William Gilkison (1777-1833) was born in Irvine, Scotland. He received a liberal education, and later served as a merchant sailor until captured and imprisoned by the French during the Napoleonic War. After his escape, he emigrated to America in 1796, and brought with him letters of reference to John Jacob Astor. He gave him the command of his schooner, which was at that time in the service of the North West Company on Lake Erie. He sailed the Lakes until 1803 when he married Isabella Grant (d.1826), the daughter of Alexander Grant, and became involved in assisting his father-in-law with his business affairs.
Alexander Grant (1734-1813) was from Scotland, and had served in the British Navy before joining the 77th Foot which came to Canada in 1757 during the Seven Years War. He served under General Amherst,who placed him in command of British ships on the Upper Lakes. Alexander Grant married Therese Barthe (1758-1810) of Grosse Pointe, near Detroit, in 1774. He served as a member of both the Legislative Council and the Executive Council of Upper Canada, and was for a short time, Administrator of Upper Canada, 1805-1806. Material relating to Alexander Grant is included in the Gilkison Papers.
William Gilkison and Isabella (Grant) Gilkison had eleven sons. The first six children were born in Upper Canada and the other five in Scotland. William Gilkison's business interests caused the family to move frequently, but they lived for a time in Brockville and also in Prescott, where he established a forwarding business. He served during the War of 1812 and was present at the Battle of Crysler's Farm, but after the war he returned to Scotland to oversee the education of his sons. Isabella Gilkison died in 1826, and he returned to Upper Canada in 1832 after several of his older sons had settled in the Brantford area. His cousin, John Galt (1779-1839), the Scottish writer, superintendent of the Canada Company, and founder of Guelph, Ontario, accompanied him on his journey. He settled on a farm near Brantford, but a few months later purchased a large tract of land in Nichol Township and laid out the town site of Elora. However, on 23 April 1833, he died suddently at the home of Reverend Abraham Nelles in Onondaga, and was buried at the Old Mohawk Church in Brantford.
David Gilkison (1803-1851), as the oldest son, succeeded his father in overseeing the progress of the new settlement, although William Gilkison had first intended that a younger son, Jasper Tough Gilkison (1814-1906), should be his successor.
Jasper Tough Gilkison became a successful businessman in Hamilton and superintendent of the Six Nations on the Grand River. He married Mary Elizabeth, the daughter of Thomas and Augusta (Jarvis) McCormick. Augusta McCormick was the daughter of William Jarvis, a prominent Loyalist and first secretary of Upper Canada.