Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJanuary 29, 1896
Place of BirthWinnipeg, Manitoba
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs. James Brownlee (mother), 49 Dundurn Place, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Trade / CallingFarmer
Service Details
Regimental Number460897
Service Record Link to Service Record
BattalionCanadian Engineers Railway Battalion
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Engineers
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentWinnipeg, Manitoba
Date of EnlistmentSeptember 7, 1915
Age at Enlistment19
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathJune 3, 1971
Age at Death75
Buried AtForest Lawn Cemetery, Erickson, British Columbia

Brownlee, William Ferguson

Lieutenant William Ferguson Brownlee enlisted in the fall of 1915 and served in France with the Canadian Engineers. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant in November 1918 and returned to Canada in August 1919.

William was the son of James Brownlee and Margaret Hutton Rutherford. James was born in Hamilton, Ontario and started working for the railway in his teens. He went on to have a long railroad career, working his way up from shop labourer to engineer then superintendent. James married his first wife, Mary Ann McKnight, in 1884 in Belleville, Ontario. A short time later they moved to Manitoba and their first child, David Canning, was born in Brandon in 1885. He was followed by a daughter Mary two years later. Sadly, James’ wife Mary Ann died in Winnipeg in June 1887, about a month after their daughter was born.

James married Margaret Hutton Rutherford in 1893 in Belleville, Ontario. They lived in Winnipeg at first and three sons were born there: Thomas Rutherford (1894), William Ferguson (29 January 1896) and James Bland (1897, died as an infant). By 1901 the family was living in Medicine Hat and a few years later they moved to Moose Jaw, both in the North-West Territories at that time. A daughter, Magdalen, was born in Moose Jaw in 1905. James was a railway engineer and mechanic by then. Around 1910 the family moved to Kenora, Ontario where James became superintendent of the Canadian Pacific Railway’s Kenora division. Sadly, he passed away in February 1912 after a short illness. A funeral was held in Kenora followed by another one in Winnipeg and he’s buried in Elmwood Cemetery. William was 16 years old at the time and he moved to Winnipeg with his mother, his brother Thomas and sister Magdalen. David was working in Moose Jaw and Mary was married and living in Cranbrook, British Columbia.

William was 18 when the war started and he enlisted a year later, signing up in Winnipeg on 7 September 1915. He joined the 61st Battalion but after training with them for five months he was transferred to the 2nd Troops Company, Canadian Engineers. He embarked from Halifax on 16 May 1916 on the SS Baltic and arrived in England about two weeks later. He was transferred to the 10th Field Company, Canadian Engineers, a new unit that had just been organized that month. They left for France on 10 August and in September William was promoted to Lance Corporal. The Canadians were at the Somme Offensive that fall and the Battle of Vimy Ridge in April 1917. William was promoted to Second Corporal on 7 July 1917 and given ten days leave later that month. On 7 January 1918 was became a Corporal and at the end of January he was sent to Bridging School for two weeks.

In April 1918 William sprained his ankle and he was out of action for three weeks. He rejoined his unit in mid-May and at the end of the month, in a re-organization, they were absorbed by the 10th Battalion, Canadian Engineers. On 21 June William was sent to England with the view of getting a commission and he attended the Officers’ Training Course at the Canadian School of Military Engineering. He was commissioned as a Lieutenant on 5 November 1918 and transferred to the Canadian Engineers Railway Battalion. In January 1919 he was ill with appendicitis and he was a patient at No. 13 Canadian General Hospital at Hastings for about four weeks, recovering from an appendectomy. He served in Great Britain for another six months and sailed for Canada on 13 August on the SS Saxonia. He was discharged on demobilization on 31 August in Winnipeg. His brother David also enlisted and served overseas and he returned home with a war bride.

When the 1921 census was taken William was living in Melville, Saskatchewan and working as an agent for a trust company. He was married in 1924 in Estevan, Saskatchewan to Olive Anne Wilson, a school teacher. Olive was born in 1893 in Lenore, Manitoba, the daughter of James Wilson and Mary Ann Manson. By the mid-1930s William and Olive were living in Qu’Appelle, Saskatchewan where he had a clothing business. From there they moved to Moose Jaw and then, around 1939, to Vancouver. William served with the Royal Canadian Engineers during the Second World War, retiring in 1946 with the rank of Major. In Vancouver he was the manager and secretary for the Vancouver Millwork Manufacturers’ Association.

William and his wife left Vancouver around 1950 and settled in the town of Creston where he operated a store called Brownlee’s Men’s Wear. He was a member of the Royal Canadian Legion and served on the executive of the Creston branch. He belonged to the Military Engineers Association of Canada and the Rotary Club. He and his wife were both active in community affairs. William’s sister Mary had died in Cranbrook, BC in 1923. His mother passed away in Belleville, Ontario in 1937, his brother David in 1944 in Regina and his brother Thomas in 1950 in Fort William, Ontario. Olive died in the General Hospital in Kimberley, BC in April 1961, at age 68, and she’s buried in Kimberley Cemetery.

William retired in 1966 and passed away in Creston Valley Hospital on 3 June 1971, at age 75. He was survived by his second wife, Lena Lillian (née Beatty). Lena died in 1978 and they are both buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery in Erickson, British Columbia.

By Becky Johnson

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