“It's hard to recall all the changes that have been made to this town over the years, and to think; that I've really seen a lot of them happen.”
John Alexander Wood was born in Stayner on August 12th 1928, the first of two sons born to Clarence (Pete) and Mary Wood (nee Buie).
John was born at the home of his Grandmother Buie at 208 Weir Street in Stayner where his parents were living at the time. The mid-wife, “Grandma Gibson” had only to walk down from 218 Weir Street to assist. Brother Robert joined the family in 1931 and the boys have remained close friends and co-workers throughout their lives.
John's father Clarence had moved to the Stayner area with his family in 1918 when he was 17 from Parry Sound. Clarence's ties to Parry Sound, his strategic entrepreneurship, enthusiasm as a hockey player and his fondness for hunting would influence the lifestyle of his two sons. Clarence Wood started a bakery in Stayner after he married, which he owned from 1927 to 1935. It was operated from the rear portion of the building that fronted onto 7281 Hwy #26. When the opportunity to sell the bakery to Ernie Rye presented itself, Mr. Wood uprooted his young family to move in with his parents in Collingwood where he managed the Bryson Bakery (239 Hurontario St. Collingwood).
John Wood actually attended grade 1 at Victoria Public School on Maple Street in Collingwood. It was a large building and took up the block from Fifth Street to Sixth Street. After one year in Collingwood, the appeal of operating his own business again, influenced Clarence to open another bakery in Stayner in partnership with his brother Errol (Earl). They worked out of a building that fronted onto 318 Main St (7200 Hwy #26) and the lot extended back onto Weir Street. Access to the bakeshop was from Weir Street, as the rear of the property was used for the bakery. The brothers Clarence and Errol each had half of the front of the house for their families to live in. The property was situated right beside the old United Church manse (7204 Hwy #26). The bakery didn't really have a retail area, as all the product was generally delivered, but the smell of the bread baking would encourage “old Rev. Graham” the minister to stop over for a visit with the bakers in the morning and to pick up a fresh loaf.
“In the early 1930's” said John, “every house on the north side of Weir Street had its own small barn, which would house the family's horses and perhaps a cow or two. The bank end of the lots were bordered by a small ravine and pasture beyond that. On the south side of Weir Street, right at the corner of Weir and Scott Street, were the grist mill used to be, (and where a young Mary Buie once worked as a bookkeeper) was the community horse shoe pit.” John and his brother Bob recall watching the men congregate there to play horse shoes on warm nights in the summer. There were special poles installed to light the area. “It was Jack Campbell, that seemed to be in charge of it all.” Jack Campbell was the livestock buyer for area.
The first building going east on Weir Street from Scott, was the brick ice building where blocks of ice were brought in from the frozen bay at Wasaga Beach and packed in saw dust. “Heavy, heavy, work”, comments John “and dangerous!” Directly east of the ice house, was the “transformer” building. A red brick building built in the 1930's which pulled off hydro for the town.
As a young boy, John holds a memory of going to the horse auction with his father, which was held at the stables behind the “Lambert Hotel” (7285 Hwy #26). “The farmers would come into town by wagon or by train, and there would be quite a gathering of them. I'm not sure how often it was, but it was quite an event.” John continues “I can also remember Bob and I crawling on top of the shed roof beside the railway tracks when the pigs or cattle were about to being shipped out. The livestock holding pens were between Charles and John Street facing Huron Street. We would be sitting right beside the railway cars that the animals would be loaded into. The men had to actually set up fences and close off Huron Street both ways and then drove the livestock across the street and into the railway cars. We had a ring-side seat for all the action!”
John recalls how many of the farmers would improvise and build special racks to attach to their wagons to transport their livestock into Stayner in order to ship them out by train. Bob has a vivid memory of an instance when Mr. Gibson, from the Sunnidale 3-4 Side Road, was driving his sleigh into Stayner with a bull tied onto it. As Mr. Gibson came down Huron Street, the train blew it's whistle startling the bull. The sleigh hit the tracks as the large beast jumped, breaking lose, overturning the sleigh and causing Mr. Gibson to lose his teeth! “What a mess that was” says Bob shaking his head, “us young ones had to dig through the snow to find his teeth! And to round up the bull, they (the livestock hands) had to release all the cows in the yard and herd them across the tracks to order to entice the bull to follow them back into the holding pens. And it worked.”
