Our first “founder” recipient had been coming to the Bay of Quinte region for many years to serve clients between Toronto and Kingston for EC Leetham & Co out of Montreal. When he graduated from McGill in 1950, as a junior partner, he was assigned to travel and through that decade, business was booming. In 1959, the economy took a turn and now they were working on business loans to help their clients survive.
In the early 60s, Wilf convinced his partners at EC Leetham & Co there was sufficient work to open a local office. There were connections to Trenton, and so all was put into place – he had found a new partner prepared to take on the “small town” clients. Unexpectedly, this young man’s wife had no interest in living in the area – and Wilf had to step in. He notes that his wife, Joan swore that he said they would only be there for 6 months – even though he is pretty sure he’d said a year – but once here, they became enamored with the region and never left. Joan passed away in 2010 – 52 years later. The lack of sidewalks and no lines on the road took a bit of getting used to but the local sorority and curling (along with 4 children) helped her adapt. Wilf got involved with the Scouts – and when the President left suddenly, he became the Chair for the Trenton District Council. And this led to a conversation about joining Rotary which he did in December of 1962.
It only took about 2.5 years for Wilf to decide to form his own firm and divested of the E.C. Leetham partnership to open Wilkinson & Company on February 1st, 1964. Expansion into neighbouring communities – Brighton, Belleville, Kingson, Picton and even Toronto continued though he learned that in order for a branch to succeed, the partner needed to live in that community and be a full part of it.
As many of my conversations go, the initial goal/ambition is small – I stole a bit from their website to get the exact details – but in the beginning, Wilf assumed it would grow to include four, maybe five accountants one day. Today, there are three locations, in Trenton, Belleville and Kingston; a staff of over 100 people; a stockpile of technical and specialist knowledge that covers just about every industry and service; and an unparalleled reputation as a firm that excels in client relationships, ethical leadership and dedication to the local community.
He certainly credits Rotary and the people he met for helping him build the business. He was President of the Trenton Club in 1967 and his involvement with the community continued to grow – through the Trenton Board of Education, Loyalist College as one of the first governors. His role with Rotary grew until he eventually became International President in 2007-08. He noted he and his wife traveled to 54 countries in that year.
Wilfrid affected many changes in the accounting profession as he worked to create Ontario’s leading regional firm, such as being a founding member of the Canadian Division of the National Association of Forensic Accountants in 1993.
And while work/life balance was not the buzzword in the 60’s as it is today, Wilf was a trendsetter, blazing the path for future accountants who can now enjoy a rewarding and satisfying career that includes spending time with their families. Retired since 2001, Wilfrid has remained actively involved in the accounting profession, notably as the Canadian coordinator for the National Association of Forensic Accountants.
In the meantime, he did have to retire at the age of 70 (there was a clause in the partnership agreement that required they retire at 65) – but they do keep an office for him in the Trenton location so he can continue to do his volunteer work.
Over the course of the last fifty years, Wilkinson and Company LLP has evolved into Eastern Ontario’s leading regional public accounting firm, and is a member of the prestigious Top 30. With typical modesty, Wilf looks back on this exemplary track record, “We were very lucky in our partners, our employees and our clients. We’ve consistently attracted people who value excellence. Our staff has been excellent. Northumberland, Hastings, and Kingston areas have been most receptive and supportive. It’s been a good place – for the business and for our families.”