DUNROBIN – Matthew Bowen, in the apartment above the Heart and Soul Café, spent a few brief moments trying to open the apartment door to get out of the building when the class EF-3 tore through Dunrobin early Sept. 21 evening.
He and his roommate quickly switched tactics and then spent the next impossibly long eight seconds desperately trying to keep the door closed as the devastating tornado ripped through Dunrobin levelling everything in its path.
“I think that’s what kept our roof on,” Matthew told West Carleton Online Oct. 6 from the Heart and Soul Café on its first day open following the tornado.
While the building was intact, the property was knee deep in debris and tree branches. The yurt which housed the Heart and Soul Gift Shop was destroyed.
In 15 days, café owners Jim and Jodie Bowen, their family, friends, volunteers and their community cleared the debris, replaced the spoiled food, re-built, re-fixed and replaced everything they needed to in order to re-open their much-loved café.
It’s been a busy first day, post-tornado. Along with the regulars and new customers dropping by, the Bowens have hosted all the major area politicians and about five media outlets all looking to congratulate and share the story of triumph over adversary.
The Heart and Soul Café is the second Dunrobin area business to re-open following the tornado.
While they are happy to be working again, Jim is focused on the rest of his community.
“The first thing we did after the tornado moved through was check on our neighbours,” Jim said. “Matthew was running towards Porcupine Trail and I ran over to Cindy and Julie’s (Delahunt, the owners of the Dunrobin Meat and Grocery). I looked through their store and cold see sky out the back of the building.”
Jim says the Delahunts are some of the community’s most giving members. Their business was the village’s biggest employer.
“We worked hard so we could get people back to work,” Jim said. “We dodged some serious bullets, but we took a hit. The emotional trauma took a few days to sink in. We started cleaning immediately. We were knee deep in debris.”
Jim says the community’s reaction to the disaster has been incredible. People without houses were worried about how their neighbours were doing.
“Malwood Aggregate deserves a shout out,” Jim said. “They had every piece of equipment in town volunteering. They’ve been amazing.”
Although closed for business, Jodie and Jim had spent every day since the tornado providing complimentary coffee and sandwiches to first responders and volunteers all day. And then worrying about their own business all night.
“We’ve been working day and night culminating in Jodie going crazy last night worrying about opening today,” Jim said. “The support we’ve received from staff, customers, friends, family, even complete strangers, has been humbling.”
While Jim recognizes the symbolic importance of a community hub like Heart and Soul re-opening, he says this is the beginning, not the end, of a long journey ahead.
“Dunrobin still needs a lot of help,” he said. “There are people without jobs. Sammi’s, Dunrobin Meat and Grocery, those jobs are gone for the foreseeable future. There are 57 displaced families, a lot of them with young kids. They are still waiting for demolition permits – they haven’t even taken Step 1 yet.”
Jim recognizes a lot of Dunrobin residents are feeling the stresses of their situation mounting.
“The few families that have visited us are traumatized,” he said. “These people are still high on the stress curve and they don’t see a solution yet. We need to help these people. We need to start moving forward. We’re doing fine. We have a solution – a path forward. There’s a lot of people here who don’t yet and we need to help them.”