Honourary Captain (N) (Ret’d) William H. Wilson is a decorated veteran, a respected member of the Canadian naval community and a dedicated and innovative volunteer with a wide range of military and civilian causes.
William H. Wilson was born in Winnipeg on November 5, 1924 to proud Scottish immigrants Thomas and Marion Wilson. Bill was 14 when the Second World War began and he was determined to follow the example of his father who completed army service during the First World War. When Bill was unable to secure a place with the local Highlanders army cadet corps in September 1939 due to recruitment limits, he decided on an impulse to join the sea cadets. That decision led him to his true vocation and a future as one of the Navy’s longest serving and most effective ambassadors to the Canadian people.
Bill readily took to training and moved quickly through the ranks. In 1942, at the age of 18, he joined the Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve and prepared for duty at sea. He served for three years and, as a seaman gunner in the HMCS Ottawa2, took part in the latter stages of Battle of the Atlantic, including the Normandy landings. After victory in Europe was declared, Bill volunteered to serve in the Pacific but the war with Japan ended before he could redeploy. Bill Wilson was discharged in the fall of 1945 and earned the Atlantic Star for his wartime service.
Once home, Bill attended business college and found work with Canadian Pacific. He progressed through the company, beginning in the Winnipeg head office of CP Airlines before transferring to the railway division and then the Corporate Research Department in Winnipeg and Toronto. In 1968, Bill became Director of Industrial Engineering in Montreal and was named Director of Operations and Coordination for CP Transport five years later. During this period, Bill also became a family man. He married and became father to a son and step-daughter. Unfortunately, his first wife, Patricia, died of a heart condition. Bill remarried to Phyllis Young of Toronto in 1975 and the two created a blended family of five children.
After years in eastern Canada, Bill’s career eventually brought him to Alberta. He took secondments to work on the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline Project in 1976 and the Foothills Alaska Highway Pipeline Project before returning to CP Rail in Calgary as Special Assistant to the Vice-President of Engineering for the Rogers Pass Tunnel construction project. Bill retired from CP in 1984 to join the organizing committee for the XV Olympic Winter Games where he served as Manager of Transportation and subsequently as General Manager of Transportation for the five Olympic Villages. In 1988, Bill became President of Transnova Transportation Consultants, which he led until retirement in 1993.
Throughout his civilian career, Bill remained dedicated to naval service. He joined the post-war naval reserve in 1945 and rose through the ranks as a member of HMCS CHIPPAWA in Winnipeg, HMCS DONNACONA in Montreal and HMCS YORK in Toronto, where he served as Commanding Officer. In each city, Bill strengthened the training programs offered to reservists and worked to build connections with the greater community. With his final work-related move to Calgary, Bill joined HMCS TECUMSEH. He retired from the reserve in 1979 with the rank of Captain.
Although he was no longer a Reserve Officer, Bill continued to offer exemplary leadership to the naval community. In 1984, he became a founding member of the Naval Museum of Alberta Society and successfully galvanized support for the new museum which opened its doors four years later. Bill worked tirelessly to build the museum’s holdings, drawing together artifacts and information from across the country and effectively transforming it into what is widely regarded as one of Canada’s best and most diversified naval collections. In time, discussions began surrounding a potential amalgamation of the Naval Museum with the Museums of the Regiments, which represented the Regiments of the Calgary Garrison. Bill began the often challenging work of uniting the very different museum groups and military cultures, with the ultimate goal of combining forces to better educate the public on the role and contributions of all members of the Canadian Armed Forces.
In 1992, the Canadian Navy appointed Bill Wilson Honourary Captain, further entrenching his leadership role. He continued his work to develop military museum resources in Calgary and, in 2001, he became the General Manager of the highly successful campaign to raise the $26 million needed to make the vision of a tri-forces museum a reality. Calgary’s innovative The Military Museums opened in 2009 as the nation’s largest complex of its kind, encompassing the renovated Museums of the Regiments, an expanded and relocated Naval Museum of Alberta and a new Air Force Museum.
In 2008, Bill became one of a handful of Canadians to receive the 4th clasp to Canadian Forces Decoration, denoting 52 years of honourable service. In addition to his wartime and reserve duties, he has served the military community as a trustee of the Canadian Naval Memorial Trust, past national president of the Naval Officers Association of Canada, past president of the Royal Alberta United Services Institute, advisory board member for the University of Calgary Centre for Military and Strategic Studies and life member of the Navy League of Canada. He has also offered community service as past president of the St. John Ambulance Calgary Board and as a board member of the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires, Southern Alberta Division.
Bill is an Officer of the Order of Military Merit and Commander of the Order of St. John. Along with his wartime service medals he holds the Queen’s Silver, Golden and Diamond Jubilee Medals, the Alberta Centennial Medal, the Canadian Confederation Medal and Long Service Medals from St. John Ambulance and the Canadian Corps of Commissionaires. He was awarded the Navy League of Canada Robert I. Hendy Award, the Alberta Museums Association Distinguished Service Award, the Calgary Military Museums Society General Sir Arthur Currie Award and the Admiral’s Medal from the Admiral’s Medal Foundation.
Although Bill Wilson has earned many distinguished titles, his fellow Calgarians and members of the naval community across the country know him simply and affectionately as “Captain Bill.” Through his vision, integrity and indefatigable commitment to service, Captain Bill has ensured that Canada’s rich naval and military heritage is preserved so that future generations can understand and appreciate the tremendous contributions Canadians in uniform have made to our great nation.
Bill and Phyllis Wilson make their home in High River, Alberta. Their family includes their five children, nine grandchildren and one great grandchild. Bill continues to be an active community and naval volunteer.