WILSON, WILLIAM MERCER, judge and freemason; b. 12 or 24 Aug. 1813 at “Mavisbank,” the family estate in Perthshire, Scotland, son of Graeme Mercer; d. 16 Jan. 1875, at Simcoe, Ont.
William Mercer was adopted by his mother’s brother, and William took his name, Wilson. He emigrated to Canada in 1832 and settled at Nanticoke in what is now Haldimand County. In 1834 he moved to Simcoe and was appointed commissioner to the Court of Requests in the Talbot District. In the same year he married Jane Brown, by whom he had 10 children. She died about 1849. During the rebellion in Upper Canada in 1837–38 he commanded the Norfolk Cavalry troop, which he had organized, and joined Allan MacNab* at Scotland, following him to Chippawa where he participated in the capture of the Caroline. He was gazetted lieutenant-colonel of the 3rd Battalion Norfolk militia in 1848 and retired from it with that rank in 1869.
In 1838 Wilson became clerk of the peace and clerk of the court for the Talbot District and accumulated other minor posts. He began the study of law, and in 1853 was called to the bar. His law practice flourished and he became active in local political affairs. During the 1860s he was elected reeve of Simcoe for five years and warden of Norfolk County for two years. He continued as clerk of the peace until 1858 when he was appointed crown attorney for the county. On 5 May 1868 he became judge of the county court.
Wilson’s career indicates a wide variety of interests. In 1840 he had imported the first printing press into the Talbot District and founded at Simcoe the Norfolk Observer, which he conducted for about two years, He helped form the St Andrew’s Society in 1842 and was president of it and of the Mechanics’ Institute. In 1851 he was a delegate of the Provincial Agricultural Association to a meeting in London, England. Wilson’s association with freemasonry began in 1840. He was initiated into Lodge no.14 (the Norfolk Lodge) at Simcoe and eight years later he was named grand senior warden of the Provincial Grand Lodge. When the Grand Lodge of Canada West was formed, independent of the Grand Lodge of England, in October 1855, Wilson became the first grand master. It was largely through his encouragement that the rival Ancient Grand Lodge under Sir Allan MacNab, which was formed from the Provincial Grand Lodge when it too broke away from the English lodge, joined the Grand Lodge of Canada in 1858. Wilson was grand master until 1860 and was again elected to this position for 1866–68 and from 1872 until his death in 1875. He had married in London, England, Susan Grace Codner by whom he had three children. She died in 1855 and he married Mary Elizabeth Dixon; they had one daughter.
J. of Education for Ont., XXVIII (1875), 42. Militia list for Canada West . . . , comp. Joshua Thompson (Toronto, 1851). G. D. Maxwell, The first one hundred years: a history of Wilson Lodge A.F. & A.M., no.86, Grand Lodge of Canada in the Province of Ontario, 1857–1957 (n.p., n.d.). B. M. Pearce, First grand master: a biography of William Mercer Wilson, first grand master of the Grand Lodge of Canada A.F. & A.M. (Simcoe, Ont., 1932). Simcoe and Norfolk County; in commemoration of the Simcoe reunion of Norfolk County old boys, August 2nd to 7th, 1924 (Simcoe, Ont., 1924).