Valley Lives - Bill Wilson

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the September 18, 2013 issue. Reprinted with permission.

Man with 'big heart,' longtime advocate of St. Mike's passes away

by Trevor Greenway

Bill Wilson may not have spent a single day studying in any of the classrooms at St. Mike's in Low, but when it came time to fight for the struggling secondary school, he always came out swinging.

The longtime Western Quebec School Board commissioner, municipal inspector, husband and father of two, went three gruelling rounds for the school - helping to convince cohorts it was an institution worth saving. And he won each time.

Valley Lives
When Bill Wilson wasn't fighting school closures or building canoes, he could usually be found cruising the highway on his Honda Goldwing motorbike, riding with the Old Bastards Vintage Motorcycle Club and raising money for notable causes. Photo courtesy Theresa Van Erp.

"He hadn't gone to St. Mike's, but he knew it meant so much to the community," said Wilson's daughter, Kathleen.

She explained that her dad has seen St. Mike's on the chopping block three times since becoming a commissioner in 1990. "He knew that there were kids that came here who didn't want to go to bigger schools," she said.

Wilson died Aug. 20. He was 69-years-old.

When he wasn't fighting to save the last remaining English high school from Hull to Maniwaki, the avid musician, fisherman, hunter, canoe builder and dad could be found cruising the highway on his Honda Gold- wing motorbike - raising cash for organizations like the Wakefield hospital, Gananoque Youth Centre and other notable causes with his Old Bastards Vintage Motorcycle Club.

But behind all the fight was a man who could make people laugh in any situation; who loved his kids; who loved music, and a man who took care of his family. It's this man that his wife of 35 years, Theresa Van Erp, will miss so much.

"I just miss having him around," she said, chatting from her home in Low, where her hubby peacefully died. "Oh, he could make me laugh," she added, her mouth cracking a half smile.

When Van Erp met the man of her dreams in 1969, he was sort of a rock star.

Back then, Wilson was a professional musician playing with his group the Willie Wilson Band. When she first saw him, he was strumming and singing at the Chateau Diotte, which later became the Chateau Pearson and eventually the Black Sheep Inn. It's this hillbilly rocker that son, Steven, remembers most.

"For me, dad was a musician, that was his life," he said, now 50.

Steven remembers his dad being a bit "gruff," but said he was a man of integrity whom he looked up to his whole life.

"There wasn't much guile with him. He told you what he believed and didn't lead you wrong," said Steven.

Even in his later years, when he wasn't gigging, music was in his bones. Kathleen remembers her dad always drumming on the dashboard during their yearly camping trips, singing tunes around the campfire or taking her all the way to North Carolina to see Wham!, even though he didn't like the 80s Britpop band.

After music, Wilson took a canoe-building course in the 1980s and later opened Paugan Falls Canoe Works in Low.

The custom canoe shop became a vibrant business in the town, focusing on building and repairing handmade water crafts for Hills clients and beyond.

This is where he met longtime friend Leighton Brown. Their canoe-talk didn't last long when Wilson mentioned he was into motorbikes.

"I discovered he had bikes and so we talked bikes," remembers Brown. "He called me to do work on his bike and we hit it off. We've been friends ever since."

Brown later joined Wilson as a rider with the Old Bastards, and the two would talk about the history of Low and ride together on bike rallies.

And while most would agree that he wasn't the easiest guy to get along with, once you were his friend, he made sure you were well taken care of.

"He had a big heart," said Brown. "If you ever needed a hand, he was always willing to help. He was a staunch supporter of his community."

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