“Memory is dialogic (a discussion between two or more persons, especially ones having different views) and arises not only from direct experience but from the intercourse of many minds.” Oliver Sacks neurologist, naturalist, historian of science and author – 1933 -2015
I take this to mean is that all shared memories are valid. It is only uninhibited discussion which comes close to the truth about shared life experience. Memory is not exact. By being open, we get a larger picture and a kind of confirmation or balance. While false memory can be true, it is relatively rare and, as Sacks said in a footnote (“The River of Consciousness“), “… for the most part, our memories are relatively solid and reliable.”
Over the past ten years, we gathered the memories collected here at two reunions of former boys and girls, the most recent in 2016 at Olds, Alberta. A good number were also, in the last few years, shared on a website wiki, created by J.Richard Nickel – a fellow old boy – who has been a key to uniting us.
Some contributors wanted anonymity, whilst others seemed open to having their names attached. In the interests of privacy, and uniformity, all are nameless as to respondents. They are verbatim, though I relied on the Chicago manual of style and corrected any obvious typos or misspellings. In a few places, I have added commas to prevent misunderstandings. Throughout, to avoid being tedious I have left off quotation marks.
The memories have been, recognizing the shorter attention span in this digital age, selected for brevity. Some of the Homers are marvelous story tellers, so I apologize for not including their often evocative and funny recollections – the ones that ran to many words. I have grouped those selected, under a few titles. It is no accident that many of the most memorable recollection fall into the category of food or escapades (hi-jinks). So, enjoy this experience from long ago. Note that editors comments (mine and usually to clarify) are enclosed in brackets (thus).
To jump directly to any one subject, click on the sub-titles directly below. To return to this list, click your browsers back button. Here are the sub-titles:
“ (as to all hereafter. Ed.) I can honestly say that the time spent at the Wood’s Home was probably the best four years of my childhood. It was like having 100 brothers and sisters.
I loved to pay the piano. I would spend hours down there alone (the old basement assembly room. Ed.). Mr. Jeal having given me the key, and I would pour out all of my emotions through that piano. I learned to play by ear from my mother.
I remember being in the little girls’ dorm, four beds on each side, sitting straight up in bed at night and reciting our prayers; and also Miss Jones singing love songs to us to croon us to sleep. We just loved her!
I remember going to the circus, Ice Capades and taking skiing lessons at Paskapoo Hill.
I felt camaraderie with other kids that I had never experienced before.
In summary, my days as a Homer was a pleasant experience and my memories are very fond. It was a time of innocence and it shaped me to become a better person.
It was strange for a family of five to live in a place where boys and girls were segregated … Our parents both gone, we needed a place to call home. Our family could have been split up, but Woods Home allowed us to stay together.
There were many good times to remember. I was always chatty and there was always someone to talk to.
All in all, we children were well treated in the Home and made many good friends there and after we left there were times when we wished we were back there.
I believe we as Wood’s Kids, have much to be thankful for, and many people to thank, starting with Reverend George Wood, who did something that many of us wouldn’t. Arthur Jeal who taught me that I was now a part of something called the Wood’s family.
I remember many good times – the basketball team, bicycle trips to Banff and radium organized by Art Jeal – the Shetland pony … a tree house in the forest.
After we got walked back home the supervisor would have hot chocolate and maybe even cookies ready and waiting.
The “grounds” all around the Home were always alive with gorgeous colours, the air in “the woods” had a strong pungent aroma my mind can still smell…. and the leaves on the ground were wet so they didn’t make any noise when you walked on them.
I had lots of great friends there and good time, it is just the trauma that I had to deal with it time gets to point that’s seems it is more than I can bear. It has become more difficult as I have gotten older.
… saw (Name of boys’ supervisor redacted – Ed.) walking down the path past our fort holding the hand of a little girl around 6 years old. He stopped close by and made her take all her clothes off …. Some kids told me a number of weeks later, or maybe it was a month or two, that he had been arrested by the police for molesting a little girl in NW Calgary.
There was so much garbage that went on in there, and so few that tried to help us kids, I think it was just a paycheck for many of them. There were some good ones the teachers at the school…
I hate talking about because it brings all back to the surface, but if it helps one person in the Woods Family… then so be it.
Engelke would take out the 3rd type of strap,,, it was about 2 ½ feet long,,, ¾ of an inch wide and about 3/8th of an inch think much like a dog collar,,,, each boy who was in line at the clothes room door,,, would come in one or 2 at a time,,,, he would have stand with your hand our to you side arm fully extended straight out from your shoulder hand face up,,,, he would draw back the long strap like a whip hit you as hard as he could,,, so the strap would run the full length of your hand and arm,,,,each strike left a quarter inch welt raised on your on the entire length of your hand…(Copied verbatim from contributor’s statement “I am number 44” – name withheld, but a former ward of the province and by his testimony most abused boy, to my knowledge. Ed.)
