Wild Nature

JOHN COLLIER WOOD

John Collier Wood was born in 1931, the first child of Frank Wood and Marian Wallwork in the Manchester area of England. As a young man, John loved distance cycling throughout England, as well as daily commutes to school and work. Coming from a family of engineers, it wasn’t surprising when John moved to Glasgow, Scotland where he completed an honor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in 1952. While working as an Engineer the following years in England, he also took motorbike trips into post-war Europe. At that time young men were subscripted into military service in peacetime England known as National Service.  John served as a junior officer in the British Navy on an aircraft carrier (the HMS Eagle) in the Mediterranean Sea from 1954-1956.

After he finished his National Service, John seized an opportunity to immigrate, and in November 1956, embarked on a voyage to Canada on the RMS Empress of Britain, a transatlantic ocean liner.  Little did he know that the young Canadian woman he met his first evening aboard, Joy Bradshaw, would become the love of his life. “It was his shy smile across the dining hall that got my attention, and my heart fluttering,” recalls Joy. They spent most of the week’s voyage getting to know each other and after they parted in Montreal, continued to cross paths with each other:  at the immigration counter, at a lounge, numerous times on the train from Montreal and again on the subway station in Toronto!  Since it seemed clear they were destined for one another, they started dating in Toronto while John started working for Ontario Hydro.

John embraced life in Canada with all its promise of adventure. He met like-minded friends who began to meet annually for wilderness canoe trips in Algonquin Provincial Park, a canoeing tradition which continued well into his retirement. He also pursued car rallying, cycling, hiking, sailing and some pretty wild sledding on a homemade sled.  Once he had a serious mishap on a toboggan, injuring his knee and required surgery, hospitalization and the daily ministrations of his sweet girl, Joy.  They became engaged and were married on September 20, 1958.

Their first son Joseph was born in 1960. Joy remembers a time when John, expressing his pride and joy, lifted the little newborn in one hand to introduce him to a friend. Shockingly the baby Joe tumbled off his hand, to be caught thankfully, by their visiting friend. Three years later, the family welcomed twin daughters, Sally and Susan. John liked to tell the story of how the surprise birth of twin daughters caused him to leap over the ditch leading to their neighbour’s house to share the good news, whereupon his friend proposed a toast of strong drink, even though it was very early in the morning. As the story goes, he then went out to buy one more of everything for the unexpected twin. Those were the days before a husband’s first place was expected to be beside his wife at the hospital!

In the early years of family life, John’s work with Ontario Hydro led the family to new homes in Windsor and then Sarnia, where he worked many years at the Lambton Generating Station. It was there that he found he could really pursue his passion for small craft sailing, becoming a founding member of the Sarnia Centre-board Sailing Club, and racing his beloved Wild Honey Wayfayer sailing dinghy twice a week throughout the summer months. His children remember the thrill of occasionally being allowed to join their parents onboard for a sailing race in Sarnia harbor, off the St Clair River.  The young family together loved the exciting sound of the air horn rounding up the boats, the colours of the spinnaker billowing out in front and even the sting on little fingers holding tightly to ropes.  The shout, “all about” from their father signally a command to scramble to the other side of the boat as the boom swung wildly during a direction change while their bottoms got wet as the wind keeled the boat to one side.

A move to a lakeshore property to the east of Sarnia in 1972 gave John and Joy an idyllic setting to raise their young family, sparking in all of them  a love of exploring and adventuring as they embraced beach combing, tearing through the forest, clambering over naturally formed winter ice caves, skating on Lake Huron, and enjoying endless summer days playing in the waves and sand of the beach in front of their house. John and Joy thought nothing of waking the children from their beds to enjoy the excitement of a good thunderstorm or the thrill of a starry sky at midnight. They took the family on car-camping trips to Newfoundland and BC, teaching the children the harmony of teamwork, the values of cooperation and hard work and the fun of camping—even in the rain. In the Parry Sound area, the family loved to camp at Killbear Provincial Park and to take Wild Honey into the waters for days of sailing, mooring off small remote islands to camp on shore at night. In Sarnia, every Saturday afternoon the family went cross country skiing, tobogganing, fossil finding, walking or biking. One summer they enjoyed a memorable family backpacking hike on the Bruce Trail. Those years were also marked by social events as the couple hosted fun and creative parties.

