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THE WILSON FAMILY

James was a member of the Northwest Mounted Police, and later, the Moose Jaw Police force. Mary, an English pianist and dance teacher, ran a dance studio in Moose Jaw and encouraged all her six children's artistic abilities.

 

Lawrence James Patrick Frances Wilson (Larry) was born September 29th, 1918, the first child of James & Mae Wilson. Six years later, a sister, Dorothy, was born. Three more sisters and two brothers completed the family, although only one of his brothers would survive infancy.

Info and photos on this page are from the book "Lady Mary of Mossley Hill" by Peter Carlyle-Gordge

Larry Wilson

He always had his heart in show business. Even when he was working in the publication field, he did it in a show-biz way. He was always flashy, and lively. He was a colourful speaker and an energetic man - more energetic than people half his age.​

From his mother, Larry inherited a positive outlook on life, despite the tough times the family endured. Mae became well known as a pianist and a teacher of dance. Larry's artistic side was strongly encouraged by his mother, and over every obstacle, she saw to it that Larry had dancing lessons. The Wilson children, with their song and dance routines, soon became known as "The Dancing Wilsons".


Larry wanted to tour with the armed forces, but he had been turned down for military work on health grounds. He discovered that you could get a special enlistment as an entertainer if you proved you had talent. It was close to the end of the war when he was accepted. Larry talked his sister Dorothy into joining as well, so they could work as a team. It wasn't long until they were entertaining thousands of war weary troops in Europe, Holland and Germany as part of the Wayne and Schuster Show.

Larry and Dorothy Wilson: On their returns home from the army shows

He became a regular performer in Winnipeg outdoor theatre, and learned his lines as he worked on the CPR from Winnipeg to Fort William. In addition, Larry acted as business manager for the Actors Guild summer stock productions. 

 

Disliking his work on the railway, he applied for a job on a magazine. He was given a 6 month trial on "Oil In Canada". He did so well that he was promoted to work on "Trade & Commerce". This became his lifetime publishing project, and a job he would keep until he reluctantly retired at age 79. "Trade & Commerce" became highly successful.

 

Larry built it up from scratch, and when he retired, he was part owner of the company. 

Under his tutelage it grew into an attractive full-colour magazine with as many as 150 pages. Eventually it won national prizes for its cover and layout, and had a circulation of 10,000.

 

By the time he retired, he was a very wealthy man. He travelled extensively, circling the globe twice, visiting over 70 countries.

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It was a cherished dream of Larry's to someday purchase the Moose Jaw Capitol Theatre where members of his family had so often performed as children. He planned on donating it to the City and hoped to see it restored as an Art Centre. His only condition was that it be named the Mae Wilson Theatre. He felt it was the least he could do to honour the memory of his remarkable mother. When he came to Moose Jaw to attend the funeral of his mother, who passed away at the age of 103, Larry donated over $300,000 to purchase the Capital Theatre. Unfortunately Larry himself passed away in 2002 at the age of 84. He never had a chance to see the magnificently restored Mae Wilson Theatre, however all of his siblings were able to attend the Grand Opening in June 2004, where they preformed a brief dance routine.

Larry, who had never married, left over one million dollars to establish Scholarships in the Arts to help talented young Moose Jaw area artists fulfill their potential. 

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A master of disguise, Larry embraced each look fully.

James and Mary Wilson

Born in Hornchurch, England, James had little education and his upbringing was on the rough side. His own father firmly believed that to spare the rod was to spoil the child. As a young teenag­er he had come to Canada and made his way, working on ranches, breaking in wild horses at Okotoks in the Alberta foothills and even becom­ing a boxer. 

James was an officer in the North West Mounted Police, as well as an officer on Moose Jaw's police service. 

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James and Mary. 1921. Weyburn

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Since meeting a maiden called Mary

The old life died like a flame 
For her bright eyes tell me a secret

And her red lips repeat the same. 
She is fair, she is pretty and graceful,

Honest, kind, pure and true 
Which is seldom found in woman,

After searching the country through. 
I now humble myself and do homage

To this Maiden so pure and fair, 
She's a gift from the sky above me,

And I value her as rare. 
In forgetting the old life and pleasures,

For my Mary I long all day: 
To hold her, love her and kiss her 
For she's shown me the Narrow Way. 
Soon will we be married and happy,

The past we may sometimes forget. 

