This article is taken from "A Cyclopaedia of Canadian Biography being chiefly men of the time" published in 1886.

James Cowan of Dalry and Ontario, Canada.

Cowan, James, Hardware Merchant, London, Ont., was born at Dalry, County of Kirkcudbright, Scotland, on the 14th January, 1832. He is a son of John Cowan and Margaret, whose maiden name was Carson. John Cowan was a merchant in Dalry, and died at the age of forty-eight; and the mother died when in her forty-first year. Eleven children were left, nine sons and two daughters, the subject of this sketch being the seventh son in succession.

He had only reached his seventh year when his parents died; and before fifteen summers passed over him he left home to learn the business of an ironmonger. His education consisted in what be obtained at the schools of his native place before he set forth to learn his profession. He served five years as an apprentice and two years as foreman, with A. Dobie, ironmonger and jeweller, Castle Douglas, Scotland. Leaving there in May, 1853, he went to Durham, England, where he tarried for three months with Mr. Marshall, ironmonger and cooper. In August, 1853, he proceeded to Dewsbury, Yorkshire, remaining there for six months as clerk with John Smith, ironmonger and nail manufacturer. In May, 1854, he started off for Liverpool, to manage a hardware business for Mrs. Lightfoot, whose husband had died, her business being somewhat embarrassed. He left for home in August of the same year, married Elspeth Wells on September 1st, and sailed from Liverpool on the ship West Point, on September 22nd, arriving at Now York on 22nd October, 1854.

The ship had cholera on board, and twenty passengers and four seamen died of the terrible disease. Mr. Cowan obtained employment with Messrs. Windle & Co., on Maiden Lane, for about two months, and afterwards for a short time in a carpet store in Brooklyn. In May, 1855, he departed for Canada, and was three months with John Bain, hardware merchant in Hamilton, Canada West, On the 8th August, 1855, he obtained a situation with Adam Hope & Co., London, and was employed with this firm up to September 1864, leaving them of his own accord. He then began business in partnership with James Wright, (October 21, 1864), under the name of Cowan & Wright. This firm however, dissolved partnership on September 30th, 1875, and since then, up to the present time, the name of the firm has been James Cowan & Co. His partners are his eldest son, David James Cowan, and his nephew, and A. K. Melbourne. Mr. Cowan commenced business on a very small capital, and has succeeded in all his undertakings. Adam Hope & Co., whose retail department he had managed for years, and in whose employ he was for over nine years, declined to sell him goods when he started in business; but in less than two years that firm left London for Hamilton. This circumstance is mentioned to show that Mr. Cowan owes his success in life to his own individual effort, combined with a thorough knowledge of the business, and not to assistance from others. His late partner, Mr. Wright, being a school-teacher, had no knowledge of the hardware business.

Mr. Cowan has always taken a hearty interest in the affairs of his follow-citizens, and there is at the present time (close of 1885) a strong desire that he should become mayor of the city for 1886. He is a member of the St. Andrew's and Caledonian societies, and an ex-president of the former; likewise a member of the Reform Association of London; and a master Mason in Kilwinning lodge. The date of his connection with the first, November, 1859; with the Reform Association, 1874; with the latter, January, 1885.

Our subject was brought up in the Presbyterian faith, and adheres to that denomination. His first marriage has already been mentioned, but this lady died in June, 1858. He married again, the following year, Annie, daughter of Mr. Waddell, veterinary surgeon in the Royal Artillery, then stationed at Niagara. One son, his partner, borne by the first wife, is still living; and there are six sons and four daughters by the second, all of whom survive, except one of each sex, who died in infancy. John, his fourth son, took up arms as a volunteer in defence of his country in 1885. Mr. Cowan is a man of much personal and mental activity, and his temperament is decidedly sanguine and nervous. Nevertheless he is cautious, has a broad understanding, and weighs a matter with deliberation before reaching his conclusion.  

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