Woodland Jewellers Ltd. is the oldest family-owned, and the second oldest, business in Williams Lake.
It got its start when Edwin Gladstone (Tony) Woodland arrived from Edmonton in 1933 and opened a watch bench at Mackenzie’s Ltd. on what was Railway Avenue in those days.
“His brother George was here and he got him to come out here,” recalls Cindy Watt, who, with her sister Brenda Bourdon, own the business today.
George moved away and Tony stayed on to run his watch bench, located in a little corner in the store, where he did watch repairs.
Eventually Tony moved to 83 Oliver St. where he and his son Ralph built a store. Located where H&R Block is now, it was called E.G. Woodland and Son Jewellers Ltd.
Brenda started working in the store when she was 13 and remembers being terrified if a customer asked her for help.
“Dad (Ralph) was the bookkeeper, the watch repairman, stock orderer, he did everything. I remember sometimes there wasn’t anyone there besides Dad and I,” she says.
The sisters would clean counters, wash the floors in the morning, making sure the store looked nice, while their dad was in the back.
When the sisters were young, the Famous Cafe on Oliver Street, behind Caribou Ski Source for Sports today, was where businessmen met informally to discuss politics and life over 25-cent-cups of coffee.
“When our grandpa first started, he would leave the store, he wouldn’t lock things up, and he’d go for a coffee,” Cindy says.
Customers would leave something like a broken watch with a note, indicating they’d be back in two weeks to pick it up.
Tony’s wife Florie worked part-time in the store, and aside from work the couple was very involved in the community.
Tony was instrumental in starting the community band, was in gymnastics, badminton and curling clubs, and was a member of both the Legion and the Elks. Florie belonged to the Royal Purple and Easter Star, and both were involved with the Anglican Church.
“They were community-minded people,” Cindy says.
In1973, Ralph had a new building constructed by longtime local contractor George Latin and the business has been in the Oliver Street location ever since.
His wife June (Goode) also worked at the store.
June had come to Williams Lake from Kelowna to live with her sister who was working here as a teacher.
Ralph enlisted in the Army at the age of 17. He served five years in the Second World War before returning to Williams Lake with hopes of becoming an optometrist.
“The army told him because his father was a watchmaker, they would train him to be a watchmaker and that was it,” Cindy says.
Being in the war for all those years meant he didn’t have any money saved to pay for an education, so he took up his father’s occupation.
One time Cindy picked him up at the Vancouver airport after he’d returned from a gemology course. He didn’t come out of security for the longest time. When he did finally emerge, she learned the security personnel were so interested in the stones he was bringing with him that he ended up giving them a gemology lesson then and there.
While Tony and Ralph were watchmakers, Ralph went into jewelry repair and was getting started with jewelry design.
Ralph had opened up a jewelry repair shop in his home and then brought it to the new store in 1973.
Since then the baton has been passed on to Brenda’s son Geoff Bourdon, who went to the Gemological Institute of America in California.
“I can take jewelry from very start to finish, whether it’s hand made or wax bars, we can go right from the start,” Geoff explains, adding he never worked with his grandfather in the store.
“I liked building things when I was a child. I was a Lego fanatic and was going to be an architect until I found out how long I had to go to school,” he says.
He did have to go to school for the jewelry trade, but it involved mostly hands-on learning, and some technical training.
Geoff is also a city councillor, as were his grandfather Ralph and great grandfather Tony before him.
“They were smart, they got out after one term,” he says with a raised eyebrow and chuckle.
The drive to enter politics was partly the history and partly the fact that there weren’t any other young people on council.
Ralph retired almost a decade before he passed away in 2008, followed by Florie in 2010.
Cindy has been full-time at the store since 1979. After she graduated from university with a bachelor of physical education, and had worked for a bit, she agreed to come back to help her dad at the store.
Brenda, other than doing the year-end books, didn’t work at the store. She and her husband owned the Cariboo Wood Shop at McLeese Lake.
Around 2000, the sisters became the owners of the business, but it wasn’t until 2005 that Brenda began to work full-time at the store.
“She’s the chief financial officer and I’m the chief executive officer,” Cindy says with a chuckle, adding when you own a business you end up doing some of everything.
Throughout the years, the business has tried its hardest to do everything local.
“This is the community that has supported us for 79 years and we want to support the community,” Cindy says.
When they aren’t working, the sisters enjoy playing badminton, kayaking, cross-country skiing, and Brenda admits to being a “Dodge Brothers” widow because her husband has rebuilt one of 1928 vintage.
Cindy has served as a director on the Northern Winter Games, the Williams Lake Stampede Association, and Communities in Bloom but has slowed down more recently learning about the health side of the community because health issues have been on the home front.
One of the things the family is proud of is the annual diamond ring raffle, with the full amount of money raised donated to the hospital, in partnership with the Hough Memorial Cancer Society and the Cariboo Foundation Hospital Trust.
“This year we donated $12,000 and at this particular time they directed the funds to the digital mammography machine for the hospital,” Cindy says.
Brenda says they feel a hospital is an important part of any community.
Besides, their grandfather was on the hospital board for over 20 years.