A new location for the Wood Bakery was selected in the 1940's when it moved to the vacated tomato canning factory at 236 Huron Street, previously operated by Russ Baker, Catherine Walker's father. The new location was conveniently located near the railway station and the Stayner station became a favourite stop for the train crew as they slipped over to the bakery when they were “oiling” the wheels.
John recalls his father always being absent from the breakfast table because he was already hard at work baking bread. “I can remember him working so hard in the heat that the sweat would just be running off him. Everything had to be lined up ready to go out for early delivery.”
John remembers the excitement of being on the wagon and later the truck delivering bread throughout the Nottawasaga and Duntroon area. At one time, Clarence, always the entrepreneur, had the space to board horses for a Wasaga Beach riding stable. He could then harness up the horses to deliver the bread. “It was early mornings to be sure and we had to collect the 05 cents a loaf!” “I thought I was really clever when I had the opportunity to drive “Laddie” helping with deliveries, but that horse knew more than me” chuckled John. “I would try to get him to move along but he knew the route so well that he would just stop at every spot the bread was supposed to be delivered to.”
In 1942 John was 14 and working at the bakery along side the other men. They were all listening to the radio. “I will never forget the still silence in that room when the radio announced we were at war. The moment that WWII was announced. I will never forget it.”
At 15, John got a part time job driving the milk truck for Besse's dairy as well as helping out at the bakery. During the war years, customers had to have the right amount of coupons to buy their butter and “by golly, those coupons had to tally up right” after delivery each day.
“I remember one lady at Wasaga Beach. Mrs. Barker. She came out to the truck and asked for 50 boxes of butter. “50 pounds?! “Do you have the coupons?”, I asked. Sure enough, she went back in the house and came out with 50 coupons. I never asked her where she got the coupons and she didn't tell me. I knew I didn't have enough butter left on the truck to finish the route so I had to turn around and head back into Stayner to order more. Caused a little bit of excitement back at the dairy. Rattled Joe Besse a little bit, but all he said was his standard “by gee”.
“My job in the bakery was to keep the fires heated up so we could bake in the ovens. Big bins had been built for the coke which was delivered to heat the ovens. We had to fire up the boilers for the proofers in the bakery so the bread could rise. After the bread rose, the bread was baked in the ovens fired by coke. I remember how the bread was wrapped with the wax wrappers. The loaf would sit on the waxed sheet that was resting on this machine with a heater on each end so the waxed paper would seal at each end. It was tricky getting that bread to stay together before it was wrapped, it you were wrapping the sliced bread. The wrapped bread was only for certain retail sales. The trucks were loaded up with fresh bread, with no wrappers. By the time I was 16, I was driving the delivery truck for the bakery on my own.”
“I spent a summer working out at Edenvale Airport.” (second relief field location for Base Borden and the British Commonwealth Air Training Plan BCATP) “Worked in the mess hall washing dishes. I guess I was 17, I was still in high school.” “Bob was helping Dad at the bakery that summer and doing deliveries, while I was helping with the war effort. So much training was happening at that time at Edenvale.
Bruce Poole and John had been chums all their lives. Bruce lived with the Wood's all through high school. “When we were in high school we were always aware of the ones older than us that had left for the military. The boys just a year ahead of Bruce (Poole) and me were conscripted into the army. They were sent to Normandy and Dieppe and never came back. Sad, very sad.” “The government was trying to ensure that the RCAF didn't run out of pilots and some of us were asked to take extra training in order to be ready when it came for our time to be conscripted. Bruce and I liked the idea of flying and accepted the challenge of the training. Can't say I'm sorry the war was over before my time came up to go.”
“After the war, we trained on the old air planes, the old Tiger Moths. They (the government) had an airfield in Barrie right beside the cemetery where planes were parked after the war. Soon after the war, a private airfield on the 2nd Line where J&R Cycle is now (8166 Hwy 26 Stayner,) opened up. We continued flying and got our private pilot licence there. A lot of time flying together, Bruce and I.”
