Vancouver Island Masonic History Project
Vancouver Island Cemeteries – Masonic Interments
Samuel John Willis (1877-1947)

Dr. Samuel John Willis was British Columbia’s Deputy Minister of Education for 17 years. He was a member of Vancouver & Quadra Lodge No. 2 who served as Grand Master of B.C. & Yukon in 1919.

S.J. Willis School in Victoria is named for him.

Here are the local newspaper reports of the death and funeral of Dr. Samuel John Willis:

“B.C.’s Foremost Educationist Dr. S.J. Willis Dies Suddenly

British Columbia’s foremost educationist and administrator in the field of learning, Dr. Samuel John Willis, died here yesterday in St. Joseph’s Hospital, where he had been admitted the previous evening.

He had been ill for only a few weeks, although he had undergone a major operation last year.

A member of the Department of Education from 1919 until his retirement in August, 1945 and deputy minister for  17 years, Dr. Willis was credited with the greatest contribution ever made by one man to the educational development of the province.


Even in retirement he continued to take an active interest in matters affecting elementary and secondary schools and the University of British Columbia. Right up until his death he represented the Department of Education on the council of Victoria College [note: now the University of Victoria], of which he was chairman.

Dr. Willis was noted as much for his great human qualities as for his scholastic attainments and ability as an administrator, and news of his death cast a shadow over schools and departmental offices yesterday.


“An outstanding teacher and an unsurpassed administrator,” was the tribute paid to Dr. Willis by Education Minister G.M. Weir.

“He had a quiet reserve of strength that inspired confidence in his subordinates and all with whom he was associated,” Dr. Weir said. “His zeal for educational improvement as deputy minister left the imprint of his personality and vision on the school system of British Columbia to a greater extent than that of any other educationist who has served the Province since its formation in 1871. No teacher was ever held in higher esteem.”

Dr. Willis had a notable career both as a schoolmaster and as a guiding influence in the advancement of teaching in this province to its current high standard.

Born in Prince Edward Island in 1877, he began his career in a one room school there. Graduating with honours from McGill University in 1900 be taught briefly in Montreal before coming to British Columbia to take his first appointment in this province in the old Boys Central School in Victoria.

Soon afterwards he transferred to Victoria High School, of which he became principal in 1908. In 1916 he left Victoria to become associate professor of classics at the University of British Columbia and a year later was appointed principal of King Edward High School in Vancouver.

Dr. Willis joined the Department of Education in 1919, and became its first deputy minister when that position was created in 1928, combining duties as deputy minister with those of superintendent of education. He retired in August 1945, but came out of retirement at the end of that year and early last year to assist in the drafting of amendments to the Public School Act based on the recommendations of the Cameron Commission.


McGill University conferred an honorary LL.D degree upon him in 1931 and the University of British Columbia gave him a similar degree last year.

Dr. Willis reputation as a teacher and policy builder reached across Canada. He was president of the Canadian Education Association, then the Canada-Newfoundland Education Association,  at the time of its meeting in Victoria in 1943, and was a honorary member of that body.

A prominent Freemason, Dr. Willis was a former Grand Master of the Masonic Grand Lodge of British Columbia.

He is survived by his wife, living in Victoria, and one son, Philip Willis, in Winnipeg.”

(Source: Daily Colonist, 25 April 1947, page 21)

Samuel John Willis is buried in Hatley Park Cemetery, Colwood, B.C. We will get a photo of his grave in future.

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