|Date of Birth||January 14, 1890|
|Place of Birth||Fort Frances, Ontario|
|Next of Kin||Miss E.Williams (sister), 482 Cumberland St. North, Port Arthur, Ontario|
|Trade / Calling||Clerk|
|Religion||Church of England|
|Service Record||Link to Service Record|
|Force||Canadian Expeditionary Force|
|Enlisted / Conscripted||Enlisted|
|Address at Enlistment||Kenora, Ontario|
|Date of Enlistment||May 21, 1915|
|Age at Enlistment||25|
|Theatre of Service||Europe|
|Prisoner of War||No|
|Date of Death||February 24, 1956|
|Age at Death||66|
|Buried At||Lake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario|
Birth date and location: James Percy Williams was born January 24, 1890 in Fort Frances, Ontario to Jabez Williams (born July 29, 1858, New Buckingham, Norfolk, England) and Annie (born May 15, 1862 christened in July at St. Andrew, Manitoba). Annie’s maiden name was MacKenzie.
The Williams family research has traced ‘Percy’s’ maternal Cree and Metis ancestry to figures who were significant in Canadian and local histories establishing the fur trade and opening the west. Voyageurs, explorers, clerks and Factors, with either the North West Company out of Montreal or the Hudson Bay Company (HBC) out of England – McKenzie, Campbell, Setter – are all included in an illustrious family tree. Jabez carried on the tradition working with the HBC, first as a clerk and, later, as Factor, at Lac Seul, Ontario.
Early life: In the 1891 census, the Williams household consisted of Jabez, Annie and Carrie C. (sister of Jabez) and 3 children: Herbert, Lawrence and James. Jabez was Methodist and Annie was Church of England. The three boys were also Church of England. According to the Williams family (oral history and ancestry.ca), there were 7 children, altogether, including Percy. His siblings were: Herbert Bruce (1886-1926); Lawrence Joseph (1888-1922); Ethel Ellen Elizabeth (1892-1969); Rupert Jabez Duncan (1893-1973); Lucy Caroline Margaret (1895-1974); and, Stanley (1897-1911). Rupert was born blind and he met his wife at a School for the Blind in Toronto. Rupert later started a School for the Blind in Saskatchewan.
Annie died at the early age of 37, on April 8, 1899, leaving several young children. Williams family research has Percy moving to Kenora to live with his uncle, James McKenzie. ‘On April 25, 1901 the family of James McKenzie was recorded as living in Rat Portage and he was included in the enumerator’s file as living in the residence’. It was in Kenora schools that Percy received his education and also began working with the Hose Hardware Company, where he first began his long career in the hardware business. Percy was also secretary of the Lake of the Woods Gun Club and was considered a marksman. The Miner and News (M&N) described him as an accomplished and popular young man in the community.
War experience: At the age of 25, Percy enlisted early in the war on May 21, 1915, in Kenora. He was placed with the 52nd Battalion. He named his sister, Miss E. Williams of 462 Cumberland Street, Fort William as his next of kin. On December 8, 1915, Private Williams, along with about 51 other Kenora area men of the 52nd Battalion, arrived in England on the troop ship California. While doing basic training in England, Percy was selected to learn Morse Code and how to communicate with flash lamps, eitograph, field telephones and buzzers. If successful, he would be one of the signal men who would be posted along the trenches to maintain communication.
He embarked for France on February 2, 1916 and almost immediately began sniper training. A letter to his friend, Mr. Earngey of Kenora, was published in the M&N on March 25, 1916. In it, Percy informed his friend of his success at becoming a sniper – a position he was quite confident he and other Kenora area men would attain due to their excellent marksmanship. He signed it Sniper Williams. His skill and talent with the written word is evident in this letter.
It was only a matter of months after being in the trenches at Ypres, France, however, when the area in which Percy was located was shelled. The M&N of June 10, 1916 announced that Percy was among the wounded in France, but had not yet heard the circumstances. In fact, Percy had been buried in the trench and developed tubercular peritonitis in his abdomen. At the same time, he also received a serious gunshot wound to his right thigh. Over the next year, Percy spent time between different hospitals in both France and England for not only the wound, but also as a result of an abdominal operation.
