W. G. Ross was born in Montreal on August 8, 1863, the son of Philip Simpson Ross and Christine Chalmers, and was educated at the Montreal High School and in 1880 commenced life as a Chartered Accountant. A skilled economist and an astute financier, he played an important part in the re-organization and development of many Canadian enterprises. In 1886 he became associated with the late James Ross - no relation - in the electrification of the Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal and St. John Street Railway System and the organization of traction companies in Jamaica and Mexico cities. It was through the late James Ross that he became Manager of the Windsor Hotel.
In 1888 he married Miss Ida M. Babcock and had three sons, James Gordon Ross, Philip S.Ross, and W. G. Ross, Jr., and two daughters, Edythe Mary Ross and Alice Ross.
In his youth he had been a prominent athlete, specializing in cycling and was high wheel bicycle champion, also in speed skating and later became President of the Amateur Skating Association of Canada. He was also active in the Montreal Snowshoe Club and the Montreal Toboggan Club. Later in life he became an ardent golfer and was President of the Kanawaki Golf Club, was a Charter Member and helped organize the Canadian Senior Golf Association and was at one time, the Canadian Senior Golf Association Champion. He was also an ardent yatchsman. Throughout the many years the five Rosses played the five Hodgsons in golf and curling, many of the curling matches were played on his rink at Woodlands.
He was named Controller of the Montreal Street Railway in 1896 and assumed the Managing Directorate of that Company and of the Montreal Port and Island Railway in 1904, retaining these two posts until 1910 when he entered the Asbestos business. During these years he had also become second vice-president of the Montreal Light, Heat and Power Company, Director of the Dominion Iron and Steel Co., President of the Quebec Railway, Light & Power Co., and President of the Canadian Street Railway Association. President of the Street Railway Accounts Association of America in 1904, he was, in 1910 the first Canadian to be appointed Vice-President of the American Street Railway Association. W. G. founded and was first President of the Montreal Mutual Benefit Society, an organization devoted to the relief and care of the traction companies employees. A rather amusing and rather courageous story is told of the time, after he had become General Manager of the Montreal Street Railway and had the "Pay as you enter street car." It appeared that there was a serious strike among the employees which he broke up by running a street car by himself up St. Catherine Street with a revolver in his hand and made all strikers who came on board pay for their ride.
The life of William Gillies was one crowned with successful effort in many business phases of activity. As an Accountant and Economist he had few equals in the Dominion. When Exports from the U.S. and Great Britain were unable to solve the intricate task of re-arranging the accounting of the Dominion Iron & Steel Company and of the Dominion Coal Company, he, in a short time installed the methods which were used for many years by these Companies. The late James Reid had expressed the opinion that no man in the Dominion was more expert at figures. In every Company which he directed he re-organized the system of accounting. He was frequently consulted by leaders of industry on accounting and financial problems.
In his position of President and General Manager of the Canadian Asbestos Ltd., which he assumed the direction of in 1911 when the industry was at it's lowest ebb, he best displayed his qualities of constructive administration and guided it carefully and successfully to it's present eminence.
One year after taking charge of the Asbestos Company he was named President of the Montreal Harbour Commission which he held until 1921 when he resigned to contest the St. Antoine division in the Conservative cause. He was defeated. He was President for nine years and rendered a great public service. Foresight and executive ability combined to build the Port into a commanding position and under his direction the foundations were laid for the developments which facilitated the progress of those who followed him into Office. He was responsible for the building of the Victoria Pier which the Prince of Wales opened about 1920-1923.
His war work, particularly in his organization of the Navy League in Canada and his founding in the Dominion of the British Sailors Relief Fund, was recognized by His Majesty the King who awarded him the "Special Service Decoration" in appreciation of his efforts and which resulted in more than $3,000,000.00 being obtained to aid the widows and children of British and Canadian seamen who were killed during the war.
In 1908 he was a member of the Canadian Olympic Games Committee. In 1916 he was appointed President of the American Association of Port Authorities and the following year was re-elected to the post, being the first executive so honored in the history of that organization. He was a life Governor of the Montreal General Hospital and President of the St. Andrews Society in 1921-22. He was also responsible for having an Ice Palace built on Mount Royal.
W. G. was a member of the following Clubs: Mount Royal Forest & Stream, Royal St. Lawrence Yaght Club, St. George Snowshoe, M.A.A.A., Royal Montreal Golf Club, Mount St. Bruno Country Club, British Empire Club London, Canadian Club of New York, Navy League of Great Britain, Kanawaki Golf Club, Thetford Mines Golf Club, Mount Royal Club and St. James Club.
W. G. died after a serious
operation in 1929.
Return to Notable Montrealers
Back to the homepage