By Lisa Boonstoppel-Pot
This summer, there was a tornado to the left and to the right of the Frayne Farm on Highway 21 near Kingsbridge but on September 7, a tornado came directly at the farm. It destroyed a pig barn, an old bank barn, a silo and two grain bins while seriously damaging a shed on this cash crop operation owned by Gene and Megan Frayne.
Thankfully, the storm spared their commanding home which stood solid while Megan and the couple’s four daughters stayed safe in the basement. Gene stood in the sunroom watching the storm when the windows were suddenly blasted with insulation. He knew the pig barn was gone.
It was a shocking scenario for the young couple and in the days since, tears have been shed as they cope with the stressful situation. This farm was worked by both Gene’s father and grandfather so there are many memories here. Yet both Gene and Megan cannot express enough thanks for a community that has rallied behind them, spending hours and days cleaning up the mess.
The Rural Voice chatted with Megan on the day a crane was carefully taking down the elevator of the farm’s drying operation. Two grain bins were destroyed and two remained standing, though Gene suspects they will have to come down because of the twisting action of the wind. Remnants of the old bank barn were smoking and steel from the barn and shed still littered the soybean field across the road. Insulation from the pig barn is plastered everywhere...on the house, the trees and even the garden plants. The kids’ tree house blew into the field and many trees have jagged limbs.
Megan remembers the day of the storm. “We had looked at the radar and saw purple so we knew something bad was coming,” says Megan, sitting on the deck, having retrieved the patio couch from the neighbouring field. “I took the cushions off the chairs, put the chairs down and moved the plants inside.” She and Gene were in the sunroom and Megan thought it was time to take the girls, who had just come home from school, to the basement. Gene didn't want to unduly frighten their daughters but when the power started to flicker, Megan and the girls went to safety. Megan watched the storm from a north side window, seeing a dark blue sky while the sky to the south was white.
“I saw branches go by, the patio furniture flying and the gator in the field,” she recalls.
Upstairs, Gene was still in the sunroom watching the storm come in when his view was blocked as insulation plastered the windows. “That’s the pig barn gone,” he remembers thinking.
Jesse Vermeltfoort. a 16-year-old employee was in the barn when tornado winds struck! The Goderich highschool student worked at the farm every day after school and he was doing the barn chores when he noticed the wind pick up. He looked outside through the barn curtains and saw a funnel cloud almost touching the ground. “It was at the treetops, coming off the lake,” remembers Jesse. Suddenly rain started coming in sideways through the barn. “Like, it literally went right through the barn, not touching the ground or anything.”
Realizing he should seek shelter, Jesse ran into the utility room where workers change and take shower. “I knew the barn would take off like a kite so I got into the shower room and I could hear the wind pick up badly,” he says. He put on his helmet and goggles, hoping to protect his head and eyes. The shower curtains fell down and then it got “pretty bad” says Jesse. “The wall in the shower room started to cave in and a hole opened up in the roof. I could see steel flying all over. It started to rain inside and then it was over.”
Jesse went outside where he saw Gene coming to check on him. “He told me everything was done and I saw that everything was totaled and flattened. The whole barn, except where I was, was flat.” Unbelievably, Jesse didn’t have a scratch on him though, unfortunately, he is out of a job at the moment.
Of the 700 pigs that were in the barn, only two died during the storm.
The pig barn can be replaced (the foundation is still good) but it will be harder to replace an old bank barn that was moved closer to the house from the lake in the 1990s. The historical barn provided shelter to two ponies, a few cattle and chickens making it a focal point for the family. Gene is fascinated by local history so losing the barn was an emotional blow for him. During a quick chat at the barn, where Gene was working with volunteers helping in the cleanup, he said he hopes to find and purchase another bank barn to move to the farm but right now, the focus is on cleaning up.
A whole chunk of the shed blew off across the road and sheets of twisted steel are still in the field while its owner figures out whether to clean it up or combine first.
Much of the damage was covered by Global News when a reporter drove by just after the storm passed. The Kingsbridge community and surrounding farmers recognized the Frayne farm and soon help started pouring in. Local businesses donated coffee and food while neighbours and friends came and immediately started making piles of the debris by hand or with loaders and tractors.
Neither Megan or Gene can fathom the support. Gene got emotional when asked what he wanted to say. “The support from the community and from a huge area, well, I just can’t believe it. People have been here all day, every day, since it happened. I'm just so thankful.” As clean up progresses, plans are being made and Gene says while it has been stressful, everything that was damaged can be fixed. He’s just so glad his family is safe and no one in the path of the storm was hurt. “Now we just have to drive on.”
Megan feels the same. She talks of the father and son who came. The son, not even 10 years old, worked the whole day shovelling grain. The shed was patched up in days. “It's a great reminder of how lucky we are to live here,” says Megan.
At the time this article was written, the storm hasn’t yet been confirmed as a tornado but the damage certainly suggests it. The Frayne farm was hit hardest but many neighbours experienced damage as well. Trees were uprooted, branches broken and more old barns lost pieces of their roofs. Still, no one was hurt and the community is rallying together. For this, the Fraynes couldn’t be more thankful. ◊