Wood Block – Sackville

Wood Block, Sackville

Wood Block – Sackville

Located on Bridge Street in Sackville, Wood Block was built between 1914 and 1915, following the destruction of the Music Hall Block by a fire. Initially known as the Powell Block, this distinctive three-story brick building was constructed on the corner between 1886 and 1887. In 1930, renovations altered the building’s entrance and the stairway to the upper floors, providing access to law offices that occupied the location for over 75 years. The staircase was incorporated into a new section of the building, filling the 9-foot gap between this structure and Wood Block.

Powell Block, Sackville
Powell Block, Sackville

Tenants of the Powell Block included the Merchant Bank of Halifax on the ground floor, which later became the Royal Bank of Canada in 1901. The second floor housed Henry A. Powell’s law offices, while the third floor hosted social activities for numerous Sackville lodges.

After the 1914 fire, Josiah Wood rebuilt the Music Hall Block as Wood Block between 1914 and 1915, entrusting the management of his business interests to his son, William T. Wood. The building featured the Imperial Theatre, which served as a movie theatre, stage show venue, and a location for public lectures and graduations until the 1940s. In 1963, the Town Hall utilized the ground floor space for the courtroom and fireman’s rooms. Over the years, the storefront has been home to restaurants, bookstores, banks, and telegraph offices. The Chignecto Club, a private men’s club, occupied the second floor on the building’s eastern end.

Wood Block is recognized as a Local Historic Place for its Romanesque Revival architectural style, designed by Amherst Architect J. Leander Allen, and its connection to local businessman, Lieutenant Governor, and Senator Josiah Wood.

Josiah Wood, originally from Dorchester, inherited his father’s successful wholesale and retail business, which encompassed agricultural, shipbuilding, shipping, and lumbering sectors. By the time of his father’s death in 1875, the firm was considered Sackville’s leading commercial enterprise. Josiah Wood was deeply influenced by his father’s Wesleyan Methodist beliefs. After graduating from Mount Allison Wesleyan Academy and Mount Allison’s college branch, Wood initially pursued a law career but later took over his father’s business due to his younger brother’s serious illness. Wood expanded the company’s operations, focusing on wholesale sales, acquiring four ships for its fleet, and leveraging the Intercolonial Railway for trade and importing Canadian-made goods. He was also involved in banking, real estate, industrial investment, and railway construction.

Josiah Wood
Josiah Wood

Wood, a wealthy and distinguished entrepreneur, became interested in politics and ran for the Westmorland seat in the New Brunswick legislature in 1878. Although he had connections with the Liberal Conservatives, he was among the four unsuccessful candidates labeled as the “Liberal ticket.” Nonetheless, he claimed that he and his colleagues would be independent in their decision-making. At the urging of Conservative Senator John Boyd and his uncle Acalus Lockwood Palmer, with whom he had studied law, Wood pursued and secured the Conservative nomination in 1882. His wife, Laura Wood, although concerned about her husband’s potential absence in Ottawa, fervently wished for his election. In June 1882, Wood was elected with a majority of over 400 votes.

Wood was drawn into federal politics by the Conservative party’s tariff-protection and railway-building policies. He became a significant investor in Moncton’s emerging industrial base, which benefited from the presence of the Intercolonial Railway and the National Policy. Alongside partners like John Leonard Harris, he raised around $1,000,000 to fund ventures such as a sugar refinery, a gaslight and water company, a cotton mill, and various textile and metal manufacturing businesses. Wood also held substantial real estate interests in Moncton and Sackville. One of his projects involved constructing a railway from Cape Tormentine, on Northumberland Strait, to Sackville, where it would connect with the Intercolonial. In 1874, the New Brunswick and Prince Edward Railway Company was launched, with Wood investing $1,000 of the total $66,000. By 1882, he would be the president and the largest investor with $50,000 in stock.

The railway company failed to fulfill the conditions of its charter, which promised a provincial government subsidy of $5,000 if construction commenced by 1878 and the line was completed by 1880. Joseph Laurence Black, a provincial legislature representative and shareholder, secured time extensions and a reduced subsidy. However, federal support proved more difficult to obtain, even after the Conservatives, led by Sir John A. MacDonald, regained power in 1878. Neighbouring Amherst, Nova Scotia, represented in the House of Commons by Charles Tupper, desired a ship railway across the Chignecto Isthmus as well as a conventional line from Amherst to Cape Tormentine. Eventually, grand commitments were made to the ship railway, but the other Amherst line was abandoned, and the Sackville railway received federal support. Wood’s relentless lobbying, Tupper’s departure from the cabinet, and the staunch support of Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, New Brunswick’s leading government representative, secured a subsidy of $3,200 per mile for the railway in July 1885, along with a federal commitment to build a wharf at the Cape Tormentine terminus. In 1887, Wood reported that $223,000 of the railway’s total cost of $300,000 had been contributed by the government.The railway company failed to fulfill the conditions of its charter, which promised a provincial government subsidy of $5,000 if construction commenced by 1878 and the line was completed by 1880. Joseph Laurence Black, a provincial legislature representative and shareholder, secured time extensions and a reduced subsidy. However, federal support proved more difficult to obtain, even after the Conservatives, led by Sir John A. MacDonald, regained power in 1878. Neighboring Amherst, Nova Scotia, represented in the House of Commons by Charles Tupper, desired a ship railway across the Chignecto Isthmus as well as a conventional line from Amherst to Cape Tormentine. Eventually, grand commitments were made to the ship railway, but the other Amherst line was abandoned, and the Sackville railway received federal support. Wood’s relentless lobbying, Tupper’s departure from the cabinet, and the staunch support of Sir Samuel Leonard Tilley, New Brunswick’s leading government representative, secured a subsidy of $3,200 per mile for the railway in July 1885, along with a federal commitment to build a wharf at the Cape Tormentine terminus. In 1887, Wood reported that $223,000 of the railway’s total cost of $300,000 had been contributed by the government.

