Location and Background
The village of Woodnorth is located in the southwest corner of the Province of Manitoba, about nineteen miles from the border with the Province of Saskatchewan and about fifty miles from the border of North Dakota in the United States. Like many other small towns across the prairies, Woodnorth was founded in the early twentieth century by settlers who were hopeful that the plains of Western Canada would become a prosperous agricultural area. Gradually, people realized that small farms were not economically viable, farms became larger, but fewer, and the population in rural areas declined. The population of Woodnorth was two persons in 1909, Bert and Victor Hart, rose to ninety by 1930, and by late August 2017 was back to two persons, Doug and Vickie Naughton.
The photos are, for the most part, filed in chronological order. A section on the Woodnorth Cemetery, which is located just outside the town, is posted at the end.
My mother, Sarah Cameron, was born on the family farm at Woodnorth in 1910 to Donald and Isabella Cameron. She lived most of her life in the area. She and my father Wilfred Forsyth (raised on a farm in the Boss Hill district, a few miles away) managed and later purchased the grocery store in Woodnorth after Dad returned from serving in the Canadian Army in World War II. Although I was born in Virden, the location of the nearest hospital, I was raised at Woodnorth and lived there until I went off to university in 1966.
As a tribute to the village and the people who have called Woodnorth “home” for at least part of their lives, I am posting an assortment of photographs, most of which belonged to my parents, plus brief information about the community from early days to more recent times. The dates for some photos have had to be guessed at since they are unlabeled but are included as they illustrate town buildings and activities. There are also a number of photos from the Cameron farm which is immediately adjacent to the town. The land for the town was purchased from my grandfather Cameron’s farm. A brief history of Woodnorth and its families may be found in local histories such as:
Trails Along the Pipestone. Published by the R.M. of Pipestone History Project, Box 99, Reston, Manitoba R0M 1X0, Canada, first printing, 1981, 855p. ISBN 0-888925-147-9.
The Sequel to Trails Along the Pipestone 2008. Published by RM Pipestone History Committee, Box 550 Reston, Manitoba ROM 1X0, first printing, 2009. 718 p. ISBN 978-1-55383-218-8.
There is a brief section on Woodnorth, written by my father Wilfred Forsyth, in Ida Clingan’s book, The Virden Story. [1882-1957] 264 p, printed in 1957 on the occasion of Virden’s 75th anniversary by The Empire Publishing Co. Ltd., Virden, Manitoba, bound by D.W. Friesen & Sons Ltd., Altona, Manitoba. I have copied that section below:
SOME EARLY RESIDENTS of WOODNORTH and district:
Farmer, Mail Carrier, and Member of the Legislative Assembly – Bob Mooney
First Grocery Store Owner – Bert Hart
In 1909 Bert Hart opened the first store to operate in Woodnorth. He was born in London, England on August 5, 1880. His father, in the 1891 census was a widower, whose occupation was “retired victualler”, so Bert’s family had some experience in the grocery business. He decided to come to Canada, arriving in Halifax on Feb 14, 1909, bound for Pipestone municipality where he immediately set up his business at Woodnorth. According to the ship’s manifest he was married but he seemed to be travelling by himself so Louise must have joined him later. He and Victor Hart (who was either a brother or a cousin) were partners in the store. In 1915 Bert decided to join the Canadian Army (known as the CEF or the Canadian Expeditionary Force) which was engaged in the fierce fighting of World War I in France. His attestation paper is dated August 7, 1915. He was 35 years old, five feet, nine inches tall, with grey eyes, dark brown hair, and a 38-inch chest. His religion was Church of England. His next of kin was his wife Marie Louise Hart of Woodnorth. After Bert joined the Army his store business was sold to J.P. Richardson, a farmer living in the district.
I was curious about what Bert Hart did after his time in Woodnorth so did a little research. After World War One he returned to Canada and by 1921 was living at Togo, Saskatchewan near the Manitoba border. His wife Louise must have pre-deceased him as he was a retiree, aged 77, living by himself in New Westminster, British Columbia in 1957 (according to the Voters’ List). But, he seems to have married again. At his death in Richmond on April 19, 1981, at the age of 100, he was survived by his widow, Nellie Rosalind Hart. She was born April 5, 1897 in London, England and died January 16, 1982 in Victoria, B. C.
Second Owner of the Grocery Store at Woodnorth – from 1916-1945 – J.P. Richardson
“J.P.”, as he was always known, seems to have been a larger-than-life character who, as well as farming in the district, owning the general store, and acting as Post Master, played a big part in many of the community groups and activities in Woodnorth for more than thirty years.
