A Tragic Beginning …

From the Swift Current (Saskatchewan) Sun, June 5, 1914, quote, “Mrs. Wood, the wife of the Baptist minister at Aneroid lost her life on Monday last, when their house was burned. The home took fire in the middle of the afternoon and Mrs. Wood was caught in the blaze. She ran into the open air, the wind fanning the flames which enveloped her. James Benson, who helped carry her to the hospital told the Sun of the great agony she suffered until death relieved her at nine in the evening. The cause of the fire is unknown.”

We know from this report, and from the death registration, that Elizabeth Wood died on June 1st of 1914, Later accounts of the tragedy describe how she was filling an oil lamp, using gasoline in error, and caused an explosion. That account is not confirmed by news accounts of the day. Consider also that it was summer with long hours of daylight. No matter, the outcome was awful, with only one thankful outcome. A neighbour rescued Wood’s five-year-old daughter, Annie, from the burning house.

Reverend George, with little Annie, went to be with his brother then living in Alberta. He also must have found some solace with his close sister Janet who was then living in Calgary. Janet was also a Deaconess at Knox Presbyterian. She might have helped George out of his deep grief by playing some role in creating a mission assignment for her brother – to travel to Innisfail. Alberta and to establish an orphanage for children.

What we know for certain, from her archived letters, is that presumably in the late summer of 1915, she traveled by train from Calgary to Innisfail. On that train, she met a lady who was going in for surgery, and who had not idea of what to do with her infant girl. Janet offered to take the child until the  mother recovered. Also accompanying Janet was the first employee,whom she had hired for the new home.

Janet met George at the Innisfail station and presented him with his first ward, his first worker and a gift of a ten dollar donation. The orphan home was underway. There was one more remarkable event that happened before the orphan home opened its doors on January 1, 1916. While strolling the streets of Innisfail, George happened on a distraught soldier, Thomas Porter, who had lost his wife, was about to ship out overseas and had no idea of what to do with his children, five-year-old Willie and two-year old Mary. He poured out his troubles. George listened, and then offered to take the two. Thus, the first two longer-term wards came into care at the founding orphan home.

The rest of this remarkable story, the history of such, is laid out in two timelines which can be accessed by clicking on the links just below. It is an epic story with tragedy, triumph and conflicts aplenty. The legacy of service to young people continues to this day in the great work done by the successor organization, the Wood’s Homes in Calgary.

Link to a timeline of events in the history of the Wood’s Christian Home click Here.  W.C.H.-Timeline-of-History-Events (12) docx

Link to a timeline of staff and other people click Here W.C.H. Historical Timeline of Staff and Others.

NOTE: To historians 0r graduate students. As part of a personal project to explore the history of the Wood’s Christian Home  J. Richard Nickel and this writer collaborated for some two years on research. This was our contribution to the 100th anniversary of the home. Dick did the lions share of research, and it is he who located, remarkably, the living descendants – in England – of the first children in care.  We were much encouraged and supported by our good friend Perry Davis. There is a mass of documents and other information, which could be shared with any historian or writer wanting to create something more professional.

Acknowledgments: For their support and vital archival work we thank the Glenbow Museum Archives,  the Mountainview Museum and Archives, at Olds, Alberta and also the Bowness Historical Society. See also photo credits in About This Site. All images on this site are protected by copyright. Reproduced here courtesy of and with permission from the Glenbow Archives.