written and researched by Denise Jacques
Things often reveal a deep human history. In May 2016 SMOC received a superb donation of a wedding dress from the extended Woodward family of Vancouver. Consistent with the period of the Great War and celebrating a youthful nation now mobilized for war, this gown was beautifully made. The design emphasizes the maidenly qualities of the wearer and is replete with lace, flounces and velvet.
Interpreting public documents and local histories for traces of the dress’s history, one can establish that in 1914, Marion Douglas, a Saskatchewan daughter of a prosperous farm family, travelled to Winnipeg to have her wedding gown made. She called on the two Irish Presbyterian Dysart sisters-- with an established reputation as dress-makers-- to create a stylish silk gown that would be lovingly maintained in the family for the next hundred years. Marion had the money to buy well, as her father had died leaving $94,000 and his daughter inherited a portion of the estate on her coming of age.
The groom in the upcoming marriage was Percival Archibald Woodward or Puggy. He made a good match if one overlooked his pugnacious nature; he was expelled from the Vancouver Club on three different occasions for quarrelling with other members. In the period from 1912 to 1918 he appeared to have resigned from his father, Charles Woodward’s, booming Vancouver department store twice. Indeed, it was unclear whether Marion and Puggy were living in her hometown, Indian Head, in exile from the Woodward’s expanding empire, or Marion had returned to her family home to have her son, William Douglas Woodward, and named after her dead father. Puggy-- with then added responsibilities—re-entered the family firm in 1918 and ran the company with his brother Billy for decades.
The wedding dress, and the union it represented, are forever linked to Vancouver’s history. William Woodward died at 18 from Hodgkin’s disease leaving his then wealthy, but grieving, parents childless. Perhaps sensitive to aspirations of young people, as a permanent legacy, the Woodwards left a portion of their considerable fortune to the University of British Columbia. As both husband and wife had suffered deeply from the loss of family members prematurely cut down by disease, they heavily endowed the principal medical institutions within the city.
SMOC is immensely grateful to Sydney Elizabeth Russ and Rebecca Stewart for this fine donation its collection.