Champlain Park resident digs into history of “Captain Dan”

By Debra Huron –

The family names that Christine Jackson has researched and written about since February dominate a map of the neighbourhood she lives in, including the street she has called home for 25 years.

Christine Jackson author of The Cowley Family Saga: from Sherwood Forest to the NHL–Part 1. Photo by Kate Settle
Christine Jackson author of The Cowley Family Saga: from Sherwood Forest to the NHL–Part 1. Photo by Kate Settle

Jackson lives on Cowley Avenue in Champlain Park. Nearby streets carry the names Daniel and Keyworth Avenues, named in honour of a riverboat captain, Daniel Keyworth Cowley, who settled with his wife and 11 children in a Manor House just west of Island Park Drive and Richmond Road in the 1860s. In 1903, one of the captain’s sons honoured his father by naming streets after him in the Riverside Park subdivision he was creating. The area was later renamed Champlain Park.

Smirle Avenue? Mailes Avenue? Pontiac Street? These also have links to the Cowley family, something Jackson reveals in her article The Cowley Family Saga: from Sherwood Forest to the NHL–Part 1, which was published this fall in a local genealogy journal called Anglo-Celtic Roots.

The retired civil servant readily admits to what she calls an “ongoing obsession” with the Cowley family’s beginnings. The first part of the saga focuses on the years in Canada after Mailes Cowley arrived in Montreal from England in 1831 with his wife and two children—one of whom grew up to be Captain Cowley. The Cowley family’s roots in England’s Sherwood Forest will feature in Part 2, to be published in 2014 in the same journal.

“Initially, I was researching the whole family history (in England and Canada),” said Jackson, who describes herself as tenacious when she begins a project.

“By mid-summer, I realized I had acquired so much information, and that I wanted to get something written in 2013 to mark the 400th anniversary of Champlain going up the (Ottawa) River, that I had to divide the story in two!”

Captain Cowley’s temporary possession of Samuel de Champlain’s astrolabe after the metal artifact was discovered near Cobden, Ontario in 1867 helped spur Jackson’s interest in the Cowley family. That kind of historical tidbit was included in a history project launched in January 2013 by a neighbourhood group, the Champlain Oaks Project.

What completely hooked Jackson into writing her saga was a question posed by the Champlain Oaks Project: why did records show that Captain Cowley was buried in North Bay, Ontario, when he had lived and worked all his adult life in the Ottawa Valley?

Jackson’s journal article provides the answer, which had less to do with imagined intrigue and more to do with poor note taking by a distracted clerk. (You’ll have to read her 4,700 word article to get the full story!)

What about the connection to the NHL featured in the title of her journal article? It turns out that one of the Captain’s great-grandsons, Bill “Cowboy” Cowley, was the Wayne Gretzky of his time, which earned him a place in the Hockey Hall of Fame.  After his NHL career ended, he owned the Elmdale Tavern, and was a founder and co-owner of the Ottawa 67s.

Jackson was thrilled to interview Jane Cowley Egan, (daughter of the hockey player) and her cousin, Robert H. Cowley, this summer in Norway Bay, Quebec, where they both live.

“They’ve been so trusting; they’ve loaned me everything [historical] they’ve got,” said Jackson. “Jane just keeps telling me she’s so happy to have somebody write about the family. She knows that the family is quite special but she’s never done anything herself.”

For Jackson, who came early to her interest in genealogy, a folder filled with raw material speaks of treasure. Born in Brighton, England, Jackson arrived in Canada at 22 and has lived here since. She began chronicling her family’s roots, based almost exclusively in the county of Sussex, England when she was 30.

Earlier this year, as she immersed herself in the Cowley history project, Jackson realized she was calling her main subject “Captain Dan.”

“I started to call him Captain Dan because I felt like I was getting to know him a bit,” she said. “It became clear to me that he was a real character, and very well-known in the Ottawa Valley.”

Jackson believes that in later life, the Captain (who died at age 80 in 1897) was highly regarded for his integrity and decency.

“I think he probably had a jolly personality and told a lot of stories,” said Jackson.

To obtain a PDF of part 1 of the Cowley saga, contact Christine Jackson at 613-729-8021. 


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