It’s one of the biggest honours a city can give a resident, renaming a city street. Bob Wood was bestowed with that distinction in January of 2021 when Airport Way was renamed Bob Wood Drive.
"This is a great honour that I never dreamed of. It is certainly a humbling experience,” Wood told BayToday back in 2020 when the project was first announced.
It was an honour that has come to a man that is widely recognized throughout the community for what he has done in his professional and personal life for the City of North Bay.
Wood first came to North Bay in 1966 for the first of his three radio stints in the Gateway City.
“I started my radio career in Sherbrooke, Quebec, accepting a position at CFCH in 1966,” says Wood who adds, something people don’t know is that working in radio wasn’t his first choice as a career.
“My first serious career choice was with the Royal Canadian Air Force. I had just graduated from high school but didn’t really have a solid plan in place. So, without telling my parents, I got myself to Montreal and went to the recruiting office for the RCAF where I signed up,” says Wood.
He spent five years with the RCAF and worked as a Safety Equipment Technician, packing parachutes, and working on ejection seats of aircraft.
“I was stationed at the base in Gimli, Manitoba and became friends with a gentleman who used to be in radio in Europe. He was the one that sparked my interest in radio. It seemed like a life in radio better suited my personality,” says Wood.
Before leaving the military Wood returned to his home in Ayer’s Cliff, an hour and a half south of Montreal, and stopped by a radio station in Sherbrooke, Quebec (CKTS) – which, incidentally, was the only English-speaking radio station in the Eastern Townships.
“I told them that I was hoping to start a career in radio. They said to come back once I was out, and they would try and fit me into a slot. When the time came, I moved my wife Sandy and daughter Cory into my parent's home and was hired to work Saturday and Sunday evenings – where listenership was very low!” says Wood.
“Let’s face it, hockey games and the Ed Sullivan show were the priorities. This turned out to be a good thing though because, despite making many mistakes, I was learning the craft. Eventually, I got on full-time with the station.”
Wood says he eventually came to North Bay through a contact he made...Charlie Hunter, who had moved from CKTS in Sherbrooke to CFCH in North Bay and that began Wood's journey to being the morning man and the voice many would come to know and love.
“I was the morning man in several other cities before returning to North Bay from 1984 to 1988 when I left to pursue federal politics.”
“It’s always been about the people and putting a smile on their face,” says Wood, reflecting on what he loved about working in radio.
“It never felt like work as I was having so much fun! Even after being off the air for more than 30 years, people still stop me on the street and recount a funny story with me,” he says.
Wood says radio can have a huge impact on the culture of the community.
“Best example of this is the story about the Snow Worms,” says Wood.
“Back in 2017, a gentleman reached out to us as he wanted to share a story and a video with Carol and me. In his email, he explained how his mother, who was 82 at the time, was suffering from Alzheimer’s and living in a nursing home in British Columbia. Despite her ups and downs, she still recalled her days listening to my morning show and had fond memories of my stories about Snow Worms.
"He noted that his mother would be in the barn milking the cows with the radio blaring in the background. While doing this, she came up with a poem about the infamous Snow Worms and sent it to the station where I read it on air. In the video he sent me, you can hear someone speaking to his mother and asking her about the poem she wrote about the Snow Worms. All they had to do was say the first couple of words and his mother then proceeded to recite the poem flawlessly and with much enthusiasm.”
The power of radio is one thing, but the potential to affect change through politics is another.
“During my radio days in North Bay, I also took on another role when I threw my hat into the ring to run as a city councillor. On my “maiden voyage” into local politics, I managed to top the polls, which put me in the position of Deputy Mayor,” says Wood who served on City Council from 1975 to 1978.
That paved the road for his next full-time career change.
“The Liberal party had approached me on a few occasions asking me to run federally. After being approached several times by Mike Gauthier, I finally caved.”
Wood got to work and says he had a wonderful team of people who coached him, supported him, and believed in him.
“A strategy I developed when I was out 'pounding' the pavement and going door-to-door to garner support, was to tell myself that I was 500 votes short, so it was really important that I do a good job when out canvassing. I also made it a daily practice to look at myself in the mirror, repeating my mantra, ‘You will win this election, you will win this election.’”
And it paid off as Wood won the 1988 federal election by just under 500 votes over incumbent Conservative Moe Mantha Sr.
Wood spent 16 years as a Member of Parliament and he says saving CFB North Bay from being re-located to Winnipeg, Manitoba was easily one of his greatest accomplishments.
“At the time, I was sitting on the Defense Committee, and I thought, ‘There’s no way in hell this is going to happen,’” says Wood after hearing about the relocation plans for the first time.
