Thursday, April 3, 2014

Windsor Curling Club 40 years after the disaster

Today marks 40 years since one of the saddest days in curling. 

On April 3, 1974, a tornado touched down in Windsor, Ont., and hammered the Windsor Curling Club, killing eight people (a ninth died later) and injuring 30. According to this story in the Windsor Star, many of the survivors, including Bill Snelgrove, are still haunted by that evening. 

"It was the clap of thunder, and then I saw the wall," said Snelgrove, who was frozen with fear by thunderstorms for years later. "It was almost like in slow motion. You hear people say that things slow up? It was like that."The falling wall of large commercial-sized cinder blocks consumed his friend and dropped almost right at his feet."The bricks just took my feet out from underneath me, slid me down the rest of the ice," said Snelgrove.

The tornado, one of the strongest ever to hit Canada, came across an open area and hit the back wall of the curling club, smashing the cinderblock wall and sending blocks tumbling down onto the ice. It was an odd end which meant that it was mostly skips who were killed. Had it been an even end, it's likely the death toll would have been higher. 

Louise Gulak, who injured her leg, went back the next day to see the horror.

She was horrified. She was in shock. But mostly, she was in disbelief. The next day, Gulak had her brother take her back. She limped up to the edge of the building on crutches. She had to see it for herself. 
"The weird thing was that all of the brooms, they were still all hanging on the wall," said Gulak. "It was strange. The brooms were about the only thing still in place."

I was a member at the Windsor CC about five years after the accident and there wasn't a person there who didn't have a story to tell or a memory about the accident. 

The horrors didn't end with that night. Over the span of a couple days, there were eight funerals. Gulak attended them on crutches. 
"Even now that I'm talking about it, it was unbelievable that we went through that," said Gulak, who remarried years later. 
"Those were all our friends that were killed, too. I don't know how we survived it. I just don't know, but we did. It was a very horrible thing that happened to the city. It changed our lives forever."

It was a sad day for curling, especially for the families of the victims who perished. Many of those people are still my friends and most returned to curling, which shows the strength of the game and the community. 

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