Leduc’s Dr. Woods
He climbed down from the wagon and walked to the stake to check his claim. “This is it James” he yelled to his brother-in-law. After a long train ride from Empire City, Kansas to Leduc and then a wagon ride to Strawberry Creek Dr. Woods was about to return to the land and become a homesteader.
His journey to Alberta had taken thirty-two years and two countries, but it would become his home and Leduc would be the better for his decision.
Dr. Roberts Theodore Woods was born to Roberts Brown and Mattie Woods at London Ontario in 1870. His parents had come to Canada as children from Ireland. Dr. Woods grew up on a farm and attended the public schools of London and then graduated from London Western, today known as Western University, with a medical degree in 1895.
Dr. Woods’s first job was as a medical doctor for the company extending the Illinois and Michigan drainage canal system. In 1898 Dr. Woods learned about the opportunities for a doctor in the mines along the Kansas and Missouri border. Dr. Woods and his brother Dr. William Woods established their practice in Empire City, Kansas and over the next four years he became a country doctor traveling from one community to the next.
Around the time of his arrival the local sheriff, Sheriff Orlando Thomas, was killed as he was leaving a church. This unfortunate event and the illnesses of the sheriff’s three sons led Dr. Woods to meet Olive Marie Hopkins Thomas, the sheriff’s widow. She would also lose her boys when they succumbed to diphtheria.
At the turn of the century a series of strikes by coal miners hit the communities that Dr. Woods served. Dr. Woods’s sister and brother-in-law Dr. James Baker, told him about the opportunities in Alberta and the opening of the Strawberry Creek area for homesteading. They encouraged Dr. Woods to apply for a homestead claim. Doctor Woods arrived in 1902 and began to develop his claim in the Telfordville District west of Thorsby.
Once Dr. Woods established his claim he returned to Kansas and convinced Olive to return with him to Alberta. As they stepped off the train, in Leduc, they went directly to the Methodist Rectory where Reverend Scott was waiting to marry them in 1903.
Dr. Woods was certified as a doctor in Ontario and three states, but he did not have a license to practice medicine in the Territories. However, he did provide vet and some medical work for his neighbors. One of his neighbors was Robert Telford who became the area’s first MLA, in 1905, for the newly formed Province of Alberta. MLA Telford presented a private members bill that would provide Dr. Woods with a medical license to practice medicine. To show support for the bill many of Dr. Woods’s neighbors, as far away as Calmar, agreed to pay him $2.00 a year for his services as a doctor.
After six years working his and his wife’s homestead claims Dr. Woods moved his family, which included his wife, mother, two sisters, and two sons to Leduc in 1908.
During this time his brother-in-law moved to British Columbia and his brother, Dr. William Woods, to Edmonton. Dr. Woods was once again a country doctor and could be seen doing his rounds in the winter wearing a large thick buffalo coat and fur gloves driving a horse drawn sleigh and in the summer a Hupmobile.
Dr. Woods kept himself informed of medicine and science advances to assist in his ability to provide quality service to his patients. He was aware of the need for cleanliness in preventing illnesses. He was one of the first to have a telephone installed in his home. He was among the first to use a picture postcard at Christmas time to wish his patients a Merry Christmas.
Dr. Woods’s innovative ideas came to a head when he decided to build a new home and medical facility in 1927. He settled on a Craftsman Home, a stylish modern design that allowed him to combine a medical wing and a garage with a comfortable home for his family. Dr. Woods was a practical man and the stones used in the fireplace and front porch pillars came from their homestead.
Dr. Woods and Olive had three children. Edwin was born in 1905 on the homestead and became a pharmacist and from 1933 to 1939 lived in Millet. A second son was tragically killed in a horse accident. His third child was a girl born in 1915. A number of Dr. Woods’s relatives still live in Edmonton and from time to time visit the home in Leduc, now operated by the Leduc and District Historical Society.
Both Dr. Woods and his wife Olive were active members of the community involved in a number of service organizations. In 1932 the town of Calmar honored them when they were asked to lead the Grand March at the opening of the Calmar Hall. Mrs. Woods was a strong woman not afraid to pitch in on the homestead picking rocks, cutting wood, or helping with the harvest. She was an excellent cook and hostess. Her favorite activity was sitting by a window and working on the sewing machine she brought from Kansas. Many quilting parties were held along with a monthly social tea in the Woods’s home.
Today the Leduc and District Historical Society continue Mrs. Woods’s tradition by holding a series of teas throughout the year. The Harvest Tea is to be held on Thursday Oct 4th from 2 to 4pm. Followed by a Candlelight Tea on November 22nd and a series of Holiday Teas in early December.
Dr. Woods was a dedicated physician who often provided quality care with limited resources. During the Spanish flu of 1918 Dr. Woods was sometimes limited to providing aspirin for treatment. In the 1930’s people were suffering from severe stress from the economic condition of the times. Many of them became addicted to morphine. Dr. Woods began his medical career when morphine was a drug that did not require a prescription until 1914. In 1934 he was arrested for issuing 492 prescriptions for narcotic drugs during a drug raid in central Alberta. All but five of the charges were withdrawn, but Dr. Woods was fined $250 for each remaining charge and had to forfeit his medical license.
Leduc residents supported Dr. Woods and were upset by the decision. They petitioned the government and after ten months he was allowed to practice medicine again. A year later, on April 22, 1936, Dr. Woods died just feet away from his medical office.