The story of the area we know today as Little Canada goes back a long way, it was originally known, as Lambleaze Coppice and owned by John Lisle of Wootton Manor. In the book “Geology of the Isle of Wight Bristow 1889 reference is made to considerable deposits of sandy clay on the West Bank of Wootton Creek, in some places up to 30 feet (9.14 meters) deep. This clay was highly prized as “brick earth” and it is possible that bricks have been made in this area for some centuries.
The first recorded brick-making firm, in the area was listed in the 1861/71 censuses as Hobbs and Co., employing up to eight men. The 1862 Ordnance Survey map for the area shows widespread industrial activity with a brick and tile works located at Lambleaze Coppice.
The brickworks were still operating in 1909 as bricks were supplied for the construction of St Mark’s Church in Station Road, Wootton. Local history handed down; states that two brothers named Cotton were running the brickyard up to at least 1912. It is possible that the brothers took over the brick making operation on the death of William Hobbs in 1903.
According to history produced by the Little Canada Co., brick making continued into the 1920s, method of curing of bricks was to lay them on the ground to air dry.
In 1930 Mr. Howarth, a New Zealander, arrived on the Island and having acquired the 48 acre site he then had built Canadian style log cabins among the trees of the Copse, he then opened it as a holiday camp, the name Little Canada was born. It is reported that Mr. Howarth liked to drive round the island in an open top charabanc wearing a large American style “Stetson” hat.”
At the start of the Second World War, Little Canada was requisitioned by the military for use as an army camp. There is some debate as to which troops were stationed at the camp. However we do know that the Jersey Militia were stationed at Wootton (Rafters) Holiday Camp in Church Road, but do not know if this was before or after their stay at Little Canada. However older members of the village remember troops from the Militia swimming across Wootton Creek to Fishbourne in their birthday suits. As of 2006 there are only 2 members of the militia who are still alive in Jersey, two photographs taken at the camp of the militia are in the photo log accompanying this article.
In 1941/42 the camp was being used by Canadian troops, who were using the local beaches to rehearse for the landings at Dieppe in France. This operation code named “Jubilee” took place at 05.00 hrs on the 19 August 1942, with a total of 6100 troops involved. It is reported that 3300 Canadian troops of the 2nd Division were involved in the assault and overall casualties were very heavy with 4600 dead, wounded or missing. We will never know how many of these troops were at the camp.
Following the Second World War the site was taken over by the Polytechnic Touring Association and in May 1949 a dinner to mark the reopening of the camp was held. Those present were Mr. W. A. McAdam, C.M.G. [Agent General for British Columbia] accompanied by his wife, other guests at the dinner were the Mayor and Mayoress of Newport [Mr & Mrs A. E. King, C.C.], Colonel and Mrs Douglas Roe, from Canada House, Dr. and Mrs F. R. B. H. Kennedy [local doctor] and the Rector of Wootton, Rev.& Mrs A. H. Genower.
Mr. McAdam told guests “how the idea of a miniature Canadian village: as pictures show was, conceived by Mr. I .J.O’Hea (a former director), after a visit to Jasper National Park in Alberta, British Columbia. The wooden cabins carried the names of Canadian provinces, and was a good advertisement for the real thing”.
Commander R. G. Studd (Managing Director) said “it was intended that Little Canada should become one of the premier holiday villages in Great Britain, but they did not wish to make it so big that its individuality would be lost”.
During the 1950s Fred Pontin who later became Sir Fred bought the 36-acre site with around 250 chalets, and in the 1960s the camp became part of the Pontin Holiday Group. It is reported that Mrs Pontin bought a house in Kite Hill, which is just over the creek from Wootton.
There is an old black and white brochure dated 1958 advertising the camp held by the current owners (PGL) showing adults enjoying their holidays. The brochure speaks of improvement made to the camp and quoted herewith are extracts from that brochure detailing some of the changes -
“Log cabins and chalets are modelled on the famous Canadian holiday resort of Jasper Park. They are carefully sited to ensure privacy, and are tastefully furnished and fitted with hot and cold running water, electric light, single or double divan beds with interior-sprung mattresses, thus ensuring maximum comfort”
Note: -This description matches the one quoted at the opening of the camp in 1949.
