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Memorable Manitobans: Oliver Gowler (1812-1865)

Pioneer farmer.

Born in the Parish of March, Cambridge and Isle of Ely, England, he married Mary Braybrook Gowler. They eventually had fourteen children, including merchant James R. Gowler. The Gowlers came out to Red River in 1836 where Oliver was to operate the Hudson’s Bay Company’s experimental farm. They arrived late in the year and wintered at Fort York. Tradition has it that when the food supply became low the party snowshoed three hundred miles to Norway House, and that Mary Gowler, frail and unaccustomed to snowshoes, started ahead and snow-shoed until dark to keep up with the rest of the travellers.

The experimental farm venture failed, and in 1846 Oliver Gowler started his own farm on the Red River in Kildonan. After the flood of 1852 he moved to higher land on the Assiniboine River, the present site of Headingley. Gowler’s success at farming was written about in the Nor’Wester, and at considerable length by Henry Youle Hind in his 1860 report on the Canadian Red River Exploring Expedition of 1857. According to Hind, Gowler farmed fifty acres in white and green crops. His turnips, potatoes, and melons were superior, although his homegrown tobacco was “dreadfully strong.” In 1859 he realized 700 bushels of wheat, 350 of barley, 480 of oats, and 2,100 of potatoes. These yields, Hind insisted, meant that Red River was “one of the best agricultural countries on the face of the globe.”

Gowler died on 8 June 1865. The Gowlers are commemorated by Gowler Road in Winnipeg.

Sources:

Pioneers and Early Citizens of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Manitoba Library Association, 1971.

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by J. M. Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

We thank Charlie Lamb, great-great-grandson of the Gowlers, for additional information used in this profile.

Profile: 27 February 2011

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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