W.C. Kelsey remembered.

A biography, a eulogy.

As told by Scott Warris

For many years I have tried to explain who my grandfather, W.C. “Bill” Kelsey, was, but it is impossible to sum it up and do it justice. To gain an understanding of him and his abilities, it would be necessary to spend many years with him, which fortunately for myself and my three brothers, we were able to do.

The following article was written by one of my brothers, Scott, back in 1995 when we lost our mentor. This was read at his funeral, and I always felt it captured the experience of all of us growing up with “granpa”….


My Grandfather, Dubya-See.
Scott Warris 1995

I grew up at Deltasialand.

A very small version of Disneyland my grandfather built in the late sixties on the outskirts of Delhi, in southwestern Ontario. It had ducks and geese, deer and horses. Over the years he added exotic game such as monkeys and peacocks. He dredged 3000 feet of waterway he called ‘The Crick’ navigated by various stern and side wheeler boats he’d built and charged 25 cents for a ride on.

He built rides for the kids, a fountain and rocket ship. A robot out of an old washing machine tub complete with a hidden microphone and speaker. He would spend hours hiding in the snack bar carrying on conversations with bewildered kids mystified how the machine could hear them, and talk back too!


From my earliest recollections of childhood until I left Delhi at 16, my most intense memories involve my grandfather, W.C. (Bill) Kelsey. His park, his workshop (he had a small foundry on the property where he designed and built equipment for the area’s tobacco farmers), and the hundreds of the farms I visited with him over the years.

Most of those memories involve work of some sort. At the time it seemed tedious and boring. It’s amazing the mess 100’s of weeping willows can make over a summer. I remember them as giants, dropping millions of leaves clogging the crick. He would remember how he planted each one individually from nothing more then a twig. ‘Just stuck it in the ground, and look what it turned into!



At the time there was no way I could appreciate just what those years would represent for the rest of my life. All the thousands of chores that involved the learning of many skills, using tools and thinking things out.

If he thought I was ready to take on some new task he would spend maybe 5 or 10 minutes showing me how it was done, then leave me to it. I was expected to learn it. If I had to ask again, I risked a response like: “For the love of Pete, haven’t you any sense in ya?!” And he would proceed to show me again.

The term “Jack of all trades, master of none” never applied better to anyone like it did to my grandfather.

I don’t remember him ever boasting about his abilities. The many skills he learned throughout his life were always just a means to an end.

He considered himself first and foremost an inventor, it’s what he was always most proud of.

The fact he obtained certificates as a Class “A” mechanic, boilermaker, steamfitter, gasfitter, welder, machinist, and was proficient in practically every other mechanical trade known was always secondary to his main objective.

He taught himself all those skills for the sole purpose of implementing the thousands of ideas he constantly came up with.

His mind rarely quit, always wanting to better things, never satisfied with the way they were. That desire must have been with him very early in life, and not everyone appreciated it.

One of my favorite projects with him was the summer of 1976 when we re-built an ice-saw he had originally built in 1928. It’s always been one of my favorite stories as well.

I believe this was probably his first lesson that progress doesn’t always make you popular, a fact he would struggle with for the rest of his life.

When he was 18 he was working in a crew cutting block ice by hand, (which was standard practice back then) off Charleston Lake near his home. He soon realized there must be a better way to automate the process. In his spare time he designed a saw on slides, using a giant blade from a lumber mill powered by a Model T engine and proceeded to go into the ice cutting business for himself.


It worked great, he could cut 250 blocks of ice an hour, compared with 150 a day cut by hand. To speed the process even more, he designed and built a mobile conveyor to take the blocks to waiting wagons supplying the needs of most of the area farms.

Soon, he ran out of lake. So he moved on to a different one near Cardinal and the first day cut enough ice for about 30 farmers in that area, over 1000 blocks.

The next morning, the saw was missing.

It turned out the men in the area who for years had been cutting ice by hand, didn’t think much of the new fangled competition. The problem was solved by dumping the contraption into the lake.

About 45 years later, while visiting the area, he spotted his saw in a farmer’s field. Of course ice cutting was a thing of the past by then, but it turned out the owner was hired each spring by Canada Starch to cut the river ice from around one of their freighters that wintered on the St.Lawrence seaway. This allowed it to get a much earlier start to the season.

So that saw, which was built in 1928, spent a winter at the bottom of a lake, pulled out and re-built, was still in use right up to 1968.

He managed to transport it to Delhi where it sat for 10 years before he and I spent many hours restoring it. I believe today it is at the museum in Norwich, Ontario and I’ll bet you it still runs.