It was only in researching to find out what his initials stood for that I discovered he had been married twice. Joseph Pattinson Richardson came to Canada from his native Scotland in 1904. He married Letitia (or Lettishea) Milburn on October 28, 1908 in the R.M. of Pipestone. She was born in the R.M. of Pipestone on Nov 15, 1886, daughter of Charles Milburn and Mary Catherine Lewis. Sadly, she died at the age of 22 on July 30, 1909, seemingly in childbirth. There is a record of the death of an unnamed baby Richardson on the same day, both in the R.M. of Wallace, and their death registration numbers are sequential. The Milburns were early settlers in the Woodnorth area and lived in the community for many decades. Letitia’s brother, Frank Milburn (1884-1970), opened the first hardware store in Woodnorth in 1913. In 1918 he married Sobina Shoemaker (1887-1937). One of J.P.’s daughters with his second wife was named Letitia in memory of the young Letitia Milburn Richardson.
On April 10, 1918, J.P. Richardson married Mary Muir (born at Deloraine on 23 Mar 1888). Although my mother identified the picture only as “Mr and Mrs J.P. Richardson” and guessed it was taken about 1917, she would not have known the first Mrs Richardson so I am sure that the above photo must be Mary, not Letitia. The photo was taken in Winnipeg, where the wedding took place but, according to the information on the Manitoba Historical Society website listing Manitoba photographers, the Rembrandt Studio only had a business listing in Winnipeg for 1909/1910. However, the photographer who operated the studio, Frederick W. Parkin, lived until 1953 and may have worked elsewhere but continued to use the photo card stock from the Rembrandt Studio.
My mother worked in the Richardson’s store in the late 1920s and 1930s. A letter to her from J.P. Richardson, on the occasion of her father’s death in 1941 will be included elsewhere in this website in the section on Donald Duncan Cameron (1878-1941).
A couple of souvenirs from the old store have remained in the Forsyth family. They were part of the store’s furnishings when my parents bought it – both belonged to the Richardsons and possibly to the Harts as well.
The Grain Growers Grain Company Limited No.6 at Woodnorth 1915
This picture shows Woodnorth district members of the Grain Growers Grain Company with their new elevator, #6. The GGG was an early co-operative venture in Western Canada (formed in 1906) as farmers attempted to get fairer prices for their grain than the large private grain companies would pay.
My mother, Sarah (Cameron) Forsyth identified a number of the people in the picture when she brought it out for display at Woodnorth’s 70th anniversary celebrations. It is worthwhile to enlarge it on screen to have a closer look at the individuals. Who took the picture remains a mystery. Perhaps the co-operative arranged for photographs of new elevators.
- Billy McDiarmid (grey team)
- D.D. Cameron with team. Frank Milburn sitting on side of wagon
- Bert Hart (store keeper) with white shirt and tie
- Billy Cameron (on white horse) (Butcher Shop)
- R. A. (Bob) Leslie (station agent)
- Clark Thompson- holding bag of Rolled Oats (grain buyer)
- John Mattheweson (standing out in front)
- Joe Williams with team and buggy
- Ed Williams (Pompie/Pumpie) with sleigh
- Tom Dexter (arms folded)
- Neil Forsyth – in gang way, wearing a coon coat
- J.H. Stephenson and Charlie Steele (up from J. Matthewson)
- Jim Cochrane in gangway, leaning on shovel
- George Robertson near the telephone pole. Billy Hill in same wagon
- Mrs R.A. Leslie & Mrs Thompson on side of gangway
- William Leech & Clint Leech on edge of gangway
- David Smith, Senior, Mary Smith, Mrs Bert Hart & Lizzie Smith up on high seat on wagon.
1920s and 1930s
There are no dates on several of these photos but they were probably all taken in the 1920s or 1930s.
Left to right – Back Row: R.H.Mooney, Mr. Grieve, Charlie Ritchie, John Matthewson, Donald Duncan Cameron, the final three are unknown but one of them is John Shoemaker. Middle Row: Miss Beryl McNiven(Woodnorth School Principal), unknown, Mrs Niven (who was killed in a car accident in Nov 1936 and is buried in Woodnorth cemetery) four unknowns, Mrs Albert (Carrie) Shoemaker. Front Row: Mrs Murray Stewart (elevator agent’s wife), unknown, Miss Bessie Ritchie, unknown, Miss Mary Mitchell ( Mrs Nevin’s niece from Scotland, later Mrs Tom Matthewson), unknown.
