In 1852, Major-General James “Cupid” Wilson was born in Kingston, Ontario. After a short service as an Ensign with the 47th Battalion of Volunteer Infantry, he joined the Kingston Field Battery in 1871. He was one of the original officers of A Battery of the Permanent Force.
In 1884, Major Wilson volunteered for service in Egypt and joined the 1st Brigade, Royal Artillery for duty in Sudan. His service as a combatant earned him the distinction of being on the first of the Canadian Permanent Force to see overseas service. He acquitted himself receiving the Khedive’s Star.
In 1885, he left Sudan for service with A Battery in the North-West Rebellion. He received the unenviable task of garrisoning at Fort Otter near Batoche, during the winter of 1885 before the battery’s return to Kingston.
In July 1892, he led a strong detachment of gunners to Ile-aux-Coudres, in St Lawrence, where he captured Captain Bouchard, the “Smuggler King,” along with a plentiful cache of contraband liquor.
With the reorganization of the Regiment in 1893, the dismounted portions of A and B Batteries and the whole of C Battery became Number 1 and Number 2 Companies, Royal Canadian Garrison Artillery at Quebec. Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Wilson commanded Number 1 Company.
By July 1897, he commanded the Royal School of Artillery in Quebec and held the appointment of Inspector of Artillery for Military Districts 5 to 9 inclusive and District 12. On 25 February 1898, the military promoted him to Lieutenant-Colonel. In December 1903, he assumed the appointment of Inspector of Garrison Artillery.
On 1 May 1903, Brevet Colonel Wilson became the first Canadian-born Colonel Commandant of The Royal Regiment of Canadian Artillery. One year later, he became Honourary Aide-de-Camp to the Governor-General, Lord Earl Grey.
On the opening of Camp Petawawa in 1907, Colonel Wilson became the first Camp Commandant. His quarters, a modest house on a small hill, still bears the name “Cupid’s Nest.”
On 15 November 1907, Colonel Wilson achieved another first. He became the first Canadian-born Major-General of the Permanent Force. This well-deserved promotion and recognition were not without its irony. The promotion message read, “Colonel J. F. Wilson, ADC, Colonel Commandant, RCA, having been found medically unfit for service is placed on the retired list and granted the honourary rank of Major-General on retirement,” ending a 41-year career of service. A career that included a significant number of firsts and a long, distinguished service to The Guns.