Having reached the age of 100, Canon Ken Cowan is ready to go to the next level. His 101st birthday on March 23, that is.
Cowan, whose youthful appearance belies the fact he was born 50 years after Confederation, before the end of the First World War, and before his birth-province of Saskatchewan became a teenager, was presented with a Canada 150th Anniversary Medal January 21 at his home parish of Christ Church Bells Corners, in the Anglican diocese of Ottawa.
Liberal MP Chandra Arya was on hand at the reception to congratulate Cowan and pin the medal on him as dozens of parishioners, guests and two of Cowan’s sons looked on. The medal is given to Canadians whose generosity, dedication, volunteerism and hard work make their communities a better place to live in.
It was the Rev. Kathryn Otley, rector of Christ Church, who nominated Cowan for the medal. “We made a nomination on Ken’s behalf—without telling him—so it was a big surprise,” she told the gathering.
She noted that Cowan became a deacon in 1941 and a priest in 1942, for a total of 77 years of ordained service. He is “still serving today and still attends our vestry, our annual general meeting and advocates for mission,” said Otley. “He’s just an amazing force in the community and not without a sense of humour.”
Christ Church parishioner Bill McKee told the Anglican Journal that after getting approval from Otley last year, he asked Cowan to read the lesson at the service held on his 100th birthday. “So, on his 100th birthday, he went up to the front and, boom [he read it loud and clear],” he said. “On his 100th birthday!”
Cowan, who is also honorary assistant at the church, is confined to a wheelchair and wears a hearing aid, but attends services each Sunday and participates in discussions about church issues.
He did not speak at the reception, but in a lengthy interview with the Journal at his residence in a retirement home near Christ Church January 24, Cowan was asked what the happiest time in his life was. “That to me is very difficult because they were all happy,” he said.
He and wife, Dorothy, the only daughter of Ottawa Bishop Robert Jefferson (1939–1954) were married for 74 years before she died in May 2015. With a smile, Cowan recalled that after the couple’s marriage, her father “immediately sent us to the boondocks—Combermere [Ont.],” he said. “No electricity and no running water, but a nice beach.”
One of the five churches he served was in Algonquin Park, Ont., where “as many as 500 young people” would come to services, he said. “Those years were very pleasant if you ask me. They were the best.”
When asked his opinion about changes in the church over the years, particularly the controversy over same-sex marriages, Cowan said, “I don’t think I’ve seen enough of both sides of this to make a judgment.”
Following his retirement 30 years ago at the age of 70, the Cowans led almost 50 different land and cruise tours together for Toronto-based Craig Travel.
Asked about his “secret” for living a long life, Cowan replied quickly, “No drinking, no smoking, no running around.” As well as eating the right foods, he added.
As for what inspired him to become a priest, Cowan said in part he was influenced by the Oxford Group (a Christian organization founded by the American Christian missionary Frank Buchman) that called on people to surrender their life to God’s plan through personal conversion.
“My parents got interested in it and I got interested in it,” said Cowan, so much so that he spent an entire summer (late 1920s) at Oxford and going to gatherings of the group in London and other places in England.
After he decided he wanted to become a priest, Cowan was confirmed by Ottawa Bishop John Roper 1915–1939 at All Saints Westboro and went to Trinity College in Toronto “with a big bonus of $200 year,” he said with a grin.
Editor’s Note: Canon Ken Cowan became a deacon in 1941 and a priest in 1942, not 1931 and 1932, as reported earlier.