BY LINDA MONDOUX
Goderich, the Lake Huron town whose social, cultural and commercial heart was ripped out by a powerful F3 tornado on Aug. 21, is slowly on the mend, thanks to an outpouring of support from across the globe.
“Our strength is that people care,” Mayor Delbert (Deb) Shewfelt tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com, relating the story of a letter that came in the mail from a man from England who had once visited Goderich and recalled how nice it was. He enclosed a cheque for $200 to help with the rebuilding. “That gives us strength when you get support like that from so far away,” the mayor adds.
Shewfelt, who has served as mayor of Goderich for 22 years, is remarkably optimistic for the future of his town, despite the incredible personal and financial loss inflicted on it by one of the most powerful tornadoes to hit Ontario in a decade. “As we move on, we have to look now that here is a fantastic opportunity to do things better,” the mayor says, adding that the cleanup is almost over and some rebuilding has begun.
Although all roads are now open and the majority of businesses are back in operation in some form, there is much work ahead for Goderich, the community of 8,000 known as “Canada’s Prettiest Town” for its heritage downtown core and tree-filled Courthouse Square and park at the centre of it all:
• More than a dozen businesses and about 30 homes, including heritage properties, are or will be demolished in and around the downtown core;
• Courthouse Square was devastated, with businesses forced to close, relocate or operate out of trailers (including the courthouse and a bank), affecting jobs and causing stress and inconvenience.
• Several people were left homeless, including mostly young people in apartments above stores, though all have since found temporary shelter, thanks mostly to Good Samaritans.
• Courthouse Park, part of the square, is unrecognizable. Three trees remain of the 90 that provided shade and character to the famous square before the tornado.
“The damage is unbelievable,” says Shewfelt. “We had visitors come to see for themselves, after watching reports on the news, and they couldn’t believe their eyes once they were standing in front of it.”
The town is hiring planning and landscape architect consultants to develop a master plan for the redevelopment of the downtown core, along with a landscape design for Courthouse Park, home to Goderich’s many festivals and social gatherings, including the Festival of Lights. The downtown design guide is to maintain the core as an anchor and “people place” and consider a mix of housing alternatives, all while taking the town’s existing heritage plans into account.
Should we create our own heritage?
“There is a debate of whether we copy what was there or create our own heritage,” Shewfelt acknowledges, adding that the master plan is designed to settle that question with a vision that is shaped with the help of public input from the community.
The forced rebuilding, the mayor says, offers opportunities — such as the replacement of the town’s ancient sewers — that will pay off in the future. Shewfelt says Goderich also has the chance to plan for more apartments above downtown commercial spaces, something that can only strengthen the core. “Once we have a plan for rebuilding the streetscape, we will go after federal and provincial funds,” he says.
While the downtown redevelopment master plan won’t be completed until April 30, 2012, the landscape design is expected to be in the town’s hands in time to replace in spring the trees in Courthouse Park that were wiped out by the tornado. Shewfelt says the town has a healthy tree fund, thanks to a donation of $180,000 from Bruce Power and $50,000 from the City of London. The cost for one mature tree is about $2,500.
Tornado damage is in the millions of dollars. The Insurance Bureau of Canada reported a preliminary figure of $75 million in insurable damage alone. The toll, however, is much higher. Many tenants had no insurance and lost everything. And insurance won’t pay to rebuild those two-storey heritage façades that Goderich is famous for.
That’s where local fundraising comes in. The Goderich & Area Disaster Relief Committee, a group of local, non-government people established to raise funds and administer claims for financial assistance not covered by insurance, will receive $2 from the Ontario government for every dollar raised.
“We’re at about $2 million raised so far,” says Tom Jasper, the retired dentist who heads up the disaster relief committee’s fundraising arm. “In the end, we hope to have a total of $10 million including the matching dollars.”
Donations have come from “every source you can imagine,” he says. There have been church fundraisers, donations from children’s birthday parties and benefit concerts, along with individual gifts of money and corporate donations. There’s even a “I Love Goderich” mitten campaign. And while Goderich isn’t in the headlines as much these days, the majority of the donations continue to come from beyond the town’s borders.
