Now & Then: Jack and Betty Wood

Jack and Betty Wood.

Jack and Betty Wood

Jack and Betty both come from a lengthy line of successful ranchers and farmers in the Green Bay area. Today they call a small part of the original 735 acres home. The early farm harboured beef and milk cattle, a huge garden, a quarry and a lively stream. Their son Jim runs much of the farm and the quarry today. The Wood home overlooks the barn and yard, and Jack helps feed the wintering cattle. In addition to his work with cattle, Jack has also spent time working at INCO, the Beer Store in Little Current and driving a school bus. He was a volunteer firefighter for 23 years. Betty helped Jack on the farm. Her compassion for seniors also brought her to the Centennial Manor as a housekeeping aide and later some part-time work in the kitchen. 

Their lovely home was previously the Tanner house in Rockville before it was relocated to Green Bay on Townline Road. “Moving that house was a delicate operation. We expected it to either be intact and liveable or a pile of rubble when it got here. It was good that Raymond Chatwell had moved other houses. Despite our apprehension and the use of a tree to leverage the house sideways for proper placement on the truck, all was well that ended well.”

“My parents, Alvin and Aleta (Davis) Wood farmed all their lives. Dad, born in 1918, was the first of our family born in that community. He and Mother had seven of us.” John Alvin, ‘Jack,’ was born first, on September 9, 1937, on the farm of his maternal grandparents, John ‘William’ J. Davis, and Anne (Atkinson) Davis at the Poplar Corner in Mills Township (now Burpee and Mills). He was named after his dad Alvin, and Grandfather William Davis, who was both a farmer and a carpenter. He built many houses on Manitoulin and a small lodge on an island near Killarney. 

“I spent the first six months at the Davis farm. Great grandfather G.P. Davis had been born in that same house, so lots of history there. Paternal Grandparents, Leslie and Sarah (Cosby) Wood farmed in both the Rockville area near the Cosby Subdivision and the Green Bay area on Lake Manitou. They had two 200-acre farms. Grandfather Leslie was about 60 years old, a father of 12, when he met with an untimely accident. The whipple tree broke from a load of loose hay. Grandfather landed on the tongue of the wagon and was severely injured. He died a couple of days later.”

“In March of 1938, we moved to a big white house in Green Bay and rented everything: the house, all implements, the cattle and even the family dog. The owner, Henry Skippen, had moved to Sheguiandah where he was running a store. The two-day trip to our new abode involved an open sleigh bearing all of us, and a complete selection of household belongings. We travelled across slushy, foggy Lake Manitou and Lake Mindemoya. Uncle George Bayer helped.”

“Mother had a tough time keeping the milk bottles warm for me and she was terrified of moving over slushy ice. The horses plodded slowly over the lake. As we were approaching Sandy Beach in Green Bay, we became happily aware that a horse and sleigh from Sandy Beach on the Green Bay shoreline was moving towards us. The two teams of horses recognized each other from a distance and started to whinny loudly, propelled with new conviction as they moved towards each other in the fog. It was a happy moment when we realized that we had traversed the soft ice successfully and the worst was behind us.”

Jack Wood’s younger siblings, brother Ronnie and sister Marion, riding on the stone boat pulled by the family horse on the way to school.

“Siblings Marion, Ronnie, Lawrence, Myrna, Ivan and Bruce were born after that move. We all worked on the farm. Mom sold hen eggs and raised over 100 turkeys from chicks. One year we sent 100 turkeys to the Royal York Hotel dining rooms in Toronto.”

The world was at war. “As a young boy, I remember hearing the roar of two planes maneuvering in swooping motions over our farm in the late 1940s. I was convinced they were Germans who were about to bomb our farm. I was really frightened until I found out one pilot, a friend of our neighbour, was just playing a trick. They dipped their wings in friendship as they left, but I was terrified of planes for years after that.” 

“My first ride to school was in the Davis sleigh, a homemade concoction consisting of a little cabin built onto the sleigh and a small heater. We had a bag of hay for the horse and a big buffalo robe for extra warmth. Five more kids were picked up on the way. Our horse knew the hour-long path to school well and the holes through the sleigh’s dashboard were for lines (reins) that guided the horses should we meet another sleigh on the way. A loud ‘whoa’ would stop the horse, too. At lunch we would feed our horse and any other horses the hay.”

“I liked math and spelling the most and the teachers were nice, including our last instructor, Mrs. Charlotte Dunlop of Pike Lake. Recess was always fun. “Anti-I-Over was a tag game where you had to throw the ball over the school and then run to the other side and catch someone. We were kind to our teacher and didn’t play tricks, apart from moving the hands of the clock occasionally when we wanted to get out a little earlier. Christmas concerts were exciting. John Skippen and I would often sing, and his mother Isabelle played the piano.” 

“In high school, science and geometry were favourites but Latin and French weren’t. We all took the bus home so there was no time for extracurricular courses or activities. Each winter, the Department of Agriculture sponsored night courses through the 4-H club. I took courses in electrical work, farm management and mechanics. Warren Legge taught some of the courses. Ed Burt taught us about successful pig farming at classes in Kagawong. There were music courses too and I would bring my violin.”

