If ever there was one man who set the example of how to live life to its fullest in the great white north, it was Captain Billy Wilson.
Although he passed away several years ago, he is still fondly remembered by many area residents.
Born in Pennsylvania, eight days after Canada’s confederation, Wilson moved to Alberton in 1881. the harsh travelling conditions of the day permitted only the hardiest soul to make the trip.
The CN Rail line spanning the continent would not be completed for several years, so like many pioneers, Wilson made use of the extensive waterways, paddling his way to the Rainy River District in canoe.
The only part of the trip by rail was the first section, from the eastern seaboard to Port Arthur (now part of Thunder Bay). The trip took Wilson and his group of 23 travelling companions 11 days.
Although Wilson travelled to the region to meet up with his father who had arrived a year earlier, he did not shirk his duty to make a living. Unlike today, his 14 years made him a prime candidate for hard work, and Wilson found he had a knack for it.
Captain Wilson underwent the same torturous journey a year later to pick up the rest of his family.
He eventually became a boat captain, with a steam engineer’s certificate. He captained may of the passenger and cargo steamers of the day, including three that he built-the Thistle, the Roddick and the Welcome- three of the most prominent ships on the river.
Later in life he also piloted tugs for the Ontario-Minnesota Pulp and Paper Company, the forerunner to Boise Cascade Canada.
But building steamers steamers wasn’t the captains’ only achievement. He also built among other projects, eight houses including most of the plumbing. At age 88 he built himself a new home with the help of his grandson, Bob.
Bob, currently working at LaVerendrye General Hospital, said he remembers the time he spent with Captain Billy fondly. And although he wasn’t in awe of his grandfather’s great stamina, he did realize what a feat it was.
“Well, I was pretty young at the time, maybe 14 or 16. I wouldn’t say I was in awe, but i did give him a lot of credit. And about a month after we built that house he moved another house that he had built earlier into town and layed the whole foundation for it,” he recalls.
But mostly Bob remembers his grandfather as an active active man, who was always intent on completing some project.
“He was always active doing something. If he wasn’t building something then he was cutting firewood or some other such thing,” he noted.