It’s easy to remember Bill Kelsey for all those things he designed, built, improved. How at 14 he mastered the skill of cheese-making; at 17 he ran the largest cheese factory in Ontario; at 25 he built his own garage, the Chrysler/Plymouth dealership in Cardinal; at 35 he was superintendent over 350 men reporting directly to Ashton Cockshutt, of Cockshutt Plow fame; by 45 running his own facility.

All these things had such a tangible effect on thousands of farmers and clients of his. Probably many here today had some item built or repaired by him over the years.

What I feel has not been emphasized enough was his generosity. He had a unique way of being generous. I can remember him “balling me out” for half an hour straight over some little thing like not cleaning out a paintbrush or something, then turning around and handing me a $20 bill.

You have probably all heard at one time or another about a family that’s down to their last dollar, no money for food, kids are sick and as if by divine intervention 3 bags of groceries and a $50 bill would show up on the doorstep. I recall more then one occasion when I’ve been with my grandfather and we’d drop off those bags of groceries, or fix someone’s car, or appliance or whatever and he would never accept anything in return.

A lot of people can’t understand why Bill Kelsey wasn’t a rich man. It never was his goal. Money to him was always such an evil necessity. He constantly under-valued his work. The achievement of seeing an idea to fruition, solving a technical problem and making it work when others couldn’t was all that truly motivated him.

Seeing how one of his designs could improve someone else’s life was such a reward for him. Compensation was always secondary. Much to the challenge of his family’s fiscal well-being.

He always felt guilty having to actually charge someone for his work. He would go through the invoices just before they were mailed out and cut down all the prices saying, “Oh, he got hit pretty bad with hail”, or “he just had a few kilns burn down”.

He was a terrible business man, and he’d be the first to admit it. His legacy won’t be measured in great sums of money. A philanthropist he wasn’t. Instead, and far better, his legacy will be in what he taught so many of us, the opportunities he provided us to learn. That old world personal and business ethic of absolute, dead-straight honesty. His word and his handshake were iron-clad. He never liked lawyers or banks. He rarely drew up contracts, wrote out work orders or kept track of exact time and materials on a job. (Much to the frustration of anyone who’s ever worked with him, or for him.)

He really was known as a man of his word.

There will be so many details of his life I will never know. He was 60 when I was 6.

I sat through many of his stories however. As is usually the case with most of us, I didn’t pay much attention to them until it was too late for him to remember the finer details.

I was lucky enough to spend a few weeks with him in 1990 traveling through areas he grew up in and around Lansdowne Ont. Snooping through the old homestead at Long Point, even inside the original shack he first made cheese in at 14. It was still standing then and still contained remnants of his old cheese making equipment.

I said earlier he wasn’t boastful of his abilities, he was however proud of his accomplishments. He liked to tell the stories of how he made something work, detailing the designs. He would get that glint in his eyes and urgency in his voice, sketching out the details on a napkin as if he were heading out to the shop to finish the job right then and there. The only catch was it was something he had built 20 years earlier, or 30 or 40.

How many people did he touch over those years? How many benefited from his ingenuity, his creativity, his generosity?

I do know how much I’ve benefited. I realize and appreciate now how much of a privilege it was to have such a man as a Grandfather. There’s rarely a time when I pick up a screwdriver, a wrench, a paintbrush, strike up a torch or any one of many mechanical skills I have learned that I don’t think of him.

I can still hear him “For the love of Pete, where in Sam’s Hill did you learn how to use that,? Give it here and watch!”

Over the recent years, my wife Penny and I have had a chance to repay him somewhat for all that he has given me. He had a major stroke in the fall of 1991, doctors gave him less then a week. They would give him less then a week 3 more times over the following 4 years. Grandpa kept proving them wrong. Did I mention how stubborn he was?

He lost his voice with the last stroke, a situation that distressed him and frustrated us to no end. But through it all he never lost his will to live which he manifested through his never ending ingenuity and curiosity.

Even with limited mobility he constantly kept the nurses on their toes with his constant tinkering. Whether it was a better devise for crushing Tylenol (he was trying to modify a coffee grinder), or using his specimen bottles to make a string of patio lights, his mind just never quit.

Fortunately at the time, he lived in one of the most modern extended care facilities in Calgary, possibly in Canada. He was surrounded by beautiful grounds he could wonder in overlooking a lake and the mountains and next to a heritage park which had remarkable similarities to his own Deltasia.

I think he enjoyed his time there. He was constantly playing practical jokes on the nurses, always having a big smile for them, he was definitely their favorite.

We would bring him home when we could. Immediately he would make a bee-line for the shop and the tools, even when his hands would no longer cooperate.

I remember coming home one day to find him in the shop trying to teach Penny to use the drill press. He wanted to modify his cane so he could use it to pull up his blankets at night.

