From the archives of the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library:
William Henry Cecil Brien was born in Victoria County, near Lindsay, Ontario in 1892. He grew up on the family farm. After attending Lindsay Collegiate Institute, he went on to study law at Osgoode Hall and was called to the bar in 1918.
Excelling in his profession, he became a King’s Counsel in 1945.
He moved to Sault Ste. Marie in the early 1920s and began practicing law in the city. He married Ethel Drake on June 30, 1926 in Toronto and they made their home in Sault Ste. Marie. Their daughter (Beatrice) Mollie Brien was born on Feb. 6, 1928.
Throughout his life he was very active in many areas. As a member of First Baptist Church, he filled a number of positions within the church. Beginning in 1922, he served as the Church Clerk and then in 1924 also became a Deacon. In addition to these roles, he was also a member of the Gideon Association.
Within the community he served on a number of boards including the Public Library Board, the Horticultural Society, the YMCA and the Children’s Aid Society. He was a past master of the Masonic Lodge and the honorary president of the Progressive Conservative Association.
In 1940, he entered city politics and was the successful candidate for the position of alderman for Ward 2. By 1946, W.H.C. Brien was elected to the Office of Mayor for Sault Ste. Marie.
During the postwar years, this would prove to be a very busy (and exciting) period in our city’s history. Having weathered the Depression period and then the Second World War, the city was faced with a lot of decisions. Soldiers were returning home and wanted to get on with their lives. It was during this period that Mayor Brien took the lead on some fairly significant building projects within the city including the construction of the Memorial Gardens, brand new schools and additional plans were being made for other infrastructure projects that were needed to meet the needs of the community.
He served as mayor until 1949 but decided not to run for re-election. Six years later he was appointed as one of five members of the new Ontario Water Resources Commission. This group was responsible for supervising the expenditure of billions of dollars on water and sewage projects throughout the province. He took on this role on May 3, 1956 and was able to provide leadership to Sault Ste. Marie, Korah and Tarentorus Townships in order to create an overall sewage disposal system.
When W.H.C. Brien entered Plummer Memorial Hospital in November of 1957 for treatment of what was thought to be a minor throat ailment no one was too worried. Therefore, it was a great shock to the entire community when less than 24 hours later he passed away at the age of 65.
At the time of his unexpected death, newspaper articles described him as a prominent, well known member of the city who was respected and was considered to be a real gentleman with very high principles. This was certainly a wonderful legacy for one of our past mayors.
Each week, the Sault Ste. Marie Public Library and its Archives provides SooToday readers with a glimpse of the city’s past.