Fonds F 1293 - Small and Gowan fonds

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Small and Gowan fonds

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CA ON00009 F 1293

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  • 1804-1896 (Creation)

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1.3 m of textual records

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James Robert Gowan was born December 22, 1815 in Cahore, County Wexford, Ireland, the son of Henry Hatton Gowan and Elizabeth Burkitt. He moved to Canada with his parents and two sisters in 1832 and settled in Albion Township, Peel County. The following year he was articled, for five years as a law student, to the Hon. James E. Small, Toronto. During the Upper Canada Rebellion Gowan joined the Militia and under Clark Gamble, commander of the Left Division, took part in the fight at Gallows Hill. He completed his articles in 1838 and entered into partnership with Small. The next year Gowan was called to the Bar and took over much of the practice of the law firm as Small was occupied with his duties as Solicitor General. By 1842 Gowan was suffering ill health from overwork. The partnership with Small had brought him to the attention of various politicians of the time, including the Hon. Robert Baldwin, Attorney General. Under the Baldwin-La Fontaine Government, Gowan was offered the position of judge of the newly-formed District of Simcoe. Taking effect January 1, 1843, the appointment made Gowan the youngest man ever commissioned as a judge. Until the government legislated otherwise, Gowan was allowed to continue to practice law in Toronto, and regularly made the trip south from Barrie, where he had made his home. Two years later the judicial territory was expanded and made one of the largest in Upper Canada. It included some townships which are now located in the Counties of Dufferin and Grey, as well as the regions of Muskoka and Parry Sound. The young judge made an early name for himself for his dedication to his duties, thorough understanding of the law, and sound judgements. Despite his frequent absences from home on business, Gowan wrote numerous letters to the government to offer his expertise in the creation of bills pertaining to district and division court matters. Also, his regular contact with the District's residents made him aware of public opinion relating to various bills in front of the government. The events of the 1837 Rebellion were still fresh in the minds of politicians and Gowan was able to assure them that the settlers' concerns were not of a rebellious nature. In 1855 Gowan established The Upper Canada Law Journal, the first of its kind in the province, and was its chief contributor during its infancy. He was elected to join with two other judges to make provisions regarding fees under the Common Law Procedure Act in 1857. A year later he was among the judges charged to assimilate the Canadian Law of probate and administration to that of England, to make rules and orders regulating procedures in these courts, and to carry the provisions into full effect. His efforts to help in the formulation of a solid system of justice in Canada did not go unnoticed by the lawyers in the area. In honour of his twenty-fifth anniversary on the Bench, members of the Bar presented Gowan with a life-sized portrait in oils of himself in his official robes. They asked the favour that although it was Gowan's own private property, the portrait be permitted to hang in the Simcoe County courtroom so that all might have the opportunity of seeing it. For the rest of his judicial career Gowan continued to be recognized for his expertise, both by members of the legal community and by government officials. Included among his many acquaintances were Sir John A. Macdonald, Sir Francis Hincks, and Lord Strathcona. Between 1869 and 1883 he was chairman of the Board of Judges in Ontario. He was appointed to a board of judges created by a provincial act to frame rules for the practice and proceedings of the Division Courts for the whole province. As well, Gowan was chosen as an honorary commissioner to enquire into the constitution and jurisdiction of the several courts of law and equity. In 1873 he was one of three royal commissioners appointed to investigate certain charges against the ministry in connection with the Canadian Pacific Railway Contract. Three years later he was appointed by the provincial government in connection with the consolidation and revision of the Statutes of Ontario. Gowan's lengthy career and extensive practice made his advice invaluable on such commissions. He retired in 1883 after forty-one years on the Bench. Gowan's services to the provincial judiciary and to the politicians of his day were immeasurable. Among the honours he received as a result of his work were a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (1893), and then Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (1905); a Doctor of Laws, Honoris Causa from Queen's College, Kingston (1884); a call to the Bar of Ireland by the Honorable Society of King's Inns, Dublin (1883); and a call to the Senate in 1884. Ill health, and a belief that he was unable to properly fulfil his duties, prompted Gowan to resign his senatorship in 1907. Gowan's public service career, as Judge of the Simcoe District, later Simcoe County, and then as a Senator of Canada, spanned nearly 65 years. Gowan was also an important figure in the development of the County of Simcoe. He was one of the original trustees of the Barrie Grammar School, and was chairman of the School Board from 1871 until 1892. An Anglican, Gowan donated the stone baptismal font to Trinity Anglican Church. Certain emblems, pictures and devices which were brought into the church in the 1870s, however, he considered too ritualistic and popish for a Protestant Church. In 1876 Gowan led a large part of the congregation away from Trinity to form a schismatic church. Called "Christ Church," it was a Reformed Episcopal church, and Gowan supported it until his death. A provision in his will stipulated that an annual amount, not exceeding $500 per year, was to be donated to the church each of the four years following his death. Initiated into St. Andrew's Lodge, Toronto, in 1840, Gowan became a Royal Arch Mason a year later. During his career as District/County Judge, however, he did not sit in lodge. He was also a longtime member of the York Pioneer and Historical Society. Gowan supported other community organizations although his official duties prevented him from full participation in them. When he moved to Barrie to begin his work as District Judge, Gowan's parents, Henry Hatton Gowan and Elizabeth Burkitt Gowan, and older sister, Anne, came with him. Gowan's younger sister, Susan, was already married to John Strathy, a lawyer and barrister, and living in Toronto. They later moved to Barrie. A year after Gowan took up his appointment, H.H. Gowan built a home near St. Vincent Square which the family called "Ardraven." Anne