My mother worked there for a while when myself and my two older brothers were in the upper dorms. I think they got rid of her because she didn’t like the way children were sometimes treated. I remember crying a lot and missing my mother. I think I was a sucky kid.
Yes, he was the ear-pincher – just ask (Name redacted. Ed.) about that – I think his ear is still deformed! He also used the bamboo cane quite a lot!
And the upper dorm boys – the big guys – took me there, and they knocked over the toilet (Pit toilet for workers at the new school construction site. Ed.) They put a rope around my shoulders – under my shoulders, and they pushed me into the hole.
A statement made to me, when I moved in, was, “I didn’t have to cry, because everything would be alright now.” Well it wasn’t. I should have been given permission to grieve, and it was many years later that my siblings and I would have to learn that process.
(On an occasion later in my adult life… ed.) I also had the opportunity to meet the father of four siblings who had lived in the Woods Home when we were there. It was then I learned about the horrors of what had gone on in the boys’ dorms.
Sir would come down to the lower boys dorm,,, and take me out of bed 8 pm right when the upper boys dorm was going to bed,,, and lower boys dorm was already asleep,,, he would take me out of my bed,,, and into the living room in the center of the dorms and sit with me in of the vinyl arm chairs with me on his lap… (as above, 4th shared, from the statement, “I am number 44.” Ed.)
Though it seemed all was well at the time, years later we realized some of the things that were done should not have happened. I was able to work through these situations with help from my God, my family and a special friend.
The usual discussion took place. Was the strap harder or easier to take if you soaped your hands?
I would like to mention running the gauntlet, which was used for initiation and peer group discipline before they were outlawed by the home. …. the guys used boards with nails, chains, ropes, willows, belts and anything generally near at hand. (supposedly.The writer was alluding to exaggeration of stories handed down in the home. ed.) …. really bad kids would have to crawl through the legs of the paddlers, instead of being allowed to run the length of the file. (On a number of occasions, I witnessed the use of locker doors, web belts, pant belts and pillows. The boss boy allowed me to run, that is sprint and dive, for my initiation to the upper dorm. Ed.)
…they held you down… your pants and underwear wear taken down and you were bent over the bed frame,,, the boys held you… he would then wind up with razor strap and strike you on the bare bottom as hard as he could the number of dozen you were listed for…
He was the one who Mrs. Skar, our big, washer woman, had backed and lifted up against the wall; with a one-handed choke hold on his throat when she saw what he was doing to kids in the shower room.
When I was a first there I had a little bear named pumpkin head made of rubber, brown with yellow hair. It was about a foot high – and very important to me – because it was the last thing my mother had given me at Christmas before she died in the car accident. I found it out melted by the incinerator,,,, my brother told me, sir (meaning boys’ supervisor Engelke. Ed.) had burned it, because he didn’t think boys should have dolls… (As extracted verbatim from the mentioned victim impact statement, “I am number 44” dated July 8, 2009. This boy entered the home as a nine-year-old in September of 1959. Ed.)
Spud feeds – on campfires made in the backwoods; spuds pilfered from root cellar or garden raids baked in the coals or sliced & fried in our pots/pans; could use bull rush bulbs as potato substitute – bitter tasting; lard & salt pilfered from kitchen.
Kitchen – climbing through the window transom above the door into the pantry to pilfer slices of white bread.
White sugar. I can remember saving up nickels and going in with some other boys to buy a whole box of sugar cubes down at the store on the corner, and how carefully we divvied it up…
Breakfast: Bowl of Sunny Boy Cereal with a dollop of mystery jam in the middle, accompanied by a slice of dry toast graced with a small puddle of corn syrup.
We lined up into the kitchen, being required to carry a corner of bread with us. They popped the gruesome oil in and you had to chew the bread and swallow in front of the matron.
To this day, I cannot look at or eat cream of wheat or porridge. May have had something to do with being on the “pots” detail in the kitchen for months.
I remember cream of wheat with lumps in it. I never even tried it again until I was at least 50, …
If someone didn’t show up for the meal, the rest of us at the table ate as fast as we could in hopes that we might get a chance to get some of the extra. Telling gross stories to try to make your table mates lose their appetites was another good way to possibly get a bite or two more.
I don’t remember ever seeing an egg, except for the wild bird eggs we found and cooked with our spud meals over campfires in the backwoods.
Supper was usually a watery soup with chunks of potato, turnip, parsnip, carrots and maybe squash.
I remember coming away from most meals still hungry, then of raiding gardens at night for new spuds, peas in the pod and young carrots, and looking for Saskatoon bushes.
The worst thing I ever ate in the Home was a half a white onion (good medium size) boiled in milk.
Sometimes, the bread had little oval mold spots – green and blue.
