had four house lots and then there was a small farm. Beyond that was the Grand Maris Ditch. Our house faced South and in front was the gravel road. Beyond the road was a large ditch and then more fields. This was a wonderful place to start and raise a family. It was also a great place to be a boy growing up. Trees to climb, ditches to play in, and not far away -- Devonshire Race Track!

Back to the start of the story. After the party, we would have gone home and been ready to work at getting to know Dad, the area, and this house. Dad was a security guard for Hiram Walkers Distillery in Windsor. A short time after the party, he went to work on this hot summer day. I can imagine him coming home and being glad his family would be there. Supper would be ready or at least being prepared.

I was in my bed crying, so Dad picked me up. I am not sure what Peter was doing, but at two years of age, he was probably looking for attention! A cousin, Faith Wheeler, who was about age 5 years, was there also. Her Dad, Edward Wheeler was my dad's only brother and died on the way to Dieppe. Mum was cooking supper and wondering about the loud noise from the kitchen window. "Close the window!" she shouted out to dad. He replied, "Here, take your baby!" and went to close the window. When he went to the window and looked out, he could not believe what he saw. About half a mile from our home, to the west, was a large railway yard and box cars were blowing off the tracks. "Hit the decks" dad shouted, and we did!

Well, what really happened next is open to speculation!!! The real fact is our house with us in it was taken up in a F4 tornado. Witnesses say it went up in the air, rolled around and on the way down crashed into house from next door. Both houses were totally destroyed. Mum had her clothes torn off and was burned from the cook stove. She says, "somehow, we ended up on a cement slab." Amazingly, no one in these two home's died. However, due to this tornado, 17 died and hundreds more in the area were injured.

The house was rebuilt a little bigger. I remember coming in the front door to a living room then a dinning room, a kitchen behind that. There were two bedrooms upstairs and two down and a full basement. There was a shed behind the house for storage. There were two large maple trees along the lot line for us to climb. There were four house lots to the rear where we spent many days playing and building things. My brother Paul, who is two years younger, and I even slept out in a tent one whole winter. Life was very good there and I have many fond memories.

Being just shy of 5 months old I have no personal memory of all this. Mum has said she feels it slowed me down. I am not sure in exactly which manner she meant it. I think maybe academically since in school I was never to excited. I for my part feel I am successful in the life I have had. I have a lovely wife two lovely daughters, grand children and a very good long term job. Some would say I should be more wary of how high I climb as I have a habit of falling and breaking thinks. The good part is I heal fast.

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