Monday marks a sombre day in Edmonton’s history. It’s been 30 years since Black Friday.
On July 31, 1987, 27 people were killed and hundreds injured when an F-4 tornado ripped through the Capital Region, leaving a 37-kilometre path of destruction behind it.
The tornado left a 37-kilometre path of destruction behind it as it carved its way through east Edmonton and Strathcona County.
Fifteen people were killed in the Evergreen Mobile Home Park in northeast Edmonton, where about 200 of the homes were destroyed. Another 12 people were killed along Refinery Row. Another 600 people were injured in the storm and hundreds of people were left homeless.
Dale and Colleen Oliver remember it like it was yesterday.
“It’s still emotional. I remember it very vividly,” Colleen said, describing the devastation as something she wouldn’t wish on her worst enemy. “It’s always with you.”
“It was total devastation. It was overwhelming,” Dale said, the emotions still raw 30 years later.
The couple and their four children, all under the age of six, lived in northeast Edmonton at the time. Dale left the city early that Friday morning for a car show in Saskatoon, while his wife went to work. The kids were out at the lake with Colleen’s sister.
Watch below: Thirty years after what’s become known as Black Friday, Edmontonians who lived through the deadly tornado are still haunted by the viciousness unleashed by Mother Nature. Quinn Ohler has the story of a family who lost almost everything.
Colleen had hoped to leave work early to join her kids at the lake, but wasn’t able to. Shortly after 4 p.m., she heard on the radio homes had been lost. Then she received a call from her neighbour.
“She goes, ‘Are you coming home after work?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I’m going to stop and then go to the lake.’ and she said, ‘Well don’t bother, you have nothing to come home to.'”
Their family home was destroyed.
“There was nothing. I had the hallway and three quarters of the wall at the back.”
The next morning, Dale made the trip back to Edmonton to see the devastation firsthand.
“The one part that really broke me down was my son, who was the oldest of four kids we have… he said, ‘Dad, we haven’t lost everything. We still got this.’ And he picked up a Hot Wheels toy… and I just bawled like a baby. It’s still emotional,” he said, holding back tears.
“Watching him do that… It was just the innocence of children. It was just amazing.”
While their home was destroyed, the couple knew it could have been much worse.
“My kids could have been in that house,” Colleen said.
The days and weeks that followed were tough and trying, Colleen said, but the community support was incredible.
“You know you come from a good city when people are down and out and there were so many donations,” she said. “It helped us a lot… I really appreciated it.”
The Olivers moved into a rented townhouse and vowed to rebuild. They were back in their home by their son’s seventh birthday on Dec. 14, 1987, the same house the couple still calls home.
“You have to have inner strength and just battle through what happens to you. If something happens, there’s nothing you can do. What’s done is done and we have to keep going,” Dale said.
“You can’t be prepared for it. It’s an act of nature, God or whatever. And you just have to step back and go, ‘We can get through this.’ Hold the family close and tight and just keep moving forward.”
The tornado was one of the most devastating disasters in Canada’s history. It ultimately led to better warning systems.
Watch below: Edmonton Fire Chief Ken Block was a seven-year veteran of the fire department on Black Friday. He recalls being deployed to southeast Edmonton, and touches on how emergency preparedness has changed over the past 30 years.
Watch below: On the 30th anniversary of the day a deadly tornado ripped through Edmonton, Gord Steinke spoke with Norm Sutton, a platoon chief at Strathcona County Emergency Services, who was on the job that day in 1987.