Jack and his winning calf for the Queen’s Guinea Calf Competition for senior 4-H club members on Manitoulin at the fair. Later, he took this calf to the Royal Winter Fair in Toronto.

In the mid 1950s, young people usually met at dances. Jack and Betty became acquainted at a dance at the Bidwell Hall in 1958. Jack was playing drums and violin with his band, The Manitoulin Serenaders. “Jack asked to take me home,” Betty adds with a smile. Jack confesses, “I was trying to find out her name before we left but nobody knew it. Isabelle Skippen was driving us home. Luckily, Betty lived between the Bidwell Hall and our house, so we found out who she was when we stopped at her farm.”

“Maternal grandfather Charlton was a coal dock worker and Bertha a homemaker,” Betty shares of her ancestors. “Our large family was a happy one. Beatrice, our mom, was very hospitable, and we always had a full house on Sundays. Paternal grandparents Billy and Louise (Sheppard) Parkinson farmed too. Grandmother Parkinson lost a leg to diabetes and replaced it with a wooden version, which kept her very mobile. When I was five, grandmother bought me a white dress covered with red strawberries and a red belt. She told me that white was not a good colour for someone my age, but despite her reluctance, I pleaded with her to buy the dress and she finally agreed. I loved it for a long time.”

“I used to walk with grandfather when he moved the cows between fields. He called me ‘Gabby Gibson’ because I wouldn’t stop chatting.” Grandfather Wesley died when Betty was about seven years old. “After he passed, I would often stay with grandmother and help her gather eggs. Occasionally we would play hide and seek. It was a lot of fun until she reversed roles one day. She hid and I had to find her. I couldn’t locate her, and after some time, I became upset, threatening to go home if she didn’t come out. She finally revealed her hiding place and I had been taught a good lesson about role-reversal and my own insecurity.”

Bidwell Public school, beside the Orange Hall in the hamlet of Bidwell on the Bidwell Road, was where Betty went to school. “It was a three-mile walk each way,” Betty recalls. “Spelling and math were alright, but I remember the special Valentine’s Day parties the most.” High school was in Little Current and teacher Fred Smith, who taught at the public school, would give Betty a ride.”

Betty minded the store and cleaned cabins two summers at Al’s Camp in Kagawong, owned by the McDougalls. She met Jack at the dance in Bidwell Hall in 1958. The two dated and married exactly two years, two months and two days after they met, on September 9, 1960. “I made sure we married on Jack’s birthday so he would always remember our anniversary,” Betty added, smiling. “It has worked out well over the years.” 

“We married in my Charlton grandparents’ home in Little Current. Some guests had to stay outside because the house was too small for the entire wedding party.” The hall in Mindemoya accommodated more guests. Besides family and close acquaintances, there were many friends they had met at farm meetings. They had two and a half sittings in the basement for the midnight wedding lunch of sandwiches and desserts. 

The honeymoon gave them a week of visiting family and getting to know each other a little more. “We drove to see Great Aunt Margaret in Durham first and then headed for Michigan where Elmer and Doris Casemore lived. They had befriended us when they bought land from dad, and developed a subdivision on Rosewood Lane, Lake Manitou.” 

Ready for a kiss at their wedding reception, 1960.

Betty and Jack took up residence across the street from his family farm where Jack worked with his dad. Betty joined the 4-H Club to learn more about cooking and sewing. She loves to cook and bake. Jack also worked at the Beer Store for a few years. “My boss, also Jack (Ferguson), had been a soldier, newly arrived from overseas, when he found work in the new Beer store built in the late 1940s. The two of us made a good team. The boss ran a tight ship, and he had a good head for math. We developed a productive system for checking the sales each day, allowing us to balance the inventory and ensure no break-ins had occurred. Floors and windows were washed each day. He didn’t like electronics, but you could easily get away with that back then. I liked working with him.”

“In 1964, the roof blew off dad’s barn and we replaced it.” Afterwards, the young family moved to Sudbury so Jack could work at INCO, caretaking and loading cars with iron ore pellets, recovered from the nickel smelting process, and bound for the big boats in Little Current where they were loaded at the old CPR docks on Goat Island. They came home on weekends to tend to their 25 cows. “We needed more summer pasture for them so we asked Jack Peck if we could rent some from him. The following week, we bought two farms, 435 acres, from him.”

“This allowed us to move back home and then a few years later, buy Jim and Mary Burnett’s farm. We lived there for a few years and then we moved the house from Rockville to here. An addition was put on to accommodate our growing family of William, Patricia, James and Maryanne.” 

“We attended large Co-Op cattle sales once a year, in Little Current, and we also sold cream to Mastin’s Creamery in Manitowaning.” Betty adds, “it was a tight budget. With all the land we were buying, there was only $100 left at the end of each year!”

