Biography

Roland Woods was the only son of Joseph Woods and Jemima Harrison. He was born on April 22, 1897 at his parents home at 22 Oldfield Street, Wigan. He was baptized on May 30 at St. James’ Church in Poolstock. On March 31, 1901 at the time of the 1901 census the family was still living at 22 Oldfield Street.

Sometime after 1901 the Woods family moved to Golborne south of Wigan. The Woods’ house at 69 Heath Street in Golborne had six rooms including a drawing room, much larger than the homes of most of their family members at the time. This suggests that Roland’s family was comparatively well-to-do.

Circa 1908 Roland’s young cousin, Doris Whitfield, came to stay with the Woods family during the holidays. Many years later Doris wrote a poem entitled The Photo Album about her childhood stay at the Woods house*. According to the poem, Doris and Roland would play in the attic on rainy days. Of Roland, who was three years her elder, Doris wrote:

He was a good playfellow,
He’d march and drill and sing.
He’d be a little ‘Drummer Boy,’
Or a ‘Soldier Of The King.’

Alarmingly, the poem also describes Roland and Doris playing a game of “Silver Blobs” with beads of mercury that ‘clever’ Roland extracted from an old barometer!

The 1911 census records the Woods family living at 69 Heath Street in Golborne. Roland, age 13, was in school. A cousin on his father’s side of the family, Henry Elias Woods, age 16 was living with the family. Henry was born in Rosario, Argentina. According to the census there had been another child in the Woods family who died sometime before 1911.

In June,1913 Joseph Woods sailed on the S.S. Canadian from Liverpool to Boston, eventually settling in Montreal.  In 1914 Roland, age 16, sailed with his mother on the S.S. Canada from Liverpool to Quebec City arriving on May 12. The passenger list identifies Jemima and Roland as tourists intending to join Joseph Woods but not planning to reside in Canada. They joined Joseph in Montreal at 17 Rue Jogues North in Ville Emard. Roland stayed for three months before returning to England on August 9th “for education and enlistment.” He sailed 5 days after the outbreak of World War I on August 4th.

Sometime thereafter Roland enlisted in the Royal Lincolnshire Regiment of the British Army. He would not have been eligible to enlist until his eighteenth birthday in April 1915 (although it was not uncommon for underage boys wanting to enlist to lie about their age). Roland was probably deployed to France; most Royal Lincolnshire battalions fought in France, and by 1920 Roland could speak French. At the end of the war Roland was awarded the British War Medal, recognition for “serving overseas or in a theatre of battle”.

In March 1920, sixteen months after the war ended, Roland sailed from Liverpool to St. John, New Brunswick and traveled onward by train to Montreal. His passenger list entry and passenger’s declaration indicated that his final destination was his parents’ home at 321 Hibernia Road, Pointe-Saint-Charles, Montreal. According to Roland’s passenger’s declaration he had been a student, was bilingual, intended to settle in Canada and planned to work as a store manager. Roland’s parents ran a candy store from their home on Hibernia Road and Roland might have expected to work at the store.

Not long after Roland arrived in Montreal his father, Joseph Woods, died.

In April, 1921 Mildred Arkwell Hart, a 23-year-old teacher from Ince-in-Makerfield, sailed from Liverpool to Quebec and travelled onward to join Roland and his mother in Montreal. Mildred’s passenger declaration and passenger list entry indicate that she came to Canada to marry Roland.

The 1921 census enumerated Jemima, Roland and Mildred residing in the four-room house and at 321 Hibernia Road. Roland and Mildred were both still single, and Mildred was listed as a boarder.** Jemima was employed as a candy store owner. Roland was employed as an actuary working for an insurance company earning $1,000 per year. This is the first record of Roland working in the insurance industry. He spent the rest of his life working for the Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada at their headquarters in the Sun Life Building on Dominion Square. Roland initially worked as an actuary, for which he must have had some training as well a bent for statistics. He later held the positions of Head of Field Service, and Chief Accountant. Roland was also offered a position at a Sun Life office in the southern United States but turned down the offer because of concerns about racial discrimination and conflict.

The Province of Quebec does not release civil registration certificates for genealogical research, so we do not have a record of Roland and Mildred’s marriage. However, they were almost certainly married in the summer of 1921 at Grace Church in Pointe-Saint-Charles.

Circa 1924 Roland and Mildred had their first child, Mervyl Harrison Woods. Circa 1925 they moved out of Jemima’s home at 321 Hibernia Road into a nearby house at 21 Rue de Rozel in Pointe-Saint-Charles. In the summer of 1927 Roland, Jemima and Mervyl sailed to England, staying with Mildred’s family in Ince-in Makerfield. They landed in Liverpool on July 11. Roland returned to Canada from Southampton on August 5th.

In September 1926 Roland purchased a property at 43 Wicksteed Avenue in the Town of Mount Royal for $7,500. This appears to have been a new development because the street is not listed in Montreal directories prior to 1926.The Woods family lived at this address for more than two decades.

In 1932 Roland and Mildred had their second child, a daughter. During the second world war their son, Mervyl, enlisted in the Canadian navy. He died at sea in 1944. Roland and Mildred dedicated a stained glass window to Mervyl at St. Peter’s church in Montreal.

Roland and Millie’s daughter married in 1952. Shortly thereafter Roland and Millie sold their house on Wicksteed Avenue and moved a few blocks away to an apartment at 1417 Graham Boulevard. They lived there for two or three years, and then moved to 214 Clement Avenue in Dorval to be closer to their daughter and her family.

Roland was an active member of his church congregation.  He held a variety of positions on church committees over the years, was a lay reader, taught Sunday School, and sometimes stood in for ministers at his own church and others in Montreal. When he lived in Pointe-Saint-Charles Roland was a member of the Grace Church congregation and served as a church warden (c.1923-25) and member of the chimes committee (1925). When he lived in the Town of Mount Royal Roland was a member of St. Peter’s Anglican Church, serving at various times as a lay reader, member of the vestry, delegate to the synod and Sunday school teacher . After moving to Dorval in the mid-1950s Roland was a lay reader at St. Mark’s Anglican Church. Roland’s daughter remembers accompanying her father to services at various churches when she was young, and describes Roland as a church-going person, not a demonstrably religious man.  “He didn’t go around with a bible in his hand preaching”.  She describes Roland as a very nice person, “soft, sweet and understanding”.

Roland was active in the insurance community in Montreal. He was invited to speak about insurance to local community groups, and was a member of the Insurance Underwriters Association which gave him L’Esperance Award in 1936 for doing “the most for the cause.”

Over the years Roland kept in touch with his family members. He and Mildred made a number of trips back to England to visit family. Roland corresponded regularly with his cousin, Harold Harrison in Toronto. The Harrison and Woods families got together occasionally. He also corresponded with his Wigan cousin, Jack Harrison.

Roland, a life long smoker, developed lung cancer in the mid-1950s.  By the end of 1956 he must of been quite ill. In a letter written on November 25, 1956 his cousin Harold, in a letter to Harold’s sister Elizabeth (Bessie) Gwilliam, wrote “I guess Roland Woods (our cousin you know) in Montreal has quit writing to us because I never answer his letters.” Roland died a few weeks later, in January 1957. He is buried in the Mount Royal Cemetery.

 


Source Documents


Footnotes

*Roland and Doris’ mothers, Jemima and Elizabeth, were sisters. Doris published the poems (“verses” as she called them) under her married name, Doris Darbyshire.

**Mildred arrived in Canada on 30 April 1921, six weeks before the 1921 Census was taken at 321 Hibernia St. Presumably the marriage of Roland and Mildred was subject to bans that were underway at the time of the census.