Nick Hodson was born in Russia where his family owned a cotton-spinning business. He was a British Subject of British parents who resided in Russia, working in the textile trade, until July of 1917. Nick’s Grandfather and Great Uncles were already living in Russia, founding the Novikoff Mill in Moscow in the mid 1800’s. The Hodson family were very successful in both England and Russia. Nick’s father, Leo, served with British Intelligence at the outbreak of World War I. When the revolution began, and Czar Nicholas was overthrown, the business was confiscated by the Bolsheviks leaving the Hodson’s with nothing. The family moved back to Manchester, England.
Back in England, Nick’s father was employed with the emigration department of the Canadian Pacific Railway, responsible for bringing Mennonite and Doukhobors to Canada. The family moved once again, to Riga, Latvia. Nick began his education in Latvia however he was the only English student in this German boarding school and was often bullied by the other students. His parent sent him back to England, enrolling him into the private boarding school Highfield College in Leigh-On-Sea, Essex. By the time Nick was fifteen, his parents were divorced and could no longer afford to keep him in private school. Nick refused to be placed in the regular school system as boys from private schools were often bullied there. Nick’s father Leo, knowing how difficult it would be for a boy who didn’t graduate to find work, encouraged him to consider immigration to either Canada or Australia with the Oversea Settlement Committee (OSC). Nick’s biggest challenge was deciding which country. While contemplating his life in a railroad station in London, he looked up to see a huge poster depicting Canada as a land of opportunity. He saw this as a sign and Canada became his choice. Nick’s brother, being five years younger, stayed in England. He attended regular school where he was treated in a “rather unfriendly manner"
Before leaving for Canada, applications had to be filled out, asking questions such as state of health, religion, social life, hobbies and habits. Smoking was frowned upon by Canadian farmers due to the threat of barn fires. A photo also had to be included to be shown to the applicant seeking a boy.
Although the OSC usually sent parties of thirty boys, their participation in these migration schemes
was drawing to a close and only fifteen boys, including fifteen year old Nick, were sent in their last party . The boys departed April 15, 1932 aboard the Duchess of Richmond. Nick said good bye to his parents and his younger brother, whom he would not see again for a number of years.
Nick started off working at a fruit farm in an area now part of Halton Hills, his pay only $100 per year. He realized then that it would be a tough go to make his fortune in Canada. Often Nick thought about that poster back in England and how he felt mislead. However, determined to make the most of his new life, Nick boarded a train in Georgetown, destined to a farmer in Pretty River Valley, in the Collingwood area. Nick recounts "this first job was a back breaker and a good initiation for what was about to come. Day by day I got accustomed to the heavy work, with practically no time off. No mention of time off was in the contract , and believe me, most farmers took advantage of it."
When Nick’s three years was up, his money was deposited in a bank account in Collingwood for him. The recession was hitting the country hard and he was forced to stay another year on the farm however his pay was raised to $125 for this year. Nick’s health was starting to decline under the work load, he developed pleurisy which would continue to plague him. He took yet another farm job with hopes the work load would be easier but in his words "I found I had gone from the frying pan into the fire".
Nick remained at this farm for only a season, then moved on to other farms before finally being hired by a good family who treated him well. He was paid an exceptional $25 per month and given lots of time off.
Nick missed his family back in England and wrote them often and included drawings of where he was living at the time. He drew everything, barns, houses, farms and even outhouses! His drawings were extraordinarily detailed - the outhouse drawing included the Eaton Catalogue hanging on the wall! Nick’s mother commented on how impressed she was that the farmers had provided reading material for the farm hands, Nick replying back that the catalogue was definitely NOT used for reading material!
Nick’s health did not improve with his lighter work load, and by 1938 his pleurisy had turned into Tuberculosis. Nick spent a year in the Gravenhurst Sanatorium, after which he took up residence in Collingwood. When the Second World War broke out, Nick was not eligible for enlistment due to his health. However he contributed by making hand drawn War Bond Posters and by working at Collingwood’s Bryden Electric company and then at Clyde Aircraft. Nick’s brother George who had remained in England, was tragically killed while serving in the Second World War.
On his birthday, May 8, 1943, Nick married Flora Morrison. He bought a small photography studio in Collingwood, but the chemicals proved too much and caused yet another decline in his health. He worked for the Dominion Road Machinery Company, various drug stores, a travel business and even a cigar store before settling down at the Trott’s Furniture Store. He stayed with this store for twenty five years, until he retired.
All throughout his life, Nick’s artistic talents were recognized and for years he taught art students. He donated the proceeds from his very popular Collingwood Town Hall painting to fund young art students who could not afford art classes. In the 1980’s he was commissioned to paint Lord Admiral Collingwood, whom the town was named after. This painting hangs in the Town Hall, Councillor's Chambers to this day. He is best known, however, for his amazingly detailed and historically significant pencil sketches. His work hangs in homes and offices throughout the world.
Nick has received many awards of recognition over the years, including the 1993 Order of Collingwood. In 2008 he received the Companion Order of Collingwood for his continued volunteer efforts at ninety plus years of age! Nick’s sketches are preserved in the book “A Collingwood Collection - Drawings by Nick Hodson” published in 2002 by the Blue Mountain Foundation of the Arts.