“One of Toronto’s most distinguished founding citizens.” ~ The Canadian Colonist, 1844.
Alexander Wood, businessman, militia officer, jp, and office holder; b. 1772 and baptized 25 January in Fetteresso, near Stonehaven, Scotland, son of James Wood and Margaret Barclay; d. unmarried 11 Sept. 1844 at Woodcot in the parish of Fetteresso.
Wood came to Upper Canada as a young man, settling in Kingston about 1793 and investing £330 in the Kingston Brewery in partnership with Joseph Forsyth and Alexander Aitken. He moved to York (Toronto) in 1797 to establish himself as a merchant. He and William Allan became partners; “neither advanced any money which brought us on a fair footing,” but they built their shop on Allan’s land. When the partnership was dissolved on 13 April 1801 its assets were divided with difficulty, so that neither partner wanted to renew their intercourse “by the exchange of a single word.”
Wood immediately opened his own shop. Each autumn he ordered a wide assortment of goods from Glasgow or London, stressing quality and careful packing rather than price.
In 1810, Wood found himself at the centre of a scandal when he investigated a rape case. The victim, referred to as Miss Bailey, came to Wood claiming that she did not know the identity of her attacker, however she had scratched her assailant’s penis during the assault. In order to identify the assailant, Wood personally inspected the genitals of a number of suspects for injury. There is no evidence on the public record that Wood acted improperly during the investigation, nor indeed of Wood’s actual sexual orientation; however, contradictory rumours began to emerge about his conduct, including allegations that Miss Bailey never existed at all and that Wood had fabricated the rape charge as an opportunity to fondle and seduce young men.
When confronted with the charges by his friend, Judge William Dummer Powell, Wood wrote back, “I have laid myself open to ridicule & malevolence, which I know not how to meet; that the thing will be made the subject of mirth and a handle to my enemies for a sneer I have every reason to expect.” Wood became the subject of ridicule and was tagged with the nickname “Molly Wood”, “Molly” then being a derisive slang expression for a homosexual man. John Robinson, at the time a young law clerk in Powell’s office, called Wood the “Inspector General of private Accounts.”
Judge Powell buried the potential sodomy charges on condition that Wood leave Upper Canada, and Wood left for Scotland in October 1810.
Wood returned to York by 1812, resuming his prior appointment as a magistrate. He fought in the War of 1812 and was on the boards of several organizations. His life in York continued without incident until 1823, when Rev. John Strachan, a longtime friend of Wood’s, recommended him for a position on the 1812 War Claims Commission. Judge Powell was the appointing authority and refused Wood on moral grounds due to the 1810 scandal. Wood sued Powell for defamation and won, but Powell refused to pay and subsequently published a pamphlet attacking Wood even further.
Wood remained in York, continuing his service in civic duties for the next seventeen years. In 1827 he purchased 50 acres (0.2 km²) of land at Yonge and Carlton Streets, which was referred to as “Molly Wood’s Bush” throughout the 19th century.
The area once known as Molly Wood’s Bush is now part of Toronto’s Church and Wellesley gay village, and contains an Alexander Street, a Wood Street and an Alexander Place.
In 1994, playwrights John Wimbs and Christopher Richards launched a play entitled Molly Wood, based on Wood’s life. This production garnered Dora Awards for Best New Play and Best Production in 1995.
In 2005, the Church and Wellesley business association erected a statue of Wood in the neighbourhood, honouring him as a forefather of Toronto’s modern gay community. The statue by sculptor Del Newbigging was unveiled on May 28, 2005. The $200,000 cost was shared by the business association and the City of Toronto. The statue incorporates a rose on the lapel of Wood’s coat, in a secondary nod to Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the prime minister who first decriminalized homosexuality in Canada.
Also in 2005, the business association launched a beer named for Wood. Alexander Wood Lager was brewed by Lakes of Muskoka Cottage Brewery and was marketed exclusively to bars in the Church and Wellesley area.
Dictionary of Canadian Biography – http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/wood_alexander_7E.html
My list of of interesting books about Canada (to date). You can add your favourites, too. Just send me a note with your choice, title and author, to firstname.lastname@example.org
- Sam Steele: The Wild Adventures of Canada’s Most Famous Mountie, by Holly Quan
- Real Justice: Guilty of Being Weird: The story of Guy Paul Morin, by Cynthia J. Faryon
- The Dieppe Raid: The Story of the Disastrous 1942 Expedition (Twentieth-Century Battles), by Robin Neillands
- To Wawa With Love, by Tom Douglas
- Wild Canadian West, by E.C. (Ted) Meyers
- Tecumseh: Diplomat and Warrior in the War of 1812, by Irene Gordon
- Klondike Cattle Drive – Norman Lee
- Blazing the Old Cattle Trail, by Grant MacEwan
- Secrets of Lake Simcoe: Fascinating Stories From Ontario’s Past, by Andrew Hind & Maria Da Silva
- Amazing stories of WWI, WWII, and the Canadian Navy
- Grass Beyond the Mountains: Discovering the Last Great Cattle Frontier on the North American Continent, by Richmond P. Hobson, Jr.
- Jimmy Simpson: Legend of the Rockies, by E.J. Hart
- Men in Eden: William Drummond Stewart and Same-Sex Desire in the Rocky Mountain Fur Trade, by William Benemann
- Northern Lights, by James Matthew Green
- To Every Thing There Is a Season: A Cape Breton Christmas Story, by Alistair MacLeod
- Christmas in Ontario: Heartwarming Legends, Tales, and Traditions, by Cheryl MacDonald
- Cold North Killers: Canadian Serial Murder by Lee Mellor
- The Canadian Rockies: Pioneers, Legends and True Tales by Roger W. Patillo
- Convoys of World War II: Dangerous Missions on the North Atlantic, by Dorothy Pederson.
- Inside Out: Straight Talk from a Gay Jock, Mark Tewksbury
- Valour At Vimy Ridge: Canadian Heroes of World War I, by Tom Douglas
- True-life Adventures of Canadian Bush Pilots, by Bill Zuk
- Billy Bishop: Top Canadian Flying Ace, by Dan McCaffery
- A Scattering of Seeds, “First Lady of the Yukon: Martha black