“For so many reasons, this would not be good for the City of North Bay. I instinctively knew that it would take a massive team effort to thwart the military on what I considered to be a disastrous decision.”
Wood says his first stop was to City Hall to meet with the “late, great” Mayor Jack Burrows.
“To this day, I have immense respect and fondness for Jack. Immediately, Jack Burrows was on board with his support. We then compiled a committee that would develop a strategy to keep the base in North Bay.”
Wood says he then went to Prime Minister Jean Chretien’s office where he explained to Chretien the value of CFB to the City of North Bay and how much it contributes to the city – not only financially, but in countless other ways.
“They truly are a part of the fabric of our city. I asked Jean Chretien for his support as I knew there was no way I could go against the military alone. I needed the “Big Guns” on this one,” says Wood.
“Our committee would determine strategies that would save CFB North Bay large sums of money, only to have the “other side” add something else to the local costs that would negate our efforts. This back and forth continued for months.”
Wood says following one contentious meeting with the brass, he knew the time had come that he needed Prime Minister Chretien to “make that call.”
“I quickly returned to Ottawa. After Question Period ended, I knew what door the Prime Minister would be using so I stationed myself at it. Sure enough, Mr. Chretien comes out and I ask him to make the call. He assures me that he will within 10 days,” says Wood.
Wood says because of the efforts of Prime Minister Jean Chretien, the Honourable Herb Gray, Mayor Jack Burrows, Duncan Toswell (who was Wood's Executive Assistant at the time) his entire staff, and countless others, an agreement was signed on May 8, 1998, thus securing CFB in North Bay for the next 20 years.
“The signed agreement hangs proudly on a wall at our home,” says Wood.
“Another person who was a big part of this success was Mike Harris, Premier of Ontario at the time. Mike represented the provincial Conservative party while I represented the federal Liberal party. Despite this, political affiliations were parked at the door. What mattered most was what was best for the people of North Bay.”
Another issue Wood was instrumental in, was obtaining the Veterans’ Widows Pension.
“At the time, the widows of veterans would receive a monthly stipend of approximately $240 per month. Unfortunately, this stipend, administered through the Veterans Independence Program, would only provide a benefit to widows for one year following the death of their spouse,” says Wood.
“The federal government amended this clause, but only to those widows whose husbands had died within a year of the amendment. Sadly, many widows in their 70s, 80s, and 90s were falling through the cracks.”
Wood says many of these women had married their husbands prior to the war and opted to be homemakers so they could raise their children.
“Now they were being left in the cold,” he says.
“This was an issue that really ate away at me. I was enraged that we would treat the widows of our veterans this way. As MP, I put forward a motion to have the VIP extended to all widows and I’m happy to report that this incredibly important change was made.”
In retirement, Wood stayed in North Bay, a community he’s now been a part of for more than 50 years.
“The people of North Bay have always embraced and accepted me as one of their own.”
And the city has shown its respect back to Wood and his family over the last decade.
“We initiated the “Michele Wood Fund” through the North Bay and Area Community Foundation. My late wife, Michele, died of cancer in August 2012,” says Wood.
“This initiative was aimed at offering financial assistance to individuals and families dealing with cancer such as gift cards for gas to help with trips out of town for treatment, grocery cards, etc.”
Later, Wood and his wife Carol initiated another fund that uses the dollars raised to help raise awareness about Alzheimer's.
“When I was diagnosed in May of 2018, I recall being in the car with Carol on the way home and I blurted out that I wanted to call Pete Handley and get on his show, Life Is, as soon as possible. I called Peter and he quickly arranged for Carol and me to be on his show. I was, and still am, adamant about advocating for people with Alzheimer’s and doing what I can to help remove the stigma,” says Wood, who says all of us will be touched by this disease and the most important thing we can do is educate ourselves.
“If you want to be able to offer appropriate support to someone close to you, be it the person with Alzhiemer’s or their care partner, you need to understand what this disease is about. I can tell you that it’s not strictly about memory loss – that is merely one of the symptoms – this disease is about brain failure.”
Wood says knowledge is power and that knowledge will also allow for understanding, compassion, empathy, and concrete strategies to deal with this progressive disease.
“I want to give a huge shout out to our local Alzheimer’s Society who have been with us every step of the way. Both Carol and I are indebted to this incredible team,” says Wood.
Wood will be remembered for different accomplishments by different people and his name will forever be a part of the city’s history.
“It’s difficult to put into words how much this has meant to me,” says Wood.
“It is an honour that still brings tears to my eyes.”