Jack started to drive the special needs school bus and did so for 23 years. Closer to the end of this term, these children were included in the regular bus system. Jack spent just as many years as a volunteer fire fighter, starting in 1960. He began in Sheguiandah and later volunteered in Little Current where Fire Chief Rick Milne gave him an award for those 23 years of service. Jack also did some of the snow plowing for Howland Township for one winter. 

Betty worked for the Centennial Manor as a housekeeping aide from 1980 to 2000. “I loved interacting with the residents. One day in December 2000, it was time to retire. I drove home, and accidentally left the car running before going into the house. Jack came home later and Jack asked me why the car was running. I had simply forgotten to turn it off. It was just a silly mistake, but it was time for a decision.”

After Betty retired, the couple did a bit of travelling. “Patty would come with us on our travels. We needed her for orientation, helping us negotiate airports and travelling agendas. We visited Veradero, Cuba, where we had an enjoyable time, despite the bland food. We met a horse named ‘Fidel’ who was ferrying tourists around. We took a Jeep excursion with a brother and sister from Toronto. He couldn’t drive a standard shift, so I did the driving. Vehicles in Cuba were old and subject to endless repairs. On another bus trip, we lost the bumper and a variety of nuts and bolts on the way back. Before we left Cuba, we noticed that the schools there were generally behind our Canadian schools.” 

Other trips were to Jamaica, the Dominican Republic and Mexico during spring breaks when Patty was not working as a teacher. “We visited son Jim in Grand Prairie, Alberta, and saw the oil fields. We also saw part of Nova Scotia when we met the family of our grandson’s fiancé. Patty came with us each time. Newfoundland villages reminded us of Willisville.” 

“Our children did well. Patricia taught Kindergarten and became principal on St. Joseph’s Island. When she was young, she was told by her teacher that she would never become a teacher, but she did just that and became a principal too. Maryanne is also a teacher, currently on leave. Jim lives in Sault Ste. Marie and works in the oil fields. Jim helps run this farm and owns all the land now. Bill works as a custodian in Paris, Ontario for the Brant County School System.”

“We now have eight grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Son Bill has twins Ben and Blake and daughter Nicole. Ben has daughters McKayla and Nicole who has Charlotte. Daughter Pat has Nick and Andrew. Nick has Theo. Son Jim has Avery. Daughter Maryanne has Alexis and Aiden.”

“What would we still like to do? We still hope to hunt deer with our grandsons. We recently hunted on top of the hill next to Raymond McKenzie’s place. We avoid does and fawns.” 

“Most important event in our lives? Getting married. Favourite pets? Mitzy, a strong Heinz-57 German Shepard-like dog. In winter, she would pull a sleigh with two bales of hay to the barn for the sheep, and afterwards, she would pull the kids back to the house. One night, Mitzy woke me up to find a young man siphoning gas from the farm tank. I yelled ‘sic-him.’ Mitzy ran towards him, with no intention of biting, but she scared the young man away. We let it be known that we would spread sugar into the tank hose so they would refrain from stealing it. They didn’t return.” 

“Favourite season? Autumn when the maples are so beautiful,” both declared. “Favourite family holiday? Christmas. Decorating the windows and cooking the turkey. Birthdays with cake and ice cream were always important to us and the kids too.” 

What did you enjoy most as a parent? “Watching the kids grow and excel in their pursuits.” Favourite television or radio shows? “I like old Christmas movies and Jack likes the Border Patrol, and the Texas game warden on Lone Star. First hourly wage? $2.17 at INCO,” Jack recalls. “I bought my first car, a 1961 Pontiac, with that wage.”

“Strengths? Problem solving and wiring a house. When we moved the house here, I suggested we use a tree to move the truck into the right position and it solved the problem. Anything we would still like to do? No, we have done our travelling. We do like to eat out occasionally at Green Acres in Sheguiandah or Cortina’s in Espanola.” 

What are you most proud of? “Our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.” 

What are you most afraid of? Betty, says “snakes and, for Jack, it’s mice.”

If you could have only three material things from your current life, what would they be? For Jack, “clothing, chainsaw, hammer with nails.” For Betty “pots and pans and photos.” 

Looking back, is there anything you would do differently? “No!” from both. Did you realize your childhood dreams? “I wanted to be a nurse at one time, but life had other plans,” Betty shared. “Hope for the future? Good health and more peace in the world.” 

Lastly, your recipe for happiness? “Count your blessings every day and think of the good things in your life.”

“Manitoulin is a unique place. People are friendly here and you can safely grow your own food. Here on the farm, we enjoy the gurgling stream right beside us and Perch Lake just behind our north-facing ridge. We have both a quarry and a gravel pit here. The quarry yields huge flat rocks that can measure up to nine by 17 feet. We have sold many to the Mennonites who call them ‘Harvest Gold’ and to ‘Colonial Brick and Stone’ in Bruner, Ontario. We were proud, too, that some of the rock went to the site of a ploughing match in Ontario. In summary, this Island is quiet, slow-paced and rich in many ways. There are photo opportunities everywhere, and all around us, but we are often too busy with life to stop and take in the beauty. We must remind ourselves to slow down enough to enjoy these finer things in life here on our Manitoulin Island.”