James penned several poems to Mae

From day one, James Wilson knew he had met his soul mate, his other half. And he was a very determined young man. Known by his children as a hard working man who was quite distant, James was smitten by Mary immediately. He was stationed away with work, yet wrote back home constantly. Even penning multiple poems, all expressing just how in love he was.

When their wedding day finally arrived, young James Wilson, in a splendid, newly tailored Mountie tunic, was as happy as a child at Christmas.


It was a small affair with the guests mostly office girls from the CPR office, along with a few of James' young policemen friends.


After the ceremony, in the Holy Rosary Cathedral where James· had only recently been baptized into the faith, the young couple walked through crossed swords held by Mounties in their bright, crimson uniforms.

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Mary on her wedding day

Mary Monica Cunningham, born April 28, 1896, grew up on Mossley Hill. She moved to Regina with her father Joe and his wife Martha McDonnell. Moose Jaw would be Mae's home for the next three-quarters of a century, until her death in the spring of 1999. There, in her adopted city, she became well­ known as a pianist, broadcaster and teacher of dance.

 

Hundreds of young men, women and children passed through her portals to learn their first halting dance steps. And it was in this city that she completed her own family, with another three girls and two boys, though only one of the later boys, Gerald, would survive childhood. Little Francis died after ten days.

The Multi Talented Dancing Wilsons

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Dorothy, born in 1924, spent her early years performing in front of audiences all over, and helping Mary raise the family. It was Dorothy who helped found the Wilson Dance Studio with her mother in 1940. She also played a major role in training the other Wilson children and was relieved when she got a phone call from Larry in 1945, inviting her to enlist in the Canadian army and join him in a special assignment to entertain Canadian troops overseas.

Gerald, born in 1931, was the youngest of the surviving Wilson brothers. He took dancing lessons with Jean Gauld when he was five, along with Dorothy, brother Larry and Kay, who was his dancing partner. He and Kay won the local amateur night shows regularly. Like his mother, he couldn't read music, but he was always a good singer with excellent tim­ing and pitch. For a while he tried his hand at selling cars, then in 1967, landed a job selling cleaning supplies and stuck with that career. Like his brother Larry, Gerry has the gift of the gab and is a born salesman. He did not lack confidence, a quality drummed into him by his mother. 

Kathleen, born in 1932, had the usual roles of mother and wife, along with being a dance teacher, ballet dancer, dog breeder and ken­nel owner, music librarian, store owner, pianist, farmer and gardener. 

Kay was the only one besides her mother who could play the piano, making them close. At age five she had her first ballet slippers and by age 13 she was teaching up to a hundred dance students a week in addition to school and household chores. And very interested in gardening and in how to produce the best possible vegetables.

Sylvia, born in 1936, was the fifth of the Wilson children and it soon became clear that she was not only gifted with the family love of dance and music, but had a good singing voice as well. The Wilson Dance School was founded while Sylvia was still a toddler, but by age 12 she was teaching young adults to dance. She had a very wide range of career choices, from performer to teacher, clogger to clown, Sylvia was never one to sit still.

Marlene, born in 1941, affectionately known as "little Marlene"

 spent a lot of time with Mae, helping her run the dance academy, when all the bigger children had flown the coop. She stayed in Moose Jaw, the only child who did. She has followed the careers of her siblings closely and has kept her mother's traditions alive, teaching countless thousands to dance over the years. She is also an accomplished choreographer and has acted as an adjudicator at dance competitions. In 1973, Marlene opened a Moose Jaw branch of McCulloch's on High Street West. McCulloch's was founded by Dorothy and Jack and it was hoped to eventually have a Canadian chain.

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Larry Wilson, Dorothy (Wilson) McCulloch, Marlene (Wilson) Jerred, Mae Wilson, Kathleen (Wilson) Isely, Sylvia (Wilson) Hunka, Gerry Wilson

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