NOTE – 21 September, 2019 – a dramatic confession, and summation, see the latest about half-way down this page.
This site hosts a memoir of the childhood I experienced in the Wood’s Christian Home, once a home for orphan and disadvantaged children just west of Calgary at Bowness, Alberta. That happened just after the Second World War ended. In fact, the two great wars played a part in the founding of the home and the growth in admissions. This owed to enlistment, to casualties and the social upheaval and dislocation caused by the conflicts. On a darker note, the employment of returned servicemen – men who had been exposed to wartime cruelties – likely contributed to abuse of boys in in an era when attitudes about discipline were entirely different.
To provide context, and a more thorough portrayal, I have included the memories of other former girls and boys. For a broader background, and perhaps of some interest to historians, I have included the video that I made about the origins and a timeline of the home’s history. Two of us old boys also gathered a trove of historical sources, documentation and references related to the history of the home. The evolution of the Wood’s Homes is in fact a mirror of the failings and the progress in caring for Alberta’s needy children.
I am eager to honour the spirit and resilience of the kids who lived there. The home was a remarkable place; like something out of Dickens, a happy family for many and a hell hole for some. I came into the Woods, as a four-year-old, on November 4th, 1946. I left, after completing grade nine, in the spring of 56. The Wood’s Christian Home was a storied place, remarkable in my time for a striking duality. Wonderful and awful things happened there. It needs saying that a good number of children from my era might regard it as the best place they ever knew.
For some eighteen years, I have been communicating with the successor organization, the Wood’s Homes – a multi faceted, and highly regarded, social service agency. This began about the time I started on a novel, Passing Innocence, based on the life I knew in the Woods. What prompted my writing was my first trip back to the old place, attending a reunion in August of 1989. During that return, I fell into a clinical depression. In therapy afterwards, I revisited my memories of the home experience. Becoming more aware that I had been raised in a remarkable, even astonishing, institution prompted me to investigate some old abuses.
Wards of the province, and other children, were often mistreated by staff and older youngsters. In the years that followed writing Passing Innocence, I learned, to my great dismay, that things got worse after I left. I had long thought they improved. There were criminal acts and at least one jail sentence for an abuser. It’s now twelve years ago since I formally notified the board of the Wood’s Homes about the allegations of sexual abuse at the Wood’s Christian Home during the sixties and also that physical and emotional abuse of boys were systematic and widespread. Three years ago, I provided them with details of assaults against a former ward of the province – at the time a fourteen-year-old boy who has suffered adverse consequences all his life. To my knowledge, there has been no attempt to contact him or any others from that era.
After I left, it wasn’t long before the place pretty much collapsed – only to be reborn with a different mission. Despite the home’s new sophistication, and great work, there has been no recognition that serious harms were done in my era. There is to be sure, a deserved pride, but the whole picture needs telling.
21 September 2019 … and here I will round out the picture. Recently I have been in touch with a man who came into the home in 1966 as a ward of the province. Over the next three years, the home allowed him weekends away with the then volunteer barber at the home. That man took him to a home in the Renfrew neighbourhood, Calgary where, it’s alleged, he regularly compelled him to perform sexual acts, over three years. Consider that this happened just one year after the criminal court conviction of a different volunteer (for acts of gross indecency against three Wood’s boys) in 1962. Those boys also went to the man’s home on weekends. Had they learned nothing? How could they allow this youngster, a boy deserving protection, to accompany an adult male, for weekends away – when they had every reason to know the risks in those situations? Then answer is, as I told current officials in a formal, closed interview (December, 2016), is that “the place was a playground for sadists and pedophiles…” Some twenty years earlier, I weekended at a man’s home in company with my closest little friend ( a ward also). On that occasion, the man buggered my boyhood friend, while I was fondled. It seems they learned nothing then, and little more over the next two decades. All the while, these things continued. It is time for long-ago ‘orphan’ boys like me to say “us too” and for them to admit to the harms done and to the sorry record. I never give up either. Francis Dwyer.
A SPECIAL TRIBUTE AND DEDICATION
Dedicated on this day, December 8, 2018 to the memory of the many old boys and girls who have gone home, and especially to the memory of William Lawrence Davidson.
Elsewhere on this site I have remarked on qualities many ex Woods kids seem to share; namely resilience, spirit and courage. No one I believe exhibited those qualities more than William Davidson, also known as Billy Davidson and later in life, as Kayak Bill. He died on an island off the coast of British Columbia on this day, December 8th, fifteen years ago. The body was not found until some three months later, under drift wood, on a storm threatened beach. His remains had to be removed post haste owing to that threat. The cause of death was a bullet wound to the head. The coroner declared that the cause of death was indeterminate. It is not known if it was by his own hand or someone else’s act. No one has knowledge whether or not Billy was alone on that night. The Goose Island group in December must be one of the most desolate and lonely places anywhere. The last entry on his diary was from the day before, December 7th, 2003.
Billy was at the home, as a smaller boy, while I was there in 1953 to 1956. He stayed on until graduation. He then became a near legendary mountain climber in the front ranges of the Rockies and later in his life, in the incarnation of Kayak Bill, as an epic solo ocean kayaker on the outer Pacific Coast of British Columbia. He was in this later life mostly reclusive, living for lengthy spells in rough shelters on the remote islands. Often it must be a very beautiful place, wild and filled with natural life, but not always.On the 8th, as I reflected and considered his life, I checked the coastal weather forecast. It called for winds of up to 120 kilometer per hour and rain of course, always rain on the winter shores. Hard against this cluster of islands there is only the vast Pacific with thousands of kilometers of heaving green/grey seas. If I feel melancholy, that is understandable, but tomorrow I will feel different and continue with a concise biography and tribute to perhaps the most remarkable of Homers. Read what I write, by clicking here: A Tribute to Billy
Throughout this site, I will call myself Francis and occasionally Frankie. Francis was my birth name. They called me Frankie in the Wood’s Christian Homes. Nowadays I go by Frank.
I’m seventy-six years old, and I am retired. What drives me is an interest in social justice. My two best friends in the small boys dormitory, seventy years ago, were wards of the province who suffered tragic outcomes. I witnessed brutality and injustice. Some of those things haunt me.
I am a recovered alcoholic who has been sober for thirty-one years. That about coincided with my first visit back to the home. After I got better, I wrote a novel based on my childhood. I then self-published it as Passing Innocence, in 2001. (Aside: It was short listed by the House of Anansi – just prior to Scott Griffin purchasing Anansi in 2002 – to one of three Canadian novels. Nothing much came of it, but that has to be about the best rejection notice one could ever receive). More importantly, my book resulted in some eighty or more ex home kids reconnecting and sharing experiences.
I live in Kamloops, British Columbia with my wife of forty-nine years. She deserves much credit for making me the man I have become.
Note: If you wish to contact me please use the contact page where you will find my postal address. Unfortunately, as of 26 June 2019, I have deleted the email link feature as I was pestered by constant sales pitches and malicious messages.
FIND ME: In the header photo on these pages, I am with the threesome in the front row – being first from the right with the black top and new overalls. I am five years old. The photo was taken in front of the little boy’s dorm in the spring of 1947.