When the end finally did come, it came swift. He fell about a month earlier walking out of his room. We had given up long ago trying to get him to be more cautious, maybe use a wheelchair or something. He was stubborn and he wanted as much independence as possible.

He never did recover from that fall. I think he realized he would never walk again and that was just too much to lose.

When I was waiting with him in emergency that day he reached up and pulled the examination light down so he could have a closer look. He turned it on and off a few times, twisted it around, checked out the design. I’m certain even at that point, he was thinking how he could make use of that light in his room. What he could adapt it to, how he could improve it. Then, just as quick, he pushed it away.

It’s a sad thing losing someone you respect so well. It’s odd, I think of all the ideas he must of thought of in his last few years. Are they lost as well? Possibly not, they may eventually come out in us.

Personally, I feel the greatest things he taught me were the skills to think before I act, to be observant of what’s going on around me and how things are working. Never being satisfied with the way things are, the status quo. Always trying to improve, both those things and myself.

I have always been proud of my grandfather. I hope I can accomplish in my life even a portion of what he did in his.

I will miss him very much. Many of us will.


Posted by: Tim | 11-21-2004 | 08:11 AM
Posted in: Uncategorized


  1. Tim,

    We’ve met and you have many of his qualities.


    Comment by Chris Butler — 11/22/2004 @ 5:52 pm
  2. Tim:

    The world is a little worse off to lose a man of that quality. He exemplifies what being human is all about, and all too many of the people we run across in our lives are like that. I’ve told many people I know that we don’t have the grandparents today that would “keep us in line” much like the man your brother described.

    If I were ever able to meet you, I would consider myself fortunate to meet someone who emulates your grandfather’s traits.

    Mike Chapmon

    Comment by Mike Chapmon — 12/5/2004 @ 10:39 am
  3. I was W.C. kelse’s Great grandson, after reading this, i wish i could have met this wonderful man, My father russel has told me countless stories about him. About the ice saw, and that robot, these stories have amused me for many years of my life and will continue to, i will evntually pass these on tho my children and hopefully, his legacy will live on. Thank you uncle scott for this, and to my other 2 uncles and father for allowing my the opportuity to learn the small fraction of this great mans life that i have. He was a great man.

    A curious grandson, Chris James Warris

    Comment by Christopher James Warris — 2/18/2005 @ 6:19 pm
  4. reading this story has brought tears to my eyes because being his only son, i too learned more from that man than any amount of schooling could ever do . yes he was a class”a” mechanic and when he was under a car fixing i was beside the car waitng to go fetch a wrench or hamer that he forgot to take with him. he had the bark of a dog but know bite, I cannot remember any time that he laid a hand on either one of us three kids.although he could give you a look that would be enougth of a scolding.Idon’t know where “pete” came from because Ialways heard him say “for the love of mike”,and Idon’t know where “mike” comes from eigther, my dad thought a lot of his family and especially his grandchildren, I remember one day I was home visiting on very rare occasions ,as a professional driver ,I was away a lot, andbwas in the living room talking to my mother when one of the grand children came into the house and dad said theres my boy, my mother snapped at him and said that’s not your boy, your boy is sitting ing in the corner pointing a frail finger at me in the chair I have many fond memories of my dad and I always think of him.

    love you always dad
    your son bill

    Comment by william james kelsey — 7/23/2005 @ 9:30 pm
  5. I’ve read this this story of my dad three times already and will read it again and again because this how I view my dad all these years too. He was a very likable and wonderful man and many people remember him as such. He is missed very much by all his family, especially the grandchildren. They all loved him.

    Comment by Marion Kelsey — 12/13/2005 @ 10:04 pm
  6. […] Couldn’t put Scott on this blog without his grandfather, my father. He and all my boys were very close to him and had learned many things from him when they were growing up. Look at the story of their grandfather W.C. Kelsey at http://www.port-kelsey.com/?p=44 […]

  7. I grew up just around the corner from Deltasia…would visit it often as i could walk there. One day I went for a walk with my little dog and she fell in one of the cricks which was partly covered over with ice. I couldnt reach her, but Mr. Kelsey ran over with a rake and pulled her out. Very nice, thoughtful man.

    Comment by Susan Emre — 10/3/2011 @ 5:01 pm
  8. I remember Bill & Deltasia Land very well. Spent many wonderful summer days there as a child. My favorite was rowing down the rivers (cricks) with my aunt under those wonderful willows. Thanks for reminding me about the talking robot… and solving the mystery! Thank you for sharing your memories of a wonderful man.

    Comment by Vickey Saito — 11/11/2011 @ 9:08 am
  9. i grew up there

    Comment by prosper kalle — 11/11/2011 @ 9:00 pm
  10. what a lovely tribute he sounds like a charming man

    Comment by June — 7/17/2015 @ 2:33 pm

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