Special to The Record
British Columbia Supreme Court Judge Bryan Williams has been selected as the 2020 Comox Valley Walk of Achievement recipient.
It is said that the character of a man is formed by his childhood experiences; although Bryan was born near Calgary, he was raised in the Comox Valley.
His father had a variety of jobs working first in Grantham, then Courtenay and later Comox, with the family “living above the shop.”
Water, mountains and land would become Bryan’s playground. He was game to try anything, once diving off the 5th Street Bridge! He joined the sea cadets where he learned to sail, and to tie every knot ever needed. He was a member of the Fanny Dunkers, a daring group of skiers under the tutelage of Herb Bradley. He became known as Wacky Williams. He was proud of his ability to assist visiting fishermen out to get “the big one,” and especially proud of the occasion when he was the guide for movie star Bob Hope.
When he enrolled at UBC to study commerce, he roomed with Comox friends Ian McLean and Jeff Jeffry. They would be lifelong friends. After obtaining a commerce degree, he enrolled in the School of Law. After he graduated, Williams was hired by the Vancouver law firm of Swinton and Company. Within two years, he became a partner. He specialized in commercial litigation, arbitration, mediation, administration, and constitutional and insurance law. He would remain with this same law firm for his 42-year career.
In 1958 he married Audrie Downie, whom he had met two years earlier, while travelling back from England. They have four children and eight grandchildren. Their winters were spent skiing in Whistler and their summers sailing around the Gulf Coast islands.
As a young lawyer, Bryan found refuge in wilderness vacations. He took canoe trips on rivers that he learned were soon to be dammed. Audrey remained at home because the stories later told were hair-raising times of survival against all odds. He eventually had a remote cabin where he and friend Tom Delong took sons and grandsons to show them the importance of maintaining the wilderness in this province.
His passion for the environment would lead to his work with the executive committee of the World Wildlife Fund Canada, and later as chair of the Sustainable Development Steward Core Group.
While at school in Comox, he became friends with the Wilson family, which gave him an understanding of the issues of the Aboriginal peoples. In the early 1990s, during the inquiry into the investigation of prejudice against Indigenous peoples within the justice system, Bryan represented the 15 bands in the Cariboo-Chilcotin area. He and Audrie endowed a bursary at the UVic law school to assist single-parent students with a preference given to Indigenous students.
In 1995 he was appointed to the BC Court of Appeals. The following year he was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. In 1991, the University of Victoria awarded him with the honour of Doctor of Laws degree.