Memorable Manitobans: William John Simpson (1869-1928)

Jeweler, immigration agent.

Born in Dufferin County, Ontario on 3 July 1869, son of Hugh Simpson and Elisabeth Dickson, in 1887 he began a three-year apprenticeship as a watchmaker with Robert Simpson Company at Toronto. In 1904, he became manager and buyer of china, glassware, toys, jewellery and silverware with the Robinson Company at Winnipeg; and buyer of house furnishings in 1907. He operated a retail china store on Portage Avenue and was a wholesale jeweler with Rowland & Parker from 1911 to 1915.

Active in military affairs, he was a militiaman with the Queen’s Own at Toronto. During the First World War, he joined the Canadian Expeditionary Force, serving as Paymaster of the 9th Battalion. He went overseas with Major General A. D. McRae, quartermaster general of the Canadian forces in England requisitioned his services for the purchasing department and on the formation of the Canadian headquarters under General Sir Richard Turner was made chief purchasing agent; when Sir Edward Kemp went to England as overseas minister of militia the contracts branch of the Canadian army was transferred to the direct responsibility of the minister; Colonel Simpson was then made director of contracts, rank of Lieutenant-Colonel; as a result of the Colonel’s peculiar qualities for this responsible position and of the administration of the purchasing department during the strenuous years of the war, Sir Edward Kemp at the close of the war tendered to him the thanks of the military council in the following language, “The contract branch was one of the most efficient departments under my jurisdiction and was one of the few departments regarding which we never received a word of adverse comment.” Colonel Simpson’s services were commended in the House of Commons, and twice brought to the attention of the British secretary of state for war and mentioned in dispatches. He was decorated with the Order of the British Empire. After the armistice Colonel Simpson was appointed director of sales to dispose of the huge quantities of Canadian government stores remaining in England; the disposal of these stores occupied a year and a half, when the volume of stores is considered this was done quickly, for it was no light task to dispose of the accumulated supplies of 105 military depots, including 27 hospitals; in the majority of cases a profit was shown over the original prices paid; a profit of a million dollars was shown on motor transports alone; the Basingstoke Hospital was sold for £75,000, its cost was £59,000 in the first place; Colonel Simpson concluded this enormous undertaking with such dispatch that the Canadian Government was the first of the British Dominions to close out its surplus war stores; his purchasing Department spent on an average of $250,000 a day, keeping up this pace for four years and in total sums over $300,000,000 was spent. He returned to Canada in March 1920.

He later became secretary-treasurer of the Canada Colonization Association.

On 18 July 1897, he married Nellie Cunningham, with whom he had three daughters: Margery Simpson (1898-?, wife of W. S. Buchanan), Dorothy Simpson (1901-?), and Beatrice Simpson (1904-?). He was a member of the Carleton Club and Southwood Golf Club. He lived at 740 McMillan Avenue, Winnipeg.

He died at Winnipeg on 4 December 1928 and was buried in the Brookside Cemetery.


1911 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.

Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.

“Lt.-Col. W. J. Simpson dies of pneumonia,” Manitoba Free Press, 6 December 1928, page 17.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 10 September 2023

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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