Three harvest Pictures – date unknown, probably 1920s:
Cameron Farm in Winter: Pictures of snow were often taken as proof of tough winter weather in Manitoba. The three snapshots below which were supplied by Ria Cameron (from the collection of Ken and Ruth Cameron, probably taken by Sarah (m.s, Cameron) Forsyth) are labelled March 17, 1943 and were taken after a three day blizzard.
CAMERON FARM at WOODNORTH – HARVEST TIME 1944
The six photos below were taken on August 12, 1944. My mother, Sarah Forsyth (m.s. Cameron) notes that this wheat went 40 bushels to the acre. She also says “Patsy was so bad she turned her back and buried her head down in all the pictures we took. These were some of Gowanlock’s photography.” Gowanlock, later shortened to “Gowan” was the nickname given to Ian Cameron (1912-1998) after he won the curling bonspiel at Woodnorth in the late 1930s or early 1940s, thus comparing him to the Manitoba champion curler Abe Gowanlock who won the MacDonald Brier in 1938.
Lunch was usually brought out to the field at harvest time, probably in this case by my mother Sarah Forsyth, who had returned to her parents’ farm for the duration of the War after her husband’s regiment was shipped to England in August/September of 1942. Not sure who everyone is here but Patricia Forsyth is the blond child with her back to the camera. The man standing is Donald Munro (born about 1884, father of Elizabeth Munro who married Len Cameron in 1941). I think the man on the left (just behind the boy in striped shirt) is Ken Cameron (1914-2005). Mum may have taken this one as I think Ian Cameron is the man on the right with a wide brimmed hat while the man in the centre with a peaked cap looks like Len Cameron (1917-1997).
Not sure who these two are on the Massey Harris. Possibly Della (Shoemaker) Cameron, Liz (Munro) Cameron as their husbands are both in the other photos taken that day.
February 8, 1947
Junior Room Woodnorth School June 1951. Left to right – Front row: Tena Jopko, Francis Savitzky, Lylia Cameron, Dixie Mitchell, Colleen Hagan, Sharon Duquette, Isabel Lowdon, Lynn Cochrane, Pat Forsyth. Second Row: Gerry (Bud) Cameron, George Mac Donald, Don Cameron, Arnold Gertz, Fred Gertz, Keith Hagan, Roger Lowdon, Bill Priestley. Third row: Diane Mooney (with scarf on hair), Arlene Amos, Beryl Mitchell, Edith Gertz, Shirley Anne Horne, [two boys from second row break up this row a bit] Elsie Currie, Darlene Duquette, Genevieve Duquette, Kathleen Boreham. Back row: Teacher Miss Pat Dybish, Eddie Currie, George Lansing, Joan Priestley, Sonia Senkew (wearing sweater with sailboat pattern), Lyle Lansing, Jim Coughlan.
On Saturday July 6, 1952, at about 8:30 pm a heavy windstorm, probably a tornado, passed through Woodnorth, tearing the roof off Priestley’s garage. The photos below were taken the following morning.
From The Winnipeg Free Press, Saturday January 31, 1953.
“Virden, Man., (Special) – Robert H. Mooney, government member of the Manitoba legislature for Virden, died Friday night on the way to Virden hospital after he was stricken with a heart attack.
He was 80 years of age and the oldest member in the house. At the time of the attack, Mr. Mooney was riding in an auto with his brother-in-law, A. Shoemaker.
Known as one of the quietest men in the house, he was one of the originals of 1922 who joined forces to draft John Bracken as premier of Manitoba.
Of Irish descent, Mr. Mooney was born at Wingham, Ont. in 1873 and came to Manitoba as a boy. After attending school at Virden he taught school for three years, and for close to 50 years had been operating his farm in the constituency.
One of the early supporters of the farm movement in western politics, Mr. Mooney contested his first election as a Progressive, and believed Mr. Bracken, the party leader, best suited to defend the interests of farmers.
Mr. Mooney served as a councillor at Pipestone from 1911 to 1922. Committees he had headed in the legislature included the select standing committee on private bills.”
In the Manitoba General Election on June 8, 1953, R.H. Mooney’s nephew, Gordon Mooney, who also farmed at Woodnorth, ran for the seat as a Liberal but lost to John Thompson, lawyer and Mayor of Elkhorn, who represented the Progressive Conservative Party.
This election card reminds voters that for many residents of rural Manitoba there was no electricity until after World War II. Electricity came to Woodnorth in 1950.
In 1956 a skating rink was built to replace the open-air skating rink which had served the community for many years. A working group of local residents did the construction work.
