Historical Plaque Properties


James Woods - Barrister and Judge
62 John Street North
Stratford, ON

The large two-storey white brick house at 62 John Street North was built in 1875 for James P. Woods and his family.


James Peter Woods was born on April 2, 1840 in Torrington, a market town northwest of Exeter in Devonshire, England. He was the first child of James Woods, a wheelwright, and Ann Vanstone. After the birth of a sister, Mary Elizabeth, the family emigrated in 1842 to Canada and settled in the infant community of Stratford.


By the time of the 1851 Canada census James was a tavern keeper. Stratford was incorporated on January 1, 1854 and James was nominated for the village’s first council; he was not elected but did become one of Stratford’s first school trustees. By 1861 James’s occupation is listed as farmer; his son, James, after passing through Stratford and Goderich grammar schools, had become a law student.


Before the advent of university law schools, aspiring lawyers learned their profession by working with established law offices. James began his law studies in the office of Daniel Home Lizars, who later served as County Court Judge from 1864 to 1886. In 1863 James was called to the bar and began a prosperous practice in Stratford. By 1879 he was a partner of the firm Woods, Fisher and McPherson, which is listed as a sponsor in the Illustrated Historical Atlas of Perth County of that year.


In 1870 James married Maria Caroline Grey Hodge. Maria was born in St. Thomas, Ontario on January 2, 1850, the daughter of Thomas Hodge, a merchant, and Caroline White. Thomas was of Scottish origin and Caroline English. By 1870 the Hodges, including Maria, had moved to the United States and resided in Evanston, Illinois, near Chicago. As no Ontario marriage records could be found, it is likely that James and Maria were married in Evanston.


Five years later, to reflect his increasingly prominent position in Stratford and to accommodate a growing family, James acquired a two-acre property on the hill on John Street, north of the Avon River, and built a fine house set back from the street. There he and Maria raised their four daughters and three sons.


In 1886 James Woods was appointed Deputy County Court Judge; then, on the retirement of Judge Lizars, he was promoted to County Court Judge in January 1887. The impressive new Perth County Court House opened in mid-1887 and Judge Woods would have presided over the first hearings in the new courtroom that fall.


James Woods stepped down from the bench in 1897. An ardent promoter of Stratford’s interests, he was for some years president of the Stratford Water Supply Company and of the Stratford Gas Company. His death at age 70 at his John Street home on October 28, 1910 made the front pages of both the Stratford Daily Beacon and the Stratford Daily Herald. Maria died at age 74 in 1924 and is buried with her husband in Avondale Cemetery.