WILLIAM (BILL) PRICE WILDER
1922 – 2019
Bill Wilder, respected business leader and philanthropist, passed away peacefully in Toronto on Saturday, March 23, 2019 at the age of 96 years.
Among his many achievements, Bill was a former chief executive of Wood Gundy, one of Canada’s most prestigious securities firms and now part of CIBC, and of Consumers Gas, at the time the country’s biggest natural-gas distributor. He served on the boards of numerous other blue-chip companies and, as a philanthropist, was among the biggest individual donors to Upper Canada College in Toronto. A building at Harvard University is named after him.
As Bill himself once noted: “I have been guided by the philosophy that you can’t take everything out of life without putting something back in. With the help of my wife, my family and many friends and business associates, I have been fortunate to accomplish both.”
Bill will be greatly missed by Billie, his devoted wife of 65 years; and by their four children: Martha; Bill Jr.; Tom and his wife Sylvie; and Andy and his wife Lori. He is deeply mourned by his five grand-children Elle (Jeff), Mac, Meaghan, Justin and Neal, who affectionately knew him as Buck, the nickname given to Bill during his wartime service aboard a Royal Navy destroyer.
Bill will also be remembered with respect and affection by a wide circle of friends and business associates across Canada, and in the U.S. and England.
Bill was born in Toronto on September 26, 1922 to William Edward and Marjorie Mary Wilder. He attended Upper Canada College and had planned to become an architect. But the depressed housing and construction industry in the late 1930s encouraged him to enroll instead for a commerce degree at McGill.
However, his studies were interrupted by the Second World War. After officer training at Royal Roads Naval College on Vancouver Island, he was seconded to the Royal Navy and saw active duty as a sub-lieutenant on the destroyer HMS Whitshed. One of Whitshed’s final war-time duties was to escort U.S troopships to the landing ground at Utah beach in northern France on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Bill returned to McGill after the war to complete his studies, and then joined Wood Gundy, where his father had been a vice-president. He started as a bond salesman, but decided in 1948 to pursue an MBA at Harvard. He often described his two years at Harvard Business School as a life-changing experience that was invaluable in equipping him for his future career.
Back at Wood Gundy, he was promoted to executive vice-president in 1961 at the age of 38, and six years later was named president and chief executive. Under Bill’s leadership, the firm came to play a dominant role in financing Canada’s big energy companies and their projects. At the same time, it catered to a growing demand among individual Canadians for professional portfolio management.
A group of leading Canadian oil and gas producers persuaded Bill to leave Wood Gundy in 1972 to head the Canadian Arctic Gas consortium, which planned to build a natural gas pipeline along the Mackenzie River Valley. But the multi-billion-dollar project was put on hold five years later when a Royal Commission recommended that construction be delayed for at least 10 years.
Bill moved on to become chairman and chief executive of Consumers Gas, Canada’s biggest natural gas distributor. He also served on the boards of Royal Bank of Canada, Canada Life Assurance, Noranda Mines and Maclean-Hunter, among others. Following his retirement in 1984, he became an investor in and chairman of Creemore Springs Brewery, one of Ontario’s most successful craft breweries.
Outside the corporate world, Bill was a life member of the Toronto Club, and served a two-year term as chairman and president of the York Club. The Toronto Club bestowed its annual honouree award on him in 2014. He also served on the board of The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto for 16 years, and chaired the corporate division of the United Way.
In 2017 he was awarded the Order of Canada and was also inducted into the Investment Hall of Fame, and in 2018 he received The Legion of Honour from France in recognition of his war service.
Bill was a lifelong and active member of Timothy Eaton Memorial Church. He said that his faith played a crucial role “in instilling the sense of purpose and discipline that I believe are essential elements in a life well lived.”
Bill found tranquility and relaxation at Silo Hill, his farm near Uxbridge, north-east of Toronto, and at his summer cottage in St. Andrews, New Brunswick. He spent most weekends, especially during his retirement years, at the farm, where he enjoyed raising beef cattle, and walking his dogs -- most recently, his devoted black Labrador Bob.
Bill’s family wishes to thank Jenny Lee Biso and Elmo Romano for their outstanding home care.
A celebration of Bill’s life will be held at Timothy Eaton Memorial Church (230 St. Clair Avenue West, Toronto) on Wednesday, May 8 at 10:00 a.m., with a reception to follow at The York Club (135 St. George Street). Condolences may be forwarded through www.humphreymiles.com.