John moved the family to Thunder Bay in 1978 to take yet another position with Ontario Hydro.  He took an early retirement in 1981, only to be headhunted for contract work in Fort McMurray, Atikokan and Mombasa, Kenya in the following years. Then, with the season of children marrying and grandchildren arriving, John and Joy made their final move to Winnipeg in 1991.

They embraced their retirement years, taking trips to visit their son Joe and hike on the West Coast Trail, sailing, canoeing, trekking in England and backpacking in the Grand Canyon.  They loved to visit family in England, especially John’s beloved sister Eileen Scholes, her husband Michael and their three children, Tim, John and Elizabeth.  His father’s sisters, Connie and Edith were like parents, friends and aunties to him and he loved to spend time with them, welcoming them to Canada several times for action-packed visits.

In June 1996, at the age of 65, John completed a solo bicycle trip from Victoria to Thunder Bay, cycling 2554 km in 22 days and camping along the way in his pup tent. “I’ve done some long distant cycling before and I thought this would be the ultimate ride. So I did it,” John told the newspaper reporter afterwards. ”You come back with a general feeling that it’s a pretty good world.  People are friendly all along the way.” We as a family were very proud of his accomplishment.

John continued to meet with his old canoeing buddies for bigger, longer and more remote canoe trips during his retirement, such as the wild Winisk River, calling themselves LACOGA, the “Low Arctic Company of Gentlemen Adventurers.” These annual adventures continued for almost 50 years and only stopped when he was 78 years old.

John was committed to lifelong learning, taking night courses, learning new skills and hobbies and listening to new perspectives. Over the years we saw him learn rug-hooking, wine and beer making, gardening, jewelry making, music appreciation, piano, hand weaving and tinker with simple machinery made on a metal lathe at home. He studied Spanish and went for a language immersion semester in Germany.  He also took a public speaking course to overcome his fears, read books on mathematics, science, philosophy, the universe and religion.  Even in his advanced years he continued to listened to the Great Courses. Part of his legacy is passing many of these interests, skills and hobbies onto his family.

John believed in serving the community and was involved in various Anglican parishes as a greeter, reader, pastoral visitor, Rector’s warden and further served the church through maintenance and repair on the Church buildings.  For many years he volunteered with Meals on Wheels, was a porter on the Prairie Dog Central, served as a dedicated club member and leader of the Manitoba Live Steamers and did maintenance and repair for the Pioneer Camp on Lake of the Woods and the Winnipeg Crisis Pregnancy Centre.

John’s character and choices revealed his strong values of truth, honesty, hard work, hospitality and doing good to others. In 1991 he also became a man of faith, when he confronted his spiritual doubts and conflicts and chose to follow Christ. His faith was an extension of his commitment to truth at all costs.  His new faith found particular expression in gratitude and spontaneous thanksgiving to God, and with strong hope of meeting God himself in the afterlife.

John’s robust life diminished through a series of strokes since 2010 but even these did not keep him from ongoing learning, daily walks or his regular fitness routines at the YMCA, well into his 80s.  In the last few years, John and Joy were able to stay in their own home utilizing the excellent support of home care staff through the Self and Family Managed Care Program of the WRHA.  We are grateful to all the caregivers who continued to help him experience a full life despite his declining health and the challenges of dementia, and to those who cared for him so tenderly in his final weeks.

John leaves behind his much loved wife, Joy; their son Joe; daughter Sally and son-in-law, Lance Nelson and grandson, David (and Shirley) and great grandson, Jasper; grandson, Samuel, and granddaughter, Asha; daughter Susan and son in law, JP Burak; grandson Caleb (and Shannon) and great grandchildren, Judah, Keziah and Gabriel; granddaughter Marian (and Daniel); granddaughter, Rachel (and Kyle) and great grandson, Bud; grandson, Joseph and granddaughters Su Li and Elisabeth. He is also survived by his sister, Eileen Scholes, nephews Tim and John Scholes and niece, Elizabeth Scholes and their families.

John also leaves behind his Church family at St. Aiden’s Anglican Church, Winnipeg. He was a part of a regular house church and leaves behind those with whom he shared his thoughts and grew together in relationship and faith.

We would like to acknowledge Dr. Friesen at the Health Science Centre and Dr. Sawchuk at Access River East who both went above and beyond to help John and his family during his last health crisis. Special thanks to his nurse Jan at the Riverview Health Centre and the health care givers who helped him meet his last days with dignity, support and comforting care. And to Pastor Dave Labden, we have special thanks for his ongoing spiritual care to John, Joy and all the family.

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