William Arthur Esson was born in Vancouver in 1930, and grew up in the city, obtaining an education at fine Vancouver Schools. He graduated from the University of British Columbia with a Bachelor's degree in Arts in 1953, and spent the following year working in his father's bakery in the city's East End. Seeking the easier life of a student, he enrolled in law school at UBC, and graduated with his LL.B. in 1957. He served his articles at Cecil Merritt, V.C. He would stay at the firm, which came to be known as Bull Housser, for nearly 21 years until he accepted an appointed to the Supreme Court of British Columbia in February 1979.
Justice Esson served 4 years on the BCSC and an additional six years on the British Columbia Court of Appeal before he was appoint Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of British Columbia. On the occasion of his appointment, his collegue Hamish Cameron commented that Justice Essons's "qualities of patience and compassion, clear thinking and uncommon good sense," were the assets of his character which made this a well-deserved appointment. After resigning from the post of Chief Justice, William Arthur Esson continued to serve on the Court of Appeal until compulsory retirement at age 75 in 2005.
Many remember Justice Esson for his 1993 engagements on behalf of the court in relation to injunctions against Clayquot Sound logging protesters. In deep contrast to standard practice, the Chief Justice convened court on his own motion and issued an extraordinary public statement in response to allegations by members of government that the court proceedings had been started by the court itself. Chief Justice Esson defended this break from tradition by stating that "when there is a threat to the integrity of the court which can not otherwise be met, the chief justice should climb on the bench and make a statement."
Justice Esson was recognized by the Allard Law Alumni Association as the recipient of the 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award. This award recognizes an extraordinary alumna/alumnus who has set a high standard for volunteerism, philanthropy and/or professional accomplishment, and has been an example for all who follow.
William Arthur Esson gave 26 years of his life to service on the bench. He passed away in July 2016, but will be long remembered for his shy smile and occasional sly chuckle, and as a man born to the task of sitting on the bench.