John helped Dr. Hanna now and then in his final year of high school, grade 12. The local veterinary would call John when he needed a hand during the war, because so many men were away. John really enjoyed the work and Dr. Hanna encouraged him to apply to the Ontario Veterinary College at Guelph. Unfortunately for John, the introduction of the Veterans Rehabilitation Act of 1945, (commonly referred to as the Canadian G.I. Bill) under the newly established Department of Veterans Affairs (1944) guaranteed that the application's of Canada's returning servicemen were put ahead of his. “I didn't really care when I thought about it. I was glad the war was over and they (the soldiers) deserved it. They were coming home and after what they had been through they needed something to help them start over.”
“Soon after this, in 1947 my father sold his share of the bakery to his brother Errol (Earl) and purchased O.W. Stiver's lumber mill. He formed a company with my brother Bob and myself.”
In 1947 the 19 year old John Wood along with his 16 year old brother Bob, still finishing high school, worked side by side with their father to make a success of Clarence Wood and Sons Ltd. (7446 County Rd #91) The local sawmill was purchased at a time when the industry was just coming out from under the WWII rationing and lumber control regulations. All the lumber had been expropriated for military use and people were anxious to have access to this resource. Clarence Wood still had family connections in the Parry Sound area and knew where there were white pine logs ready to be made into lumber. The Wood men made their way north to Parry Sound.
Using the expertise of the local lumbermen of the area, most of the logs were harvested from Batteau Island. Men were hired from Parry Sound to take a team of horses over to the island on the tug boat to skid the logs out. “The rattle snakes were so thick there, the men had to wear great high boots, to keep from being bite! The logs were harnessed into booms and moved through 18 miles of Georgian Bay into the Parry Sound harbour. The booms were so large, that the tug could not travel over 1 nautical mile an hour. Any faster and random logs would arch up and jump out of the boom. It was a very slow process navigating through very rough water. More than once the tug would have to refuge within the windward shore line, in lee of the wind. When the tug arrived with the log booms, they took up the entire harbour. I can't recall how many trips the tugboat made bringing our log booms into the harbour, or how many days it took to make one trip. I know Bob had a couple of scary trips going over on that tug in bad weather.”
A stationary sawmill had been set up on the dock, so the logs were sawed into rough lumber right on the dock, moved and loaded onto train cars and sent by rail into Stayner. McGarvey was the man who was hired to cut the lumber, O.W. Stiver, was entrusted with the responsibilities as the foreman. “It was a huge operation for all us. Over 20 carloads of lumber were delivered to Stayner, loaded onto trucks and transported to the Wood Mill. Every board loaded and unloaded by hand, but we had lumber to sell!”
Over the years the Wood Mill supplied lumber for the original Stayner Community Centre, the Stayner Curling Rink, the Masonic Hall, the original Stayner Fire Hall, PUC building and the Wasaga Beach Community Centre, as well as too many homes in the Wasaga Beach and Stayner area to count. Bob commented to the Stayner Sun in 1996 that “all the lumber we supplied, amounted to a whole town.” The mill didn't just sell lumber, it also manufactured the windows, door, staircases and steps. Custom ordered, custom made. At the time the Wood family had the mill, they were even building cribbing for wells. “This was before the wells were drilled and fitted with metal casing. Each well was hand dug and the segments for the cribbing had to be cut for the wells to create the circular design and it all had to be made out of hemlock. Only hemlock was used in the water. I bet there are a lot of wells in this area yet that if you dug down, you would come across those hemlock pieces. I have to say, we (Bob and John) got to be pretty good with a square, a plum line and the Pythagorean theorem.” Bob can rhyme off the definition “in a right angled triangle, the square of the long side is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides” just as readily as he did as a 16 year old. “We had real good help with Charlie Curran and Bert Stiver at the mill. Those guys could cut wood taking fractions from their square. We were lucky to have them working for us.”
John's education and experiences at Byng Continuation School, (239 William Street) which taught grades 1 through to 13 seemed to develop his leadership skills and prepared him for working in the family business. John never found school too difficult and along with his good nature and quick wit, his memories of school are those of good friends, a sense of community and a series of ongoing pranks and practical jokes that extended throughout his adult life.
