Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJanuary 11, 1886
Place of BirthBuckie, Banffshire
Marital StatusSingle
Next of KinMrs JD Matheson, sister, 9823-88th St, Edmonton, Alberta
Trade / CallingLocomotive Fireman
Service Details
Regimental Number504986
Service Record Link to Service Record
Battalion1st Army Troops Company
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Engineers
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Address at EnlistmentYMCA, Selkirk Ave, Winnipeg, Manitoba
Date of EnlistmentMarch 10, 1916
Age at Enlistment30
Theatre of ServiceEurope
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathDecember 13, 1955
Age at Death70
Buried AtElmwood Cemetery, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Burgess, William Cowie

William Cowie Burgess was born on 11 January 1886 in Buckie, Banffshire, Scotland. His father George Burgess was from Rathven, and his mother Jane Ingram was from Fordyce, both in Banffshire. The couple married in 1871 in Fordyce. The 1881 Scotland census found George working as a van driver and at the time of William’s birth he was working as a porter. William had eight older siblings: Elizabeth (Lizzie), Jemima, George Alexander, Mary, Alexander, Adam, Alice Jane (Jennie), and Francis (Frank). It appears that George immigrated to Canada first in 1888 followed by Jane and the children in 1889. The family settled in Halifax, Nova Scotia where George first found work as a labourer and then as a fireman. Daughter Louise was born in May of 1892 in Halifax. Sadly, Jane died on 2 June 1893. George married recent Scottish immigrant Isabella Younie in November of 1900. By the 1901 Canada census family members listed in the household were George and Isabella, Lizzie, Adam, Frank, William, and Louise. For the 1911 census household members were George, Adam, Frank, and Louise.

William was living at the YMCA on Selkirk Avenue in Winnipeg and working as a locomotive fireman for the Canadian Pacific Railway when he signed his attestation papers on 10 March 1916. Predeceased by both parents, he gave his sister Mrs JD (Lizzie) Matheson in Edmonton as next of kin. With the 16th Draft, Canadian Engineers, William arrived in England aboard the SS Missinabie on 28 June 1916.

By September of 1916 William had been transferred to the 1st Army Troops Company, Canadian Engineers, taken on strength in the field on the 3rd of October.  Army Troops Companies and Canadian Engineers worked in the corps area on the construction of defences, accommodation and route communications. In addition, they ran corps workshops and parks, built positions for heavy guns and worked on water supply, frequently in forward areas.

On 27 August 1917 William was admitted to the No 4 Canadian Field Ambulance suffering from shell gas poisoning. In early September he was transferred to the No 18 General Hospital Dannes in Camiers for a few days, then on to the No 6 Convalescent Depot in Etaples on the 8th, and then to the No 5 Convalescent Depot in Cayeux on the 15th. He was discharged to Base Details, Etaples on the 5th of October. In early December William was granted a fourteen day leave to the UK followed by a ten day leave to Paris in August of 1918 and a fourteen leave to the UK in late December of 1918. He embarked for Halifax on 16 April 1919 aboard the SS Belgic and was discharged from service on 1 May, rank of Sapper.

After the war William moved to Kenora in northwestern Ontario, retiring from the Canadian Pacific Railway as an engineer in 1950. He was a member of the Masonic Pequonga LodgeAF&A, the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, and an avid curler, was past president of the Kenora Curling Club.

William died suddenly on 13 December 1955 at the Kenricia Hotel in Kenora. A funeral service was held at Brown’s Funeral Home in Kenora on the 15th. William is interred in the Elmwood Cemetery in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

William’s brother Frank enlisted in May of 1916 in Halifax. He served in Canada with the 1st Canadian Garrison Artillery and with the 4th Divisional Ammunition Column in England and France. He returned to Canada in July of 1919.

William is commemorated on List 31 of the Canadian Pacific Railway WW1 Roll of Honour: Wm Cowie Burgess, Travelling Fireman, Winnipeg, gassed.

by Judy Stockham



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