British Columbia’s first Family Day will be held on the second Monday in February, making the date for the first Family Day this Monday, February 11, 2013.

As we prepare for this celebration it is interesting to think of some of Lake Country’s pioneer families. One of the most prominent ones was the Thomas Wood family. Much has been written of Thomas Wood but Robert Hayes, Director of the Lake Country Heritage and Cultural Society, and great, great nephew of Thomas Wood says: But what about Mrs. Wood?

Deservedly, much has been written about Lake Country pioneer Thomas Wood (1841-1931), who helped open up this area to settlement. Little, however, has been written about Mrs. Wood. This oversight needs to be dealt with.

Nellie Whelan Wood

Nellie Whelan Wood

Ellen Florence “Nellie” Whelan was born at Chipping Barnet, Hertfordshire, England, October 6, 1861, the youngest of seven children born to Peter Whelan (1814-1879) and Sarah Cordell Burr (1818 -1889). Nellie’s older brother, George Whelan (1844-1927), was a pioneer of the Central Okanagan; it was this connection that enticed Nellie to leave “Mother England” and relocate to the Central Okanagan Valley. Nellie arrived in the Okanagan in June of 1889. On July 1st, she married Thomas Wood, pioneer rancher. The ceremony was probably performed at the Whelan “Cloverdale” Ranch, in the Ellison District. Nellie Wood settled into the life of a pioneer, trying to make Winfield Lodge into a home.

Tom and Nellie Wood had four daughters, all born in Winfield Lodge at the south end of Wood Lake: Florence Finch (1890-1980), May Francis (1891-1983), Ruth Hilda (1893-1982), and Winifred Margaret (1895-1898) … four of the earliest pioneer births in the district.

Fortunately, we have some personal details about Nellie Wood. Ruth (Wood) Tingley wrote “Her [Nellie Wood’s] specialty in life was helping anything in distress, people, animals, birds, etc. She did a lot for some poor…woman that used to come and work for her and her poor thin dogs…. any animal that was badly treated by its owner she would buy at any price.”

Nellie Wood did not enjoy good health. In 1902, she was diagnosed with diabetes, then considered a fatal affliction. Life in rural Lake Country, miles from medical care, was no longer possible.

In 1903, the Woods left the Okanagan, and purchased a home on Oak Bay Avenue, Victoria. Winfield Ranch was sold, severing their last connection with the Okanagan.

Nellie Wood lived in Victoria for only a short time. She died June 15, 1905, age forty-three years. Thomas Wood survived her by many years; he died in Vancouver, October 27, 1931. Both are buried in the Oak Bay Cemetery, at Victoria.

Nellie (Whelan) and Thomas Wood were the author’s great great aunt and uncle.

Robert (Bob) Hayes, Director of the Lake Country Heritage and Cultural Society