Eggs we got twice a year – Easter and Christmas. (Eggs from the chicken coop were destined for the staff room table. Ed.)
Some kids tried to sneak out the worst stuff and we used to conceal bread in our shirts. I can eat and gag at the same time but that was only woody turnip in late winter.
We used to put white sugar – when we could steal some – onto white bread slices – our idea of gourmet fare.
Sucking tapioca beads between your pressed lips
The horror of stringy hard fibers in boiled turnip
Neapolitan ice cream on Saturday, and the misery of being denied it cause some jerk wouldn’t own up
The Hutterites …. supplied the Home with truckloads of vegetables in the fall, potatoes, carrots and turnips chief among them. They were stored in the root cellar with its white duck boards and fenced vegetable bins.
I had intolerance or maybe just a dislike for eggs at the time but was told I had to eat them. I used to wrap them in my napkin and flush them down the toilet.
I haven’t had ice cream with candied fruit since I left (likely unsold product after the Christmas period and kindly donated to the Wood’s in the dark days of January. We would have loved it. Ed.), and Welsh rarebit will never be on the menus of foods I choose to eat. (For the uninitiated, Welsh Rarebit – known also as Welsh Rabbit or blushing bunny – does not contain rabbit. It was likely ground beef, mixed with cheese, mustard and Worchestershire sauce. This mixture served over toast. We did have rabbits for a time, but I think there main use was to eat kitchen scraps – mainly potato and carrot peelings. Ed.)
Butter came to the Home in the form of magnificent butter boxes. Wood boxes that had finger joints. Alas, butter was for the staff room or for baking, certain cooking. Margarine then was white, awful!
Indeed we were always hungry. It seemed, and as mentioned by someone, we would trade doing someone’s chores or making his bed for bread.
A hapless cadet marched with the realization that one puttee was unraveling and trailing a long hazard behind him. The following cadet tried desperately to avoid stepping on the thing, because if he did so it would cause the agonizing one in front to halt suddenly, losing balance, and perhaps cause them all to collapse …
Two would be runaways stole a crate of whitefish off the delivery truck and stashed it up in the woods – behind the school. They intended it as food supply for their escape. Turns out, their planned getaway had to be aborted (one got chickenpox maybe) or delayed somehow – I forget which. Anyways, the ice thaws and you could smell the rotten fish all over the grounds.
Building forts and even burning one down.
Swings – in the playground and trying to go 360 degrees around the top horizontal pole in a way that would terrify most mothers.
Several of us boys smoked. We used to pool our fifteen cents allowance and buy a pack of ciggies – twenty nine cents in those days. We’d bury them in special places in the woods. Sneak out after morning chores and before school for a quick puff.
Arm pit farts – the louder the better Sling shots – using discarded inner tubes from the dump Shoe skiing – pry heel off good shoes so only leather on shoe bottoms, then ski down the ice bumps…
Words of warning – Cheese-it; Jiggers; commonly used when a supervisor or adult was approaching.
Old Man Ely Whitney – shooting rock salt at us from a shotgun to chase us away near the dump.
Cannot remember how many fish we cleaned but it would be in the hundreds of pounds. Also when the bakery van came we got day old buns for the rabbits. No, they never saw them as the boys had a feast
Then there were the crow’s feet that we received five cents per pair. Someone found out that they were thrown out at the back of the school. You can guess what happened then. We were paid again.
The dumb kid that got bit by a muskrat, while playing down at the lagoon, might have been a worthy contribution. (To memories. Ed.)
Blueing came in cotton sacks. That was cubes (?) of intense blue powder that was used for whites (In the laundry room. Ed.). We used to dab it on the girl’s noses. It was an effective remedy for bee stings.
Halloween was always a fun time, because they had set a boundary up to Bowness Road that we could not go past so we would do the circuit, come back, change costumes and then go again.
… we were all standing and waiting to say grace in the dining room and after a while (one of the boys. ed.) said out loud, “Are we waiting for the second coming of Christ?” Mr. Vigas got real mad and disciplined…
We took the tarantula (fake one. ed.) and placed it under one of the bowls on the girls table. You should have seen the commotion when the tarantula was revealed…
One fine morning, a number of us got up before anyone else and took the 14 chickens (the home had a chicken coop at the time. ed.) and released them in the main administration building and the girl’s dorm.
… we had a game of sneaking into the girls’ dorm on what we called a ‘panty raid’. Any article of clothing would do for bragging rights.
I convinced( a girl) to enter the tractor tire and told her it would be a fun trip down the hill. …. When the tire hit the fence (at the bottom of the steep hillside below the home. Ed) it shot straight up into the air, ejecting the lone occupant into the bushes.
There was also a back entrance into a tool/mechanical room, which was used as a necking area.
I have very fond memories of the shack (skate shack by the rink. Ed.) – Great necking location.
