William Ernest Brown was born on Cape Breton Island in the North Atlantic off the coast of Canada. His mother's family were Huguenots who were granted land in Nova Scotia by King George III in 1755. On his father's side, he is the nine-times great-grandson of the first book publisher in Norway, where the family home is now a museum.
Brown learned to draw from his mother who would work beside him as a baby and then hand him the pencil and paper to try. As a young child his talents were noted by the nuns at the local convent school and they arranged for him to take lessons there on Saturday mornings. The order of nuns had been founded in the 17th. Century by Saint Marguerite Bourgeoys, and Brown recently repaid his debt to them by donating his painting of the saint for the altar of the main Roman Catholic church on the island. He also created an eight foot bronze monument to the first settlers "Land of our Own" which sits at the entrance to the Sydney cruise-ship terminal.