Memorable Manitobans: Errick French Willis (1896-1967)
Lawyer, farmer, MP (1930-1935), MLA (1937-1940), MLA (1941-1945), MLA (1946-1949), MLA (1950-1953), MLA (1954-1957), MLA (1958-1959), MLA (1959-1962), Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba (1960-1965).
Born at Boissevain on 21 March 1896, son of Richard Gardiner Willis and Ella French (1870-?), he was educated at the Universities of Toronto (BA), Alberta (MA), and Manitoba (LLB), after which he practiced law in Winnipeg with the firm of Coleman, Sevail and Willis from 1926 to 1929 and in Boissevain from 1929 to 1933. He unsuccessfully stood for Parliament as a Conservative in the Souris constituency in 1926, but was elected and served as a member of the Bennett government of 1930. He ceased law practice in 1933 to take up farming. An enthusiastic curler, Willis skipped the Olympic Champion Canadian Curling Team at the 1932 Lake Placid Olympics.
He was defeated in the 1935 federal election by three votes, but was elected or acclaimed provincially in 1936, 1941, 1945, 1949, 1953, 1958, and 1959. He served as Leader of Manitoba Conservative Party (1936-1954), Minister of Public Works (1940-1950), Minister of Agriculture (1958-1960), and Deputy Premier (1958-1959). He surrendered the Conservative leadership to Duff Roblin in 1954 and became Deputy Premier and Minister of Agriculture in the Roblin government. He was made a Queen’s Counsel in 1955. He served as Lieutenant-Governor of Manitoba from January 1960 to September 1965, the first native-born Manitoban to hold the office.
In 1928, he met Louise Isabel Trimble while at a reception for King George V in Ottawa, and after a 13-year, long-distance romance, the couple were married at Calais, Maine in 1941. They subsequently had three children: Anna Jane Willis (b 1942, wife of Jim Gilchrist), Richard Trimble “Dick” Willis, and Errick “Skip” Willis (b 1948). He was a member of the Strathcona Curling Club (President, 1929-1930). In 1962 he was given an honorary doctorate by the University of Manitoba.
He died at Winnipeg on 9 January 1967 and was buried in the St. John’s Cathedral Cemetery. He was commemorated by the Errick Willis Pavilion at the International Peace Garden. He was inducted posthumously to the Manitoba Curling Hall of Fame (1998). His extensive papers are at the Archives of Manitoba.
“Prominent Conservative heads QC list,” Winnipeg Tribune, 31 December 1954, page 7.
The Canadian Directory of Parliament, 1867-1967, edited by J. K. Johnson, Public Archives of Canada, Ottawa [Library and Archives Canada], 1968.
Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 14 November 2022