The Military Museums

Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson

Bill Wilson

Captain (N) William (Bill) Wilson was born 5 November 1924 in Winnipeg Manitoba. Bill Wilson began his military career in 1942 when he enlisted as a Seaman in the Royal Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve (RCNVR).

During the Second World War he served on destroyers and minesweepers in the North Atlantic, English Channel and Bay of Biscay.


After completing his wartime service Captain Wilson joined Canadian Pacific (CP) Airlines in 1947 where he was employed at the Corporate Head Office in Winnipeg. He transferred to the Corporate Research Department in 1954 and served in a variety of transportation research positions in Winnipeg and Toronto. In 1968, he was appointed Director of Industrial Engineering in Montreal and in 1973, he was appointed Director Operations, CP Transport.

In 1976, he was seconded to the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline project as Director of Transportation and, in 1978, assumed the same role with Foothills Alaska Gas Pipeline Project. In 1982, he returned to CP Rail as a special assistant to the Vice-President Engineering for the Rogers Pass Tunnel Project where he served until his retirement from CP in 1984.

After the War, Bill remained with the Naval Reserve and played a significant role in the creation and success of the Naval Museum of Alberta. His military service was highlighted in 1974 when he was appointed Commanding Officer HMCS York in Toronto and aide-de-camp to Governors General Roland Mitchener and Jules Leger. On moving to Calgary in 1976, he joined HMCS Tecumseh where he served with distinction until he retired with the rank of Captain (N) in 1979.

By 1979, Bill had also completed 37 years of distinguished military service as a member of the Canadian Navy Volunteer Reserve; by 1984, he had completed a career of 37 years with Canadian Pacific; and in 2002, he completed a volunteer association with St. John Ambulance that spanned almost six decades.

On 25 February 1993, Captain Wilson was appointed Honorary Captain (N) to the First Canadian Submarine Squadron at Halifax - an honour normally reserved for distinguished Canadian citizens who can promote strong ties and good relations between the Navy and the community at large. The appointment is normally held for a period of three years.

However, in 1996 Captain Wilson was given a rare honour when he was asked to serve a second tour as Honorary Captain (N), this time to the Maritime Forces Pacific at Esquimalt, Maritime Operations Group 4 – a position he still holds today. In recognition of his celebrated service to the Canadian Forces, Captain Wilson was awarded the Order of Military Merit in 1998.

During his career with CP, Captain Wilson’s leadership skills, reputation as a trouble-shooter and ability to convince others to do the impossible in order to solve complex human challenges earned him the respect and admiration of his peers and workers alike.

His association with St. John Ambulance began in Winnipeg in 1945. He later served with the Toronto Branch Board and most recently (1992 - 2002) served as Member and Chair of the Calgary Branch Board.

During his tenure with the Calgary Branch Board, Captain Wilson was one of the most consistent and productive members. He recruited new members to the Board and shared his extensive expertise and experience in the areas of marketing, public relations and community funding.

Perhaps his greatest contribution was his unconditional support of the Volunteer Brigade. He published a monthly newsletter, so others would be aware of the activities and accomplishments of the Volunteers; he instituted a trophy that is awarded annually to the Most Outstanding Volunteer; and he obtained substantial financial contributions for the purchase and update of equipment used by the volunteers at community service events. In recognition of his distinguished service to St John Ambulance, Captain Wilson was appointed Commander, in the Order of St. John.

Captain Wilson’s legacy will be his role as the driving force behind the creation and the ongoing success of the Naval Museum of Alberta. Captain Wilson was the first President of the Society and through the years has performed all functions on the Board and continues an active role in his current position of Honorary Director.

His motivation for getting involved is best described in his words from a recent interview "Educators don’t teach Canadian history in schools anymore, at least not the way they should. It's left to vets like us. We are working so hard to provide the schooling that is missing" and, "If a thousand people come and then go back to the school, office or workplace, spreading the news of what a fine museum this really is and the educational value it has for the community, then more will come and more will learn."

Captain Wilson’s email address, "captrabbit", illustrates his persuasive capability and his sense for uncovering valuable naval artefacts long forgotten by others. He has been highly successful in obtaining large bore naval guns and other major artefacts that have contributed to the outstanding collection. Through his leadership the Naval Museum of Alberta has become the largest and best museum of its kind in Canada.

Captain Wilson was also heavily involved in the Sharing Our Military Heritage campaign whose task was to raise a total of $16 million from the private and public sectors to enable the construction of a new tri-service complex on Crowchild Trail, Calgary. When completed, this program would include the museums of the land force regiments, the naval and air force museums, an art gallery and a major library and archive research facility that will be operated by the University of Calgary.

This facility was the first of its kind in Canada, and provides a centre for military studies with a focus on Canadian military historical education for elementary and high school students for generations to come. Captain Wilson’s vision of steadfastly preserving the past for the future has influenced the local community and inspired the military fellowship in Calgary.

Without his dedication and selfless effort in preserving the national military heritage in the City of Calgary, it is unlikely that so much of our national heritage would be so readily accessible to the general public.

Captain Wilson has received many honours and awards, including the following: awarded The 1939-1945 Star, awarded The Atlantic Star, awarded The Canadian Forces Volunteer Service Medal, awarded The Victory Medal, awarded The Canadian Forces Decoration with 3 service bars, awarded The Queen’s Jubilee Medal, awarded The Order of Military Merit, awarded The 125th Anniversary of Confederation Medal, awarded The Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal, awarded The St. John Ambulance Long Service Medal, awarded Commander in the Order of St. John, appointed Honorary President, Naval Veterans Association of Canada, , appointed Honorary Captain (N), First Canadian Submarine Squadron Halifax, appointed Honorary Captain (N), West Coast Maritime Operations Group 4, appointed Life Member, Royal Alberta United Services Institute, and appointed Life Member, Navy League of Canada.

Captain (N) Wilson’s greatest admirer and primary source of inspiration is his wife Phyllis Young, formerly of Toronto. They have five children and nine grandchildren.

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