Sarnia’s forgotten tornado of 1879

Damage from the tornado of 1879 is evident on the storefronts of the C. Mackenzie company on Front Street, which sold stoves, plumbing and copperwork. John Rochon Collection

John Rochon

Most Sarnians know of the devastating tornado that struck on May 21, 1953, causing extensive damage throughout the city. But few people know of a tornado that struck Sarnia and the surrounding area on Friday, July 11, 1879.

Around 10 a.m. a terrible storm of wind and rain hit the town and lasted about 30 minutes.  The sound of the wind battering the buildings was described as being like salvos of artillery. Most of the damage occurred downtown.

“Scarcely a building on Front street, from the Alexander House to George street, but showed some marks of the violence of the storm,” the Sarnia Observer reported.

“The chief damage seems to have fallen upon the large three-storey brick store and warerooms of C. Mackenzie & Co. The building was unroofed, the upper part of the front wall blown in, and the window front shattered …”

The slate roof of Our Lady of Mercy church was stripped off the north side. Other buildings had roofs torn off and windows and chimneys shattered. Large trees were uprooted and fences carried away.

In Point Edward, rail cars were blown off the tracks, the Grand Trunk elevator and warehouse were damaged, and the spire of St. Peter’s church was carried away.

No deaths were reported from the storm.

Other communities were also hit with severe weather that day included Port Huron, Petrolia, Strathroy, Sparta, Colchester, Highgate and Hamilton.

John Rochon is a Sarnian with a lifelong passion for local history