“It’s absolutely amazing the people who have a soft spot in their heart for Goderich,” Jasper tells MyNewWaterfrontHome.com. “We’ve had donations come in from all over Canada, the United States and beyond from people who had visited us in the past, or who once lived here or knew someone who did. We’re also getting a lot of support from our summer residents.”
Send a cheque to help Goderich rebuild
The disaster relief committee will wrap up its fundraising on Dec. 1 in order to begin handing out financial aid before Christmas. The fund, however, will remain open after that date — no cheques will be turned down! If you would like to support the fund, please address your cheque to the Goderich & Area Disaster Relief and mail or deliver to:
Goderich Town Hall
57 West St.
The largest individual donation to come out of the tornado disaster is from former Goderich area resident Marcy McCall MacBain, who now lives in Geneva, Switzerland with her husband John. Through their McCall MacBain Foundation, the couple has donated $100,000 cash, with up to another $200,000 if matched by funds raised. The funds are earmarked specifically for “heritage retention and restoration for the ‘built’ and ‘natural’ environment of the community.”
“I am particularly fond of Goderich, and I treasure its wonderful Western Ontario heritage,” she says in a release announcing the donation. “The Foundation wishes to provide leverage funding to support the restoration of the built heritage of Goderich — its wonderful inventory of treasured architecture — as well as its natural heritage elements — in particular, the magnificent treescape — and any related undertakings to recapture that very special essence of the community that has been lost in the recent horrific environmental catastrophe.”
The EdgeFund has been created to administer the special program, which is now focused on lending support to projects that “commit to restore our damaged community from three perspectives: built, natural and cultural heritage. Together, these three strands can be interwoven to create what our initial benefactor has described as the ‘essence of Goderich.’ ”
On the heritage front, the EdgeFund is assessing, in order of priority, buildings damaged by the tornado that should be rebuilt. It will provide grants to the owners for heritage restoration work that is not covered under insurance or by claims through the disaster relief fund.
On the cultural front, EdgeFund, through various community projects, hopes to show “that Goderich is still here, under the broken branches, bricks and rubble, and although it’s been bruised and battered and may not look the same, its essence is unchanged.”
One of those projects, initiated by Mark Hussey and Randall Lobb, co-owners of FauxPop Media in Goderich, is the Out of the Storm benefit concert series designed to raise money for the EdgeFund endeavour. The first concert, held on Oct. 8 in Courthouse Square, featured 12 hours of continuous music from performers including Serena Ryder, Matthew Good and Downchild Blues Band. The concert and auction raised a whopping $100,000.
Hussey and Lobb are also working on two other fundraisers: Out of the Storm
, a book of photographs and stories contributed by the community; and Out of the Storm
, the documentary.
Christmas parade, Festival of Lights going ahead
While most of the storm damage was concentrated in the downtown core, the tornado, which struck at 4 p.m. only 12 minutes after Environment Canada issued a warning and packed winds of up to 320 km/h, stayed on the ground for about 20 kilometres, with a significant funnel 500 metres wide. Hit hard was the Sifto Salt mine on the waterfront, where one employee died. Damage was so significant that Sifto, Goderich’s largest employer, was forced to close its salt mine and evaporator plant for several weeks.
It’s been tough on everyone.
“We’re going through a sad phase now,” says Jasper. “But we have to be optimistic that we can rebuild better than ever.”
To keep things as normal as possible, the annual Christmas parade and Festival of Lights will be held as usual this year, though the Square won’t have as many trees on which to hang lights and decorations (evergreens in wire baskets will fill in). The theme for this year’s parade and tree-lighting events, which will be held Nov. 18-19, is “Heart Light — The Spirit of Goderich Still Shines Bright.”
If you’re in the area, drop by and join in the festivities. And don’t forget to bring a cheque. Then plan to come back and visit in the spring and bring your friends. Goderich’s economy needs its tourists back. As Jasper points out, “This is the first phase of rebuilding the town. The need won’t go away after this fundraising.”
To keep in touch with what’s happening in Goderich, and who is holding fundraising events (like the mitten campaign), check out the Goderich Ontario Tornado Victims and Support
page on Facebook.
MyNewWaterfrontHome.com — November 2011