The First Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Canada

William Mercer Wilson

William Mercer Wilson was born on August 24, 1813 in Perthshire Scotland and was the son of Graeme Mercer. When he was adopted by his mother's brother he took the name Wilson. In 1832 he immigrated to Canada and settled in Nanticoke which is now Haldimand County. Two years later he moved to Simcoe. During the Rebellion in Upper Canada 1837 - 1838 he commanded the Norfolk Cavalry troop and in 1848 he was gazetted Lieutenant Colonel of the 3rd Battalion Norfolk militia.

In 1838 Wilson became a clerk of the court and during this time he studied law. He was called to the bar in 1853 and had a flourishing law practice, became very interested in local politics and was eventually appointed Crown Attorney for the County . On May 5, 1868 he became Judge of the County Court.

Wilson's interests were varied. He imported the first printing press into Talbot District and founded the Norfolk Observer in 1840. This was the same year Wilson's association with freemasonry began. He was initiated into Lodge No.14, the Norfolk Lodge and eight years later was named the Grand Senior Warden of the Provincial Grand Lodge.  In the 1800s Masonic Lodges in both Upper and Lower Canada were ruled by the Grand Lodge of England.  Communication was a real problem as it took eight months to get a letter from England and another eight months for a reply to go back.  Decision making was very difficult.

Wilson felt strongly that Ontario Masons should govern themselves and took it upon himself to travel across the province to convince other lodges to join a new Grand lodge just for Ontario. In October 1855 the Grand Lodge of Canada West was formed independent of the Grand Lodge of England and Wilson became the first Grand Master. Through his encouragement 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. When the two Grand Lodges of Upper and Lower Canada amalgamated in 1859 the Grand Lodge included nearly all the Lodges in both Canada East and Canada West.  

 

Wilson remained the Grand Master until 1860 and was again elected to this position from 1866-1868 and again from 1872 until his death in 1875. When he died on January 16, 1875 more than 1,000 Masons from across the province attended his funeral. It is said that special trains had to be arranged to get everybody to the village of Simcoe.  Most Worshipful Brother William Mercer Wilson is buried in the St John's Anglican churchyard south of town. The site is marked by a Heritage Plaque and each year Masons make a pilgrimage to pay homage to the First Grand Master of the Grand Lodge of Canada.

There were many protests about the Ontario Grand Lodge calling itself the Grand Lodge of Canada because by 1875 there were six other Grand Lodges in Canada - Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, British Columbia, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and Manitoba.  It was recommended and finally adopted in 1887 that the Grand Lodge of Canada would officially change its name.  The new name would be the Grand Lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons of Canada in the Province of Ontario. This new name again drew protests.  This time they objected to the words "of Canada" in the title.  Ontario retained the words "of Canada"  because when founded Ontario was the only Grand Lodge in the colony of Canada.

William Mercer Wilson was also the first Grand First Principal of the Grand Chapter of Royal Arch Masons of Canada