The railway, connected by a ferry, served as the primary link to Prince Edward Island and brought significant economic advantages to southeastern Westmorland County. Alongside Moncton’s thriving growth, these benefits guaranteed Wood’s re-election with an almost 550-vote majority in 1887 and over 2,000 in 1891. In the House of Commons, Wood quickly gained a reputation for delivering well-balanced, well-researched, thoughtful, and polite speeches. He predictably defended Conservative policies, particularly the National Policy, which had fostered manufacturing in the Maritimes during a period of shipbuilding decline and had created a sense of national unity and independence that was previously unknown in Canada.

Wood also supported government backing for the Canadian Pacific Railway and its “Short Line” from Montreal to Saint John. Although criticized for using his influence as an MP to advance his railway project, Wood candidly acknowledged the subsidies provided, explaining that they were standard support available to any railway and had been obtained without exerting undue influence on the government. His lobbying efforts were clearly understated, but far from atypical during that period.

Unusual for a Maritime representative in the House of Commons, Wood questioned the Intercolonial Railway (ICR). He understood that the ICR, built and operated at public expense, was not meant to be solely a commercial enterprise, but he lamented the political patronage associated with it, the growth in freight and passenger mileage without a corresponding increase in revenue, and the low rates. By the 1890s, he advocated for no further extensions of the line, a reduction in its trains and employees, and an increase in rates. Although he didn’t propose selling it to a private company, he suggested that the Grand Trunk and CPR use its facilities, allowing these private railways independent access to Maritime seaports. This plan likely wouldn’t have garnered much support in Moncton, which housed the ICR’s headquarters and major shops. Wood’s appointment to the Senate on August 5, 1895, spared him another election campaign.

In the Senate, Wood actively participated in debates and maintained his opposition to government ownership and operation of railways, openly admitting that his criticism of the ICR did not represent public opinion in the Maritime Provinces. While he generally praised private railways, he occasionally found government support for them to be excessive or dubious. He expressed concerns about the Crowsnest Pass agreement with the CPR and strongly opposed the Liberal plan to build a second transcontinental railway. Regarding the Manitoba school issue, he sided with Roman Catholic views and criticized Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier’s failure to honor obligations. Wood considered the privileges and role of the Senate to be of great importance and presented a comprehensive case against Senate reform. Both senators and MPs were rebuked for accepting salary increases. Wood believed they served as trustees of public funds and refused his own increase, allowing the funds to accumulate. Ultimately, Wood continued to envision national economic policies that would boost the Maritimes’ growth, believing that the eastern part of the Dominion could transform Canada into one of the world’s leading manufacturing nations.

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Old dreams can be remarkably persistent, and considering Wood’s experiences in the 1880s and 1890s, this was no exception. Almost all the Moncton industries he partnered with were either bought out or forced out of business by central Canadian competitors, as the branch-plant nature of the Maritime economy took root. Wood remained active in Sackville utilities companies and, as the town’s first mayor from 1904 to 1907, he supervised the purchase of several of these businesses by the town council. In 1904, his son, Herbert Mariner, joined M. Wood and Sons as a partner, but the family business’s value had declined to between $35,000 and $50,000 by 1905. In 1914, the federal government’s $270,000 purchase of the renamed New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island Railway, in which Wood still held a majority stake, likely helped restore the family fortune.

James Kidd Flemming
James Kidd Flemming

Wood received one last honor when he was appointed New Brunswick Lieutenant Governor on March 6, 1912, serving until 1917. He showcased his integrity by forcing James Kidd Flemming to resign as Premier in 1914 after a royal commission discovered irregularities in his fundraising, despite pressure from former Conservative friends at the federal and provincial levels.

Wood was a lifelong generous supporter of the Methodist Church of Canada. Sackville’s Main Street Methodist Church benefited from his work on the board of trustees and the building committee, his financial guidance, and numerous subscriptions and donations. His cherished alma mater, Mount Allison, owed him even more. As a member of its board of regents for over 40 years, he served as treasurer from 1876 to 1922. He contributed $10,000 in the early 1880s, endowed the Josiah Wood chair in classics, financed the excavation of a small lake to beautify the college grounds, and donated the $14,800 he had earned in senatorial indemnities to fund the Josiah Wood lectureship. In recognition of his contributions, he was awarded a DCL in 1891 and honored on the 60th anniversary of his graduation.

Canewood Sackville

Suffering from “feeble health” during his final years, Wood passed away on May 13, 1927, at the age of 84. He was widely praised for his integrity, strength of character, sound judgement, and broad vision. He left behind an estate worth $178,869.91, with approximately $90,000 in bonds, securities, and stocks. Wood’s career epitomizes the shift from mercantile to industrial and financial capitalism in the Maritimes and the sometimes insufficient political response. Although he weathered the transition better than some other capitalists, the region as a whole experienced adjustment issues that foreshadowed its future trailing, rather than leading, role within Canada.

Wood Block Sackville

In 1994, Wood Block was declared a Provincial Heritage Site. 

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