Aftermath of Black Friday tornado united Clareview residents in purpose

For most Edmontonians, Black Friday began with an afternoon of green, rolling clouds and ended with shaky video of the tornado’s path on the 11 p.m. news.

Along that path, residents of Clareview saw something different. Splintered timber lay across the blocks nearest the river.

While the Edmonton tornado of July 31, 1987, resulted in devastating loss to those in Clareview, the rebuild gave the community a sense of camaraderie it didn’t have before.

“It was a lot of shock, a lot of, just, people didn’t know where to go, what to do,” said long time resident Jody Zenko.

Zenko lived on 20th Street in Bannerman in northeast Clareview.

Jody Zenko said the tornado and its aftermath was traumatic, but ultimately brought her neighbours closer together. (Patrick Connolly/CBC)

During the storm, she and her family, away on vacation, received a panicked call from relatives.

“They said the house was gone,” Zenko said. “It wasn’t gone. But there was a lot of damage.”

The tornado had driven a boat into the home, leaving a gash in the roof. 

Sunday mass was packed

Father Mike McCaffrey, parish priest at St. John Bosco Catholic Church, recalls being in the church at the time.

“I was really worried about the church,” McCaffrey said. “I remember one comment, they said the safest place is under the doorway. So I stood in the doorway.”

The church was spared and, two days later, Sunday mass was packed. CBC televised the mass, which served as a makeshift memorial service.

While no lives were lost in Clareview, the nearby Evergreen Mobile Home Park was decimated, with 15 people in the community killed.

“I had three microphones in my pocket from three different radio stations wanting to know what I was going to say in my homily,” McCaffrey said. “I was worried my pants would fall off.”

The rebuild started almost immediately after the storm. Jody Zenko recalled the community looking like a construction site, and it was then she saw the community forming a bond it didn’t have before Black Friday.

While she and her family waited for their roof to be repaired, a family in the area let them stay in a new RV, rent free.

“Our insurance company went to pay them and they gave the money to their church,” Zenko said. “They said they couldn’t take money from someone’s misfortune.”

Gift of time and beer

As people worked on their homes that summer, a neighbour pedalled around on her bike with a basket full of beer, Zenko remembered.

“She sat on the step and offered her time and the gift of a bottle of beer,” Zenko said. “She sat with you and chatted while you had a rest. And then off she went.”

The Zenkos have since moved from Clareview to a smaller house. Zenko said the experience of the tornado and its aftermath was traumatic, but ultimately brought her neighbours closer.

“It’s home,” Zenko said. “You can take the girl out of Clareview, but you can’t take the Clareview out of the girl.”

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