“During the past year the centre has been completely modernised by the construction of a magnificent new building, which is designed so that the ballroom, bar lounge, café lounge and television lounge are all under one roof. The ballroom, which is approximately 100 feet by 50 feet, has a sprung maple floor. Glass partitions separate this room on one side from the bar lounge and on the other side from the café lounge. Guests can, therefore, watch the dancing with only a faint background of music, while they enjoyed their refreshments. Both lounges are well furnished with comfortable seating. The television lounge and quiet room adjoin one end of the café lounge. This room has an attractive fireplace and on chilly evenings one can enjoy the comfort of a log fire, this room is reserved for adults only”
“ A feature of the village which is of considerable convenience to guests is a service by our own launch the “Skylark” direct from the village to Portsmouth, weather permitting. The “Skylark” has covered accommodation for approximately 70 guests with light luggage”.
Excursions by the “Skylark” to Cowes to watch the sailing events, Portsmouth to view the warships and dockyards, also sail out to view the “Queen” arriving and departing Southampton are arranged. Moonlight trips on the Solent by boat can be arranged on request.
At the beginning of 1960, Jack Whitehead the international famous wood carver who lived on Wootton Creek was commissioned to carve a large authentic Indian style totem pole [see the photograph of him standing next to the carving], based on authentic designs and using local wood, work on this carving continued until mid 1961. The actual tree, specially selected for the carving came from Combley Wood, near Havenstreet. An example of Mr Whiteheads work is the wooden figurehead on the H.M.S. Warrior, which is a visitor attraction in Portsmouth dockyard. Though suffering due to its age, the totem pole can still be seen at the camp.
An article in the Isle of Wight County Press dated September 1962 gives a description of the opening ceremony: - “ The “Wild West” came to the Island on Sunday when dozens of war painted Red Indians took part in the handing over ceremony of a full scale totem pole. The ceremony was at Little Canada holiday Camp, Wootton; Mr Jack Whitehead, had carved London the totem pole from plans supplied by Canada House. It is authentic in every detail and is believed to be the only genuine reproduction of a Canadian totem pole to be erected in Britain. “Big Chief Sitting Bull” welcomed “Buffalo Bill” and his escort of red-coated Mounties, after smoking the traditional pipe of peace the pole was handed over to the campers”. It is also believed that Sir Fred Pontin was present.
In 1978 Coral Leisure bought Pontin Holiday Camps for £56 million pounds and over the next 30 years Little Canada had many owners. Listed below are the dates on which these changes took place.
1980. Coral Leisure purchased by the Bass brewery organisation.
1987. Management buyout.
1989. Pontin Holiday Camps purchased by Scottish & Newcastle Breweries for £61 million.
1992. Super Choice [subsidiary of Scottish & Newcastle Breweries]
1994 3D. Children’s Activity centre, this company also had centres at Barton Hall in Devon and at Osmington Bay in Dorset.
2005 Little Canada was purchased by PGL and plans are being prepared to upgrade and extend the facilities
2007 PGL has been acquired by Holidaybreak for £100 million, this becoming the fourth division of the business to be renamed the Education division.
Hello from the island of Cyprus, where I am sorting out piles of family photographs. I came across these two which date from a 1959 family/friends holiday at Little Canada Holiday Village. I remember having a great time; so much so that I returned the next year with just one friend - and had an even better time!
Anyway, there was a weekly carnival organised by the camp which included the pictured Black & White Minstrel showboat float. Among the blacked-up faces is my late mother, front row, fourth from right. But what remains indelibly stamped on my mind is that during the 1959 week's holiday at Little Canada, there was a solitary family of West Indies origin and the tall gentleman standing at the far right of the front row was the father. A very jolly individual as I recall, who had absolutely no problem with having his already dark skin blacked-up and white rings put around his eyes and mouth; they missed his hands though! We would not be able to contemplate such things in today's terribly-PC world, but he was great fun and of such things are memories made!
Photographs and publicity information for this period can be found at http://www.butlinsmemories.com/pontins/summerbrochure1972/id11.htm