From Left to right: Back Row-Albert Eigler, Dennis Casson, Billy Gray, Garth Mooney, Lorne Gardiner, Allan Eigler. Middle Row – Ricky Savitzky, David Scharff, Grant Shoemaker, Gerry Johnson, Jimmy Rattray, Sandy Ritchie, Keith Cameron. Front Row: Marilyn Short, Susan Eigler, Maxine Gardiner, Judy Gray, Valerie Johnson, Linda Lyons, Ferne Cameron. Teacher – Miss Viola Hill. Taken by Virden Studio 1960.
The Room One teacher, Miss Viola Hill (1900-1988), was born in the Lenore district, daughter of Bessie Tiffin and George Angus Hill. She taught at several Manitoba schools and was at Woodnorth for ten years, from the Fall of 1953 through June 1963. While in Woodnorth she boarded with Donald and Susan Munro who had retired into the village from their farm. Miss Hill was noted for having been the “May Queen” in Virden in the late teens or early 1920s. She always dressed beautifully and retained a lovely complexion into old age. Her handwriting was a very elegant “backhand” and many students who learned to write under her tutelage retained this distinctive style.
Left to Right: Back Row: Murray Cameron, Garry Ritchie, John Gray, Doug Naughton, Rick Horn, Kerry Horn, Doug Cameron (1948-2016). Middle Row: Ian Gregor, Gordon Cameron, Daryl Mooney, Margaret Coughlan, Diane Savitsky, Elaine Fahlman, Sharon Horn, Larry Eigler, Barry Horn, Joan Wylie (teacher). Front Row: Pam Forsyth, Edith Gray (1949-1997), Linda Scharff, Melva Gray, Sandra Shoemaker, Debbie Cochrane. Teacher – Miss Joan Wyllie.
In the Summer of 1960 – between May 23 and July 23rd a new Pool Elevator and office were built at Woodnorth. Claire Scharff was the grain buyer for the Pool Elevator at this time. Jack Cameron (son of Ian & Della) is standing in the doorway in this photo.
Staff from the Jacobson Photo Studio of Souris, Manitoba were in Woodnorth on May 2, 1961 to take group photos for the School.
Left to Right: Back Row: Miss Viola Hill, teacher (from Lenore, Manitoba), Allan Eigler, Grant Shoemaker, David Scharff, Barry Stuart, Bill Gray, Garth Mooney, Dennis Casson. Middle Row: Albert Eigler, Susan Eigler, Judy Gray, Maxine Gardiner, Carol Stuart, Valerie Johnson, Lorne Gardiner, Murray Stuart. Front Row: Kenny Stuart, Jackie Mac Donald, Marilyn Short, Shawne Hagan, Debbie Hammermeister, Arthur Gertz, Marjorie Horn, Donald Mooney.
Left to right: Back Row: Miss Bertha Kramer, teacher (from Rokeby, Sask.) Sandy Ritchie, Robert Cameron, Garry Ritchie, John Gray, Doug Naughton, Ian Greggor, Douglas Cameron, Kerry Horn. Middle Row: Linda Lyons, Sharon Horn, Melva Gray, Debbie Cochrane, Linda Scharff, Pamela Forsyth, Ferne Cameron, Edith Gray. Front Row: Darryl Mooney, Larry Eigler, Barry Horn, Murray Cameron, Jerry Johnson, Gordon Cameron, Keith Cameron, Jim Rattray.
Woodnorth School, Room Three, Grades 9-11 on June 5, 1962. Taken just outside the School, next to the Manse. Left to Right: Back Row – Bud (Gerry) Cameron, Doug Naughton, Daryl Barclay, Rick Horn, Gordon Scott, Terry Wright, Delwyn Smith, Keith Smeltz, Middle Row: Barry Morgan, Barry Foote, Gary Ritchie, Ian Gregor, Darwin White, Jim Hall, Teacher & Principal Dalton J. Burke. Front Row: Glen Hall, Gayle Piggott, Debra Cochrane, Margaret Coughlan, Sandra Shoemaker, Adele Mitchell, Diane Foote, Kerry Horn. Photo by Jacobson Studio, Souris, Man.
Woodnorth School June 5, 1962, Room One, Grades 1-4
Left to Right: Back Row: Miss Viola Hill, Shawne Hagan, Lorne Gardiner, Dennis Casson, Garth Mooney, Arty Gertz, Ken Stuart. Middle Row: Murray Stuart, Marjorie Horn, Judy Gray, Susan Eigler, Maxine Gardiner, Brenda Casson, Jacky McDonald. Front Row: Diane Stuart, Debbie Hammermeister, Colin or Carson Cassidy, Lorraine Copier, Carson or Colin Cassidy, Beverly Gardiner, Grant Wedow. Photo by Jacobson Studio, Souris, Man.