“W.J. Wright was the principal and he was someone you didn't want to get on the wrong side of reminisces Bob. He was ex-military, a big man. He wore shoes that had metal heel and toe plates and when you heard his step coming down the hall, it got your attention. More than once you would come out of class and see some senior boys doing push-ups in the hall as W.J. loomed over them”.
“Well you know, W.J. kinda liked Bruce (Poole) and myself. We never really seemed to get into any trouble,” says John smiling mischievously. We had Ella Campbell as a teacher. Well, you would laugh; Bruce would be sitting in one corner of the of the room and he would whistle. I was on the other side of the room and whistle back. Drove her crazy, but it didn't seem to concern W.J. much when it was reported. Good fun!”
The memories of school are interwoven with the memories of the open door at the Wood home on Weir Street. It was a warm and happy place filled with good-natured teasing, jokes and music. The Wood's loved to laugh. The positive personalities of Mary Wood and her mother, Grandma Buie as well as Grandma Wood in Collingwood, gave both the Wood boys a strong social skill set that was the source of their outgoing personalities. Friends and family have always been important to the Wood family. “I can see me as a young boy standing there helping Grandma Buie churn butter at the farm. She would always colour her own butter and press her special prints into the top of the butter form. She was a great lady. Always loved a good joke, just like mother did”.
Weekends after the hockey game the boys and their friends would tumble into the Wood house for an evening of making music and good food. Bob would chord the piano, Bruce Poole would take out the fiddle or guitar. Roy Peacock would come up and play the violin. “Bruce was really talented. He would play the violin for dances around the area while I played hockey; he was the one that made a lot of money!”
“We would have the piano in the living room and the violin was on top of the piano and the guitar was always there. We were always ready to have a good time. In the summer the doors were open and we would be playing this old time music, singing and laughing and the neighbours would congregate outside the house. Lots of evenings it would turn into a sing song.” And the evenings were generally topped off with freshly made sandwiches and tea, thanks to the hospitality of Mary Wood. “That's what we did for fun, no television back then. We didn't sit inside by ourselves, we were out doing stuff.”
When John was in his early 20's, “I thought I would look good in a kilt so I joined the Collingwood Kilty Band! There was a whole group of us that went up to join. Started playing the alto horn and ended up with the trumpet. Loved the trumpet and that was my instrument of choice. Joined the Stayner Brass Band too and we travelled all around the area playing for Christmas parades. Don McNabb played there as well and Don Doner played the trumpet too.”
Following in their father's footsteps, John and Bob weren't very old before they was lacing up the skates. “A game of shinny any place we could find some ice.” They played a little on the frozen pond where Blue Mountain Manor now stands (236 Weir Street). They used the old brick yard which was owned by Frank Connors, presently the location of Stayner Timber Mart. (1014 Centre Line Road). “I remember riding our bikes out there with Dick Wood, my cousin carrying our sticks and skates. Poor Dick took out the spokes of his bike with the hockey stick, and had to carry his bike all the way home. Hah, that was funny.”
John's father, Clarence Wood had been recruited to play for Galt Intermediate Hockey as a young man and now his son John had to make a tough decision when Hap Emms, from the “Barrie Flyers” came to visit the Wood family. “They wanted me to play Barrie Jr A hockey; they were sponsored by the Boston Bruins. The Barrie Flyers would be the Barrie Colts today. Didn't go that route. I knew that John Beliveau's top salary in pro hockey at that time was around $2,500.00. All you have left at the end of that career is some broken bones. Things are a lot different for professional hockey players now then they were back then.”
John's love of the sport lead to playing school football and baseball and decades of hockey games, both playing and coaching. John enjoyed helping the boys learn to play and acquire the same passion for the sport he had. He was the coach of the Stayner Juvenile Hockey Team when they won the C.O.H.L. championship for 1952-1953. The team was called the Stayner Rockets at that time.
Even with his very busy life, John found the time to marry his high school sweetheart, Joan Noble, by then an elementary school teacher. Joan was born Norma Joan Noble in Tecumseth, in 1929. She lived in Creemore with her mother, Norma (Bailey) (from Cooper's Falls, Ramara Twp) and step-father, Alex Miller. The family later moved to Stayner (1943) when Mr. Miller sold his farm.
