In memory of those who have Crossed the Bar 


William John (Bill) Cox, B.E.M.


Chief Petty Officer Shipwright, V40761, RCNVR


Born: 06 Oct 1917, Shelburne, Nova Scotia


Died: 23 Mar 2023, Halifax, Nova Scotia


COX, William John (Bill) - It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of our dear father, grandfather and great-grandfather at Camp Hill, Halifax on March 23, 2023 at the age of 105.


Bill, a fifth generation master shipbuilder, was born in Shelburne, Nova Scotia on October 6, 1917 to Harley and Mildred (Houghton) Cox, the eldest of three sons. Bill became interested in shipbuilding as a young boy as his after- school job at age 10 was to help his father lay down the lines of a ship in the drafting loft of the old mill. He began serving his apprenticeship at various shipyards in the town at the age of 17 and by age 23 was a qualified shipwright.


In 1940 he was able to put his shipbuilding skills to work for Canada when he was one of a group of men from Shelburne who were recruited to build Motor Torpedo Boats in Montreal for the war effort.


In the fall of 1942 Bill felt the call of military service and joined the Canadian Navy, serving as shipwright aboard the destroyer escort HMCS St. Laurent for the next three years. He was awarded an array of medals for his wartime service including the Distinguished Service Medal and the British Empire Medal (Military) granted to him by King George VI for his “bravery and undaunted devotion to duty in time of need.” His contribution to the war and that of his brothers was not discussed much at home, likely due to the difficult memories they carried but it continues to be a source of pride for his children and grandchildren.


In 1945 Bill was discharged of his military duties and returned home where he and Olive Harris were married and lived for almost 70 years until her death in 2015. Subsequently, he and his brother George joined their father in forming the family shipbuilding firm, Harley S. Cox and Sons Ltd. The company employed a large workforce and from 1947 to 1982, 78 vessels - yachts, RCMP patrol boats, longliners and draggers - were built and launched from the Cox shipyard.


During these busy years Bill’s devotion to duty extended beyond business and family to his community. He served as Town Councillor from 1954 to 1957, as Mayor of Shelburne from 1958 to 1963 and for a second term as Mayor from 1977 to 1985. During the latter term he and the Town Council were able to procure funding for the construction of the town water and sewage treatment system which was ahead of its time for such a small community.


Bill’s other community services were many: volunteer and later Chief of the Shelburne Fire Department, member of the Kinsmen Club, member and Chairman of the Town School Board, member and Chairman of the Shelburne Board of Trade, member and Warden of Christ Church, founding member of the Shelburne County Golf and Country Club, lifelong member of the PC Party of Nova Scotia, Nova Scotia Housing Committee appointee, proud donor to N.S. Blood Services for many years and volunteer with the local Meals on Wheels program with his wife Olive until they were well into their 90’s. He was awarded the Queen’s Silver Medal in 1977, the Queen’s Gold Medal in 2002, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012 and the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Medal in 2022 for his many years of service to town, province and country.


In the late 1950’s he acquired a lakefront cottage retreat for his family to enjoy and many happy times were spent at Beaverdam where friends and family gathered on the beach, in the lake and around the bonfire. The family home in town was always open to neighbours, relatives from near and far and to the extended family in the ensuing years.


Bill was a visionary, never dwelling on the past but always anticipating the future. After retiring from commercial shipbuilding, he built a motorized river boat, The Pelican, which he launched in 1984 and piloted down the Mackenzie River to the Beaufort Sea accompanied by his wife Olive. This was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream but his “retirement” from building boats did not end there as he volunteered as recently as 2008 to oversee the construction of two replica Loyalist Landing longboats, once again back in the drafting loft laying down the lines and making the moulds. He also made several trips to Victoria, BC during his retirement years where he was retained as a consultant in the construction of the Pacific Grace, a replica of the Robertson II, a fishing schooner which he had helped to build many years earlier in Shelburne. It was to his delight that he received a framed photo of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge at the helm of this ship in 2017 on their Canada 150 visit and the occasion of his 100th birthday.


His many accomplishments and his generous ways will forever be a source of great inspiration to his children, grandchildren and their families.


He was predeceased by his parents, his wife Olive and his brothers George and Ronald. He is survived by his children; Joanne Hayman (Alan), Nancy Cox, William (Bill) Cox Jr. and Ronald Cox, 10 grandchildren, 16 great grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.


He was most appreciative of the support he received in his later years from Veterans Affairs Canada, the staff at Aberdeen Hall, Parkland Clayton Park, Halifax and the staff of 4th floor West at Camp Hill.


Funeral Arrangements are under the care of Huskilson’s Funeral Home, Shelburne. A Celebration of Life will be held in Christ Church, Shelburne on Saturday, April 22nd at 3pm, with reception to follow. The family will hold an interment service at a later date.


Donations in his memory made be made to a charity of Choice. (Huskilson's Funeral Home, Shelburne, NS)



Citation for the award of the British Empire Medal: 


COX, William John, Shipwright Third Class, V40761, British Empire Medal (BEM), RCNVR, HMCS ST LAURENT - Awarded as per Canada Gazette of 20 January 1945 and London Gazette of 12 September 1944


"For bravery and undaunted devotion to duty as members of a volunteer fire party from HMCS ST LAURENT, which boarded a burning Merchant Vessel in a rough sea and by their determined efforts saved the ship and her valuable cargo."


Note: Members of the boarding party were:   Shipwright William COX, Leading Stoker Rene BLANDIN, Able Seaman Peter SCOTT and Able Seaman Frederick WILSON




Ships served in:




Left: CPO Bill Cox during the Second World War

Right: Bill Cox with his granddaughter at the Camp Hill Veterans' Remembrance Day Service 11 Nov 2022 where he read "In Flanders Field"

click on the above photos to view larger images



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