This site is about the Wood’s Christian Home, for some seventy years, a home for orphan and needy children just west of Calgary at Bowness. The virtual exhibit, created in the early months of 2021, results from some eight years of effort by three old boys. They and some sixty ex-orphan kids represent a loose alliance known as the Homers. The core individuals did archival research; collected memories shared by others at reunions and in these pages describe the home’s history and development. One of us, Francis Dwyer (the writer and initiator), describes the project and the motivations behind it. (See list of contributors at page bottom ).
The centerpiece is a memoir, (I admit to some discomfort in it being my own). My motivation is a belief that the only way one can describe how it felt to live in such a place is to offer your own experience. My recollections are amply supported by memories from other boys and girls. Recollections may differ, as the home changed profoundly over the two decades following 1945. Children also stayed for varying periods and some for only a short time. I came into the home as one of the youngest ever (at 4 years old) and was there a relatively long ten years.
I arrived in early November of 1946. Like many, I had a single parent, a father, who could not care for me. The home shaped my childhood in distinct ways. In 1998, I came back to a reunion. That exhilarating, and traumatic, experience along with being made redundant (at age 57) prompted me to write a novel, “Passing Innocence’ (Trafford, 2002). The book connected me with many old boys and girls and even with descendants from children in the founding days. Astonishingly, this includes the English family of the first boy and girl, Willy and sister Mary Porter, who arrived in 1916.
Several of us organized reunions, notably Perry Davis, while I, fortuitously, connected with another old boy, Richard Nickel – who lives in Queensland, Australia. Dick and I (assisted by Perry) collaborated on researching the history as our contribution to the 2014, 100th anniversary. Perry played a key role in organizing reunions and collecting memories. The result is this website, emerging as a virtual exhibit in 2020. The intent is to helps preserve the material, portray a rich history and, importantly prompt more ex-kids to connect in a widening community We intend on maintaining this site until 2026, which is the 100th anniversary of home’s arrival in Bowness after the move from Olds, Alberta.
In launching this exhibit, we celebrate the spirit and resilience of the kids. The home was a remarkable place; like something out of Dickens, a happy family for many and a hellhole for some. Its evolution mirrors the failings and the progress in caring for Alberta’s needy children. There are I think widespread misconceptions about children’s homes, that they were universally awful places. The truth is more nuanced. The home that I knew was not grim. For many it was the opposite, and dare I say even gloriously happy at times.
A good number of the children might regard it as the best home they ever knew, even that it might have saved them from much worse. Many of them came out of dreadful circumstance or survived stark family tragedies. Our experience in care was memorable, not always treasured by everyone – the opposite for some, even dreadful – but all might agree that it gave us a uniquely Canadian childhood. According to one estimate, some four million Canadians have a parent who grew up in institutional care. This site, in a way, represents that vast community.
Please navigate these pages by using the slide-out menu (click on the three horizontal, black bars) on the right side, about half-way down – on this and the rest of the pages. Alternately, there is a menu at the very bottom of each page.
Dedicated to the memory of the many old boys and girls who have gone home, and especially to the memory of William (Kayak Bill) Davidson, 1947-2003 who died tragically at one of the more remote places in Canada, the Goose Island group, on the outer coast of British Columbia. See Other Resources page (8) Tribute to Billy.
Francis (Frank) Dwyer is the creator/curator of this exhibit site and the writer. He is seventy-nine years old and retired. Frank lived in the home for most of ten years, from 1946 to 1956. He lives in Cranbrook, B.C. Canada.
J. Richard (Dick) Nickel – Dick is the principal researcher and played a vital role in connecting old boys and girls. He lives in Queensland, Australia. Dick was at the home from 1956 to 1959. He served in the far north of Canada in radio communication and later, in New Zealand/Australia in aviation related fields.
Perry Davis – Perry has staged and supported reunions, and is the archivist of many photographs, recorded memories and other memorabilia. Perry, who lives in Canmore, Alberta, enjoyed a long career with Parks Canada.
The Homers, a supporting cast of boys and girls from those long-ago days, mostly from the two decades bracketing 1955.
I am grateful, to help maintain this site, for the generous financial support provided to me in 2021 by two old boys from the home, Perry Davis and Gerry Roy. Thanks to them and a number of ex-Wood’s kids who encourage me in other ways.
Note: If you wish to connect with us please use the contact page where you will find a postal address. Regrettably, I have discontinued the email link owing to constant sales pitches and other annoyances.
NOTE: Header photographs are copyright, courtesy of the Glenbow Archives, Glenbow Museum, Calgary. Alberta and reproduced here with permission. Reproduction of a print of Hextall mansion house courtesy of the artist R. Treacy who once gifted the print to this author. All other photos are copyright of the late Art Jeal, former manager of the Wood’s Christian Home. I scanned and restored Art’s slide collection for his, and also for his families benefit as well as for my own publishing use at a later date. Frank Dwyer