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William Hepburn Ellis

August 24, 1935 ~ January 19, 2024 (age 88) 88 Years Old

William Ellis Obituary

Bill Ellis, formerly of San Francisco, CA and Fanny Bay, BC, passed away peacefully at the Ocean Front Village Care Centre in Courtenay, BC on January 19, 2024.

Bill led a life of service to others through pursuit of his passion and career as a civil and agricultural engineer and hydrologist. His life’s passion fed his great sense of adventure, leading him to some of the most inhospitable places on earth and setting the stage for many hair-raising travel adventures, some of which are memorably documented in his autobiography By Dead Reckoning: Journeys on a Road Less Travelled.

Bill was born in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia to David Hepburn Ellis (of Newfoundland) and Kathleen Newnham (of Canada). Bill, his mother and sister returned to Canada in 1938 after the untimely death of his father in Bulawayo. Bill’s early years were spent in Hamilton and Mount Forest, ON. After graduating from high school, he joined the Canadian Army. This permitted him to attend university and, like his father, he studied civil engineering at McGill University. Following graduation with a B. Eng. (1958), Bill continued with the Canadian Army, serving as an officer with the Royal Canadian Engineers.  Although he had prospects for a promising military career, Bill elected to return to pursue graduate studies in agricultural engineering at the University of Saskatchewan.

Following graduation from U. Sask. (1964), he took his first posting with a British engineering firm on a long-term World Bank project in Pakistan. This set him on the road to a long and successful career in the engineering and agricultural fields, working primarily on international development projects that brought clean water to impoverished regions of the world - including in Pakistan, Bangladesh, throughout Africa and, later in his career, to countries in Central Asia and the South Caucasus.   

Bill’s professional calling often meant taking risks for others including those living in areas where civil and military conflict was common. Although this posed many personal dangers he nevertheless felt compelled to push the limits and, with characteristic good humour, carried out work assignments while “living on the edge”. This duality of existence allowed him to satisfy his love of both adventure and peripatetic travel – whether by plane, train, sailboat or other mode of transportation (often under his own command).

Notwithstanding 40+ years of residency in the United States (San Francisco) and employment with American engineering firms, Bill’s identity was firmly Canadian and his roots in this country sustained lifelong relationships with family and friends. He returned to Canada (Fanny Bay, BC) in 2006 where he lived in retirement, pursuing his interests in sailing, exploring the mountains and forests with his canine companions, and sharing his intimate knowledge and experiences of the world by teaching at the local Elder College.  

Bill can best be described as a man of the mountain – he loved to climb them. A man of the air – he loved to soar over the earth and seas in planes he piloted. A man of the water – an avid back country canoeist and a sailor. And, a man of the land and desert, too.

In his latter years, Bill was cared for by the wonderful care team at the Comox Valley Seniors Village, the medical staff at the North Island Hospital in Courtenay, BC, the devoted care team at Ocean Front Village, and his amazing, kind and steadfast advocate, Susan Morgan.

Bill was pre-deceased by his adored older sister Joan Berenice Ker (Bengie) in 1983. He is survived by his three nieces Sarah, Alexandra, and Kate Ker (Paul Cobban), his grand nephew, Isaac Maxwell and grand niece, Bengie Maxwell. He is also fondly remembered by an army of other “cousins, nieces, nephews” as well as friends who adored him. We are all richer and blessed to have had so much of him in our lives.

In the prologue to his book, Bill wrote "Like the mariners of old, we all experience passages of sheer terror and let go our grip on our moorings. But, like the mariners of old, if our vessel is stout and we handle it well we will survive the storm, recover our moorings, and sail on to a better day.  We can all do it." Bill survived many storms and now our beloved mariner has sailed on to the other side.

A celebration of life will be held in Courtenay, BC at a later date with interment to follow at St. Peter’s Anglican Church in Tyrconnell, ON. Bill loved many things including sailing, dogs, classical music, and helping his fellow citizen. Please no memorial donations. If you feel the need to do something, then please consider doing something that will help “the least of our brethren”. Toneff’s Funeral Services, 2100 Guthrie Rd., Comox BC entrusted with arrangements.








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