Collison was born in County Armagh, Ireland, on November 12, 1847. He attended the Church Missionary School at Islington, in England. In 1873 he married Marion M. Goodwin and was sent the same year by the Church of England's Church Missionary Society (CMS) to Metlakatla, British Columbia, to assist William Duncan in converting the Tsimshian people. Marion Collison became the first white woman resident in that community and their first child was the first white child born there. But Collison came into fierce conflict over Duncan's moves to establish his mission there as an independent church out of the control of the CMS. In 1876 he became the first missionary to work among the Haida people on the nearby Queen Charlotte Islands (Haida Gwaii). He was ordained at Metlakatla in 1879. In 1881 he began work among the Gitxsan, founding the first mission at Hazelton, B.C., in Gitksan territory. In 1891 he became Archdeacon of Metlakatla, from which Duncan had departed to found his new community of "New" Metlakatla, Alaska, taking most of the inhabitants of the village with him. From 1893 to 1894 Collison served as Secretary for the CMS's northern B.C. mission. In the early 1890s he and his family moved to Kincolith, a Nisga'a village on the Nass River in northern B.C., founded as an Anglican mission by the medical missionary Robert Tomlinson. Collison remained there until his death on January 23, 1922. Collison is best remembered for his vivid 1915 memoir "In the Wake of the War Canoe," and was co-author with Reverend Charles Hanson of "Ancient Warriors of the North Pacific" 1925.