I also remember a time when the big boys hung up (name redacted. Ed.) by his arms over the rafters, undid his belt, and as he moved, his pants slid down. I was appalled and run up the wood stairs…
One of the house parents (In the cottages built late in the life of the home. ed.) worked for a television station, and she was able to put some of us into a commercial for ‘Old Dutch Chips. We felt like superstars when we watched it.
We didn’t want the staff to know we had raided the garden, so we snuck into the First Aid Room (the infirmary or sick room. Ed.) and took a spoonful of cod liver oil to hide our onion breath.
Being chosen for the role of Sneezy (in the school production of Snow White. ed.) was exciting, but I was a natural with my allergies
We used to try to foul up the square (in the square dancing. Ed.) in the hopes that Miss Farrell would boot us off the square dance team.
I remember the boys put the end swings around the end posts (to secure them. Ed.) and then pumped the girls high as possible on the middle swings.
I never once saw girl’s underpants hanging up in the laundry. Playground was a different matter, since we had jungle climbing things, athletic girls and silly, naughty boys.
We used to have nauseating jokes about toe jam and runners. I don’t think we wore socks in the summer.
We used to filch clothespins quite a lot. Mainly as triggers for various (arrow) guns that we devised.
The thing I most recall was, as befits the general preoccupation with food in the Home, was the epic stories of who ate how many hotdogs and who after seven Dixie cups threw up in monumental fashion.
I remember getting a pair of new boots at the start of the school year. The next time my dad came to take me out to lunch he asked what happened to the tongues in the boots. A couple of the boys had made new slingshots apparently.
… frying worms on the cement rails of the building and daring, and possibly eating them on the dare.
I recall footprints in the snow, in the middle of winter nights, when the bigger boys went on moonlit excursions to see their girlfriends in the main building. (They breathtakingly scaled the roof of the laundry room and then vaulted through the conveniently left open window. Ed.)
School play of Snow White. I was Dopey. I was supposed to lead the dwarfs off the stage a certain way at the end of the play or something like that. I remember going the wrong way causing much confusion
On top of the hill to the South of the W.C.H., there were three other attractions to occupy our time (municipal trash, golf course and a ramshackle farm. Ed.). The most rewarding and enjoyable involved the Bowness refuse dump. We would spend hours going through the junk looking for red rubber inner tubes, sports hero pictures, from the Star Weekly and generally anything worth carting back to the home or to a fort in the woods. There were also flocks of seagulls to pitch rocks at and gophers to snare or smoke out of their holes. The garbage dump, or ‘sandpit’ as we referred to it, was probably responsible for ensuring us of immunity to many diseases as well.
If you were one on the rotating work list that got laundry for a month it was wonderful. Early Thursday morning all the sheets were stripped off the bed; you threw them all into the center of one sheet then cross tied corners , so you could carry them like Santa’s pack to the laundry.
… chores, the worst one in my mind was washing 50 pairs of socks that had been worn for a week by active children. This was done in the big laundry tub with some kind of a paddle. The water turned black and the terrible smell is as fresh in my mind today as it was 60 years ago.
Fish came every Friday – whitefish from Northern Alberta packed in wood crates with ice chips. We used to scale them and get blue hands.
The laundry was a super place to work in the winter, because it was warm.
We brought jeans in from the clothesline and they were frozen stiff. We carried them like stiff fish fillets racked up.
The job I remember best was scrubbing the long hallway on the main floor on my hands and knees. It had to be scrubbed with a stiff bristle brush until it was spotlessly clean.
That immense, gloomy attic was a magical store of board games and such. The place was also the Fort Knox of all the world’s crepe paper.
Who can ever forget our bi-annual dollop of Blackstrap molasses with a healthy sprinkling of sulpher on top that was supposed to cure or prevent …
I also remember the housecoats we wore after a bath. In line getting a tablespoon full of milk of magnesia.
The other opportunity for a scouts expression was the woggle – the ring used to secure the neckerchief. The issue one was a leather ring with a snap – brown of course. We also made – as I remember – ones made of bone or antler and braided leather.
Night time hockey games against others like the Booth Memorial Home (Sally Ann?) and nearly freezing to death.
Trying to get the whirl around to spin fast enough to hurl your enemy through the playground fence.
Paying six cents for coke in a curvy bottle. Licorice jawbreakers cost three for a penny.
One (guy. Ed.) was voted biggest nuisance in the room and the other the biggest crackpot.
… (Our school principal. Ed.) was elderly – certainly to his student. He was also jovial but when something upset him he could blow up, speaking excitedly and loosening his tie as if he needed more air …. (Then the inevitable. Ed.) “That’s for swinging on the bars (or whatever) and that’s for not listening to me and that’s to make sure you don’t do it again and that’s for good measure!”
(Below, sensory impressions and random recollections. Ed.)
“ (by way of enclosing all the previous in quotations. Ed. )