Another house on the way out of Woodnorth – this time it is the home of Donald Munro which is being moved about a mile out of town to the farm of his daughter and son-in-law Elizabeth and Len Cameron.
View of the front of the Donald Munro house in 1967 as it is being moved out of Woodnorth.
1967 – Next to the Munro house is the former home of Clarence Wilson who served as Woodnorth’s Post Master from April 23, 1949 until July 7, 1966. He operated the Post Office out of the front porch seen here. This was originally called the Coulter House, perhaps after the first family that owned it. It was later owned by the Richardson family. J.P. Richardson was postmaster from Oct 7, 1915 til March 21, 1949. He also operated the post office out of the front porch. The house was moved out of Woodnorth in late 1968 or early 1969.
On August 1, 1968, a CNR freight train jumped the track at the western edge of Woodnorth wrecking twenty-nine cars and dumping piles of grain on the tracks and surrounding field. Luckily, no one was hurt. The line of cars in the photo below shows how many people came to take a look at the wreck.
On the back of one photo Sarah Forsyth notes that it happened at about 3:10 p.m. “while the U.C.W. [United Church Women] were preparing a wedding supper for Linda Scharff & Morris Debaar” who were married that day.
Snow on the main street – February 27, 1969 – in front of Forsyth’s store and the Cameron Hardware. Ian & Della Cameron’s house at the far left of the photo, then my playhouse with the striped wall and Forsyth’s garage.
In April 1969 the village was flooded. Murray Cameron (son of Ken & Ruth) and Doug Cameron (son of Ian & Della) seen boating up the main street.
Aerial views of Woodnorth
W.A. (Budd) Forsyth flew over Woodnorth in the summer of 1989 with his daughter Leanne who took the two photos below. The CNR railroad tracks are visible on the lower left, just south of the main road (Railway Avenue) through the village.
A community reunion was held at Woodnorth in the Summer 1995. Below is an aerial view showing some of the campers and RVs parked in the Schoolyard. Another building, the Lowdon house to the left of the church, has disappeared in the six years since the aerial view in 1989.
The former Woodnorth grocery store was demolished on November 26, 1999. The building had been vacant since the Fall of 1977.
Just about a mile south of the town is the Woodnorth Cemetery.
The Cemetery got its start only a few years after the village was established thanks to the action of a group of local residents which is summarized in the item below, published in The Reston Recorder, Reston, Manitoba, Nov 4, 1976:
“Woodnorth Cemetery 1913
While searching ownership of plots and location of graves in the Woodnorth cemetery, it is interesting to read the minutes of the founding meeting held in Frank Milburn’s hardware store on the 9th of August 1913.
Moved by Mr. John Matthewson and seconded by Mr. Jos Burton, that Mr. Robert Mooney be chairman. Carried.
Moved by Mr. Jos Burton, and seconded by John Matthewson that J.P. Richardson be Secretary-Treasurer. Carried.
Moved by Mr. William Leech and seconded by William Cochrane that it is the opinion of this meeting that the time has come to have a cemetery for Woodnorth. Carried.
Moved by Mr. Wilson Smith and seconded by Mr. D.D. Cameron that we respectfully ask the Council to purchase the plot selected by the meeting. Carried.
Moved by Mr. Jos Burton and seconded by Mr. J.P. Richardson that Mr. J.H. Stephenson, Mr. A. Mooney, Mr. William Cochrane, Mr. William Leech and Mr. William Hill be appointed a committee to select a site for the cemetery and take such steps as may be necessary to procure. Carried.
Moved by Mr. Donald Cameron and Mr. Jos Matthewson that Fred Milburn be appointed to the committeee in place of Mr. Cochrane, at Mr. Cochrane’s request. Carried.
Moved by Mr. J.H. Stephenson and seconded by Mr. K. Cameron that the size of the cemetery be two acres more or less. Carried.
The next meeting took place the following year on the 28th March 1914. Mr. J.H. Stephenson chairman of the site committee reported that they would recommend the purchase of two acres in the NE corner of the NE quarter 4-9-27.
Moved by B.M. Hart seconded by J.P. Richardson that we secure the site. Carried.
This they did. The burial ground is still being maintained and used.”
Some graves in the Woodnorth Cemetery:
Pictures taken in 2014 show that some of those involved in the meeting reported above were themselves buried in the cemetery they established.