In July 1917, Percy sailed from England and on the 21st, he disembarked in Halifax. He boarded the Canadian Pacific Railway Train and arrived home in Kenora on August 1. He stayed with Mr. & Mrs. F.W. Caniff before going to Winnipeg to receive additional medical treatment in hospital. He returned permanently to Kenora September 29, 1917.
Percy was declared medically unfit to continue in service and was discharged, February 2, 1918 with a moderate disability classification. The wounded leg affected Percy, for many years. In later years, it is believed Percy was also the victim of mustard gassing at Ypres.
Life after the war: After Percy returned to Kenora, he went back to work for Hose Hardware for a period of time. He then went into the hardware business with Mr. Caniff in 1921, and, eventually established his own store, Williams Hardware, on Second Street.
On July 14, 1926 in Kenora, he married Marion Solsoleil Pittman. He was 36 years of age. Both were Church of England. Marion was born in Trinity, Newfoundland, 1900, daughter of Charles McFarlane Pittman, a telegrapher with the CPR and Violet Cunningham. Upon arriving in Kenora, Marion began working at the Kenora Tourist Bureau, and also played on the women’s hockey team. It was through hockey that she met Percy, who was coaching the team at the time. At the time of their marriage, she was a teacher. They had four children, all born in Kenora: Jocelyn, who is still living; James ‘Douglas’ (1929-2005); Lawrence Pittman (1932-1998); and Barbara Marion (1940-2009).
Percy became a well-known community member. On October 3, 1927, he joined the Canadian Legion: British Empire Service League (Kenora Branch). Over the coming years, he also sat on the Kenora School Board; was a member of the Lake of the Woods Gun Club; was an Honourary member of Rotary International; was Director of the Kenora Golf and Country Club; held membership in the Conservative Party and was also a member of the I.O.O.F. His proclaimed faith was High Anglican and he remained a member of St. Albans Cathedral in Kenora until his death. In between all of this, Percy found time to be mayor of Kenora, from 1939 to 1943.
Perhaps one of the highlights for Percy was having the privilege of being one of the hosts of their Royal Highnesses, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, when they stopped in Redditt on their cross Canada Railway Tour, June 1939. Percy’s daughter, Jocelyn, in grade 8 at the time, remembers being a member of the Girl Guides who went to Redditt to see the royal couple. She also remembers her father welcoming the Duke of Kent when he came through Kenora.
Percy had a flair for writing. In fact, one of his ventures was publishing the Kenora Miner and News for several years. During that time, he mentored a young man, Thomas Johnston, of Keewatin, who became Editor of the Miner and News then went on to do Public Relations work with the Canadian Military during World War II. He eventually became a major figure in the National Film Board of Canada. Percy lived long enough to have known of ‘Tommy’s’ success.
Date of death and burial location: On February 24, 1956, Percy died unexpectedly of a heart attack at his home, 625 First Avenue South, Kenora. He is buried in the Williams family plot in the Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora. Marion, who remained in Kenora and lived in the Gardiner Block for many years, died in 1992. Although they moved away from Kenora, both ‘Doug’ and ‘Larry’ returned to their birthplace to be buried in the family plot with their parents. Barbara, his youngest, died in 2009.
By Susan (Hillman) Brazeau in support of the Kenora Great War Project – honouring all who served, remembering those who died
Library and Archives Canada: Service Record
Royal Canadian Legion, Kenora Branch
Ontario Marriages: Full registration (ancestry.ca: Archives of Ontario; Series: MS932_766; Reel: 766)
Ontario Canada Births (ancestry.ca): Archives of Ontario. Registrations of Births and Stillbirths – 1869- 1913. MS 929 reels 1-245. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Archives of Ontario
Miner and News (1915, 1916, 1917, 1939, 1956)
1891 Canada census
Northern Ontario Gravemarkers Gallery
Lake of the Woods Cemetery
Oral history and Family research: Williams family members (Percy’s daughter, Jocelyn Campbell, and his granddaughter, Janet Betts)