John and Joan were married at the Stayner Baptist Church on April 8, 1950 and celebrated with a reception at the Wilcox Hotel (now the Wilcox Place Apartments,244 Main St E). Their social life together included many friends and family. They were both active in their perspective Lodges. John had followed his father's example and became a member of the Masonic Lodge in 1950. The young Wood couple were both avid curlers, enjoyed the family cottage at Wasaga Beach and were participants in the life of the community at Jubilee Presbyterian Church where John sang in the choir and Joan was always the appreciative audience.
During their early married years, John also volunteered for the Stayner fire department taking many a fire call at his house, when it was his turn to “keep the phone”. John also lead the local Boy Scout group, 1st Stayner Scouts and took part in the 8th World Jamboree in 1955 which was held at Niagara on the Lake. “Had the most amazing time. Got to meet people from all over the world there.” John's competitive nature ensured he found the time to enter some serious lawn bowling competitions with his father, and of course there was always time made for fishing and hunting.
The major social activity of the Wood men in the autumn was the annual hunting season. Since 1939, the Wood father, sons and the hunting party guests would make the annual trek north to a piece of crown land in the Parry Sound area. They would hire a local farmer with his horse and wagon to take them into the bush, loaded down with everything they would possibly need in the cabin for a week, including blankets, mattresses, food, ammo, guns, fishing poles, axes, hammers, saws, boots, lanterns, dogs, fiddles and guitars. These ventures were some of the “best times” for John. Each year the hunting stories, would all have their own twist, and the practical jokes remained legendary as different people made up the hunt camp from year to year.
John and Bob became the Wood Bros. just before the mill sold in 1972 and Clarence Wood & Sons Limited was dissolved. The brothers decided to try their hand at beef farming. They continued this partnership for 16 years when they would combine their 25 years plus of carpentry experience and carry on as Wood Bros. Construction Company. The company lasted until the men decided that they should maybe think of retiring in 1995. John and Bob had both built their own homes and their experience and attention to detail set them apart as skilled carpenters. Over the years, the Wood Bros., became well known for their workmanship and problem solving abilities when working on custom homes. Many of the homes in Stayner and the surrounding area were constructed by the Wood Bros.
John and Bob recall being asked to erect a structure near Elmvale that had been purchased as a pre-fabricated building designed and manufactured by MacMillan Bloedel in B.C. “Something was wrong with it. We read the plans again and again and knew it couldn't be right. We got permission to use the Stayner Arena, because it was the only place big enough we could lay out the whole structure and try to piece it together. I think it was Charlie Curran that finally came upon the answer. The cuts had all been made on the wrong angle for the trusses to fit together. We called the company in British Columbia to let them know they had made a slip up and they sent up some engineers from Toronto to have a look at our layout. Well, they could see we were right and they weren't too happy. They had some major work to do to make things right with this guy in Elmvale.”
Another time we were working on a house in Stayner putting on an addition. The engineering company working on the design was in Collingwood. They had started using computers for designing much of the blueprint work and they were having a heck of a time figuring out how to make the old roof line and the new roof trusses meet to take into account the (building) code requirements. The engineering firm called my brother Bob and Bob said he would get back to him. Bob set to work with his square and came up with the design for the trusses which received the engineer's stamp of approval. When we had it all up, the company sent their latest university graduate around to take some pictures of it.”
Over the years, John took every opportunity made available to him to pilot and fly. He was part owner of a Cessna 177 Cardinal with a group of like-minded men in the community and flying a small aircraft is a skill that John still holds, along with his pilot license. John and Joan reside in the home that John built at 7430 County Rd 91 in 1952. They welcomed their 7 1/2 year old son, Gregory Alexander, into their family in 1972. The seventies presented seasonal occasions to travel and Gregory enjoyed many trips with John and Joan as they ventured out to see parts of the world. Greg acquired his love of travel from them and enjoys the more temperate climate, of his residence in British Columbia.
John's greatest enjoyment is reminiscing about the many people he has had the privilege to meet, share time with and, most importantly, to laugh with. “You know it's not really about “Stayner”. It's about all the people that lived in Stayner, that I knew. That is what made the town significant, that's what Stayner's history is made up of. Just ordinary everyday people, living ordinary lives, that made an impact on another person. I am very lucky, I have known some great people!”