Wildwood is a community north of Powell River and the Townsite, that was settled by European homesteaders, followed shortly after by many Italian families who immigrated to Canada. The district is known for its large, long plots of land, and is famous for its rich soil and gardens.
Wildwood was logged beginning in the late 1890s until 1904 when a forest fire swept through the district. During this period, selective logging took place and many of the cedar trees were left behind. Over the next decade, the cedars which were left behind flourished. In 1915, the Brooks-Bidlake Company took advantage of the abundance of cedar in the area and built the first Shingle Mill on Powell Lake, just down the hill from Wildwood. Before the first bridge across the Powell River opened in 1916, the cedar shingles produced at the shingle mill were floated down the river to a wharf for export.
The Tla'amin people inhabited the region for thousands of years before the first loggers arrived in 1894 with their cross-cut saws. Wildwood's development as a settler community began in 1914, when the government divided the area into homesteads of 40-60 acres. The story goes, that in order to receive a pre-emption, people waited on the steps of the Vancouver courthouse for forty days. Homesteads were granted on a first come – first served basis, and every four hours, a roll call of applicants was conducted. Unfortunately, those who were not present went to the back of the line. During the night time these prospective homesteaders slept on the floor of the courthouse. Overall there were 40 applicants for 27 sections of land, 13 in Wildwood and 14 in Westview.
The original homesteaders of Wildwood were: Peter Barron (4161), Frank Alfred Smith (4162), George F. Smarje (4163), Wilfred Percival Barrett (4164), James A, McGorran (4165), taken over by John R. Banham), George R. C. Webb (4166), James J. McKenzie (4167), George “ Sunset” Olley (4168), Maud Lane (4169), George Wm. Urquhart (4170), James Thomson (4171), Herbert E. Thomson (4172), and Douglas Fleming whose lot was taken over by Frances Joncas (4173).
Although the land was given to the homesteaders free of charge, there were several conditions which needed to be met. At the time, to obtain a crown grant for pre-emption, it was necessary to clear five acres, do improvements to the value of $10.00 (approximately $250 dollars today) for each acre in the pre-emption, and the homesteader or a relative had to sleep on the property for at least 10 months of the year for the first 5 years. It was very hard work to clear the huge stumps left behind by prior logging activity and the subsequent overgrowth of brush. Appropriately, the first settlers decided to name the community "Wildwood".
A post office was a welcome addition to the community of Wildwood, however this event sparked some controversy within the region. It was discovered that a "Wildwood Post Office" was already in existence, and to avoid confusion each post office was required to have a unique name. Some suggested that the community be renamed all together to "Arbutus Heights", however many long-time residents were adamant that their community would remain Wildwood. The solution found, was to call the post office "Wildwood Heights" rather than simply Wildwood.
Crossing the river to develop pre-emptions, proved to be the incentive to build the first bridge at the foot of Cedar Street in 1916. Prior to the bridge being built all food, furniture, stock, feed and equipment was rafted across the river and packed in. Even after the construction of the first bridge, travelling to and from Wildwood was a difficult task. The switchback road up Wildwood hill was sandy and unstable, and the pedestrian pathway consisted of a long staircase from the river to the top of the hill.
Thankfully, children no longer had to make this journey every day for school beginning in 1922 when the first Wildwood School was built. It was originally only one room, but a second classroom was added a year later. The children who attended this school came from the homesteader and settler families of Wildwood, as well as the Japanese and Chinese families living near the shingle mill. By 1931, the community had outgrown the first Wildwood School, and James Thompson School was opened.
The newest Wildwood Bridge was installed in 1965, however the structure itself is far from new. The bridge is originally from Silver Creek near Hope B.C., and was later moved to Powell River. The installation process took far longer than anticipated, leaving many residents frustrated.
Like most other Canadians, Wildwood residents faced hardships during the Great Depression, however, there were some efforts by companies and business owners alike to help alleviate the economic strain. The Powell River Company opened its properties in Wildwood for firewood cutting at a rate of $1.25 per cord which provided some local people with work and firewood for the winter, while the Sing Lee Store began to accept fresh produce from the gardens of locals in return for dry goods including flour and sugar.
A number of businesses have operated within Wildwood over the years including many farms and dairies. Sam Sing’s garden on King Avenue provided fresh fruit and vegetables for Wildwood and Townsite residents throughout much of the 1920s and 30s. Sing employed many Chinese laborers for his farm, as well as drivers who sold the produce out of trucks. The Sing family were also residents of Wildwood and lived on the corner of Chilco Ave, just up the hill from the Sing Lee store at the Shingle Mill.
Historically, Wildwood has been home to a significant number of Italian families whose patriarchs and young men were employed by the mill. Although there has been an Italian presence in the qathet region since the Moodyville Sawmill commenced operations in the 1880s, the region saw a significant influx of Italian workers hired by the Powell River Company when paper machines three and four were opened. The Italian influence in the neighbourhood became visible through the establishment of St. Gerard's Catholic Church in 1956, the Italian Hall in 1964, and the increase in demand for grapes at Bosa and Mitchell Bros. Store across the river in Cranberry.
Throughout the community's history, farms were developed, a school was built, businesses were started and Wildwood became a wonderful close knit community. By 1955 nearly 1250 people resided in Wildwood's 450 homes. Wildwood officially became part of Powell River in 1959, alongside the suburbs of Westview and Cranberry. As part of the amalgamation process, most of the roads within the community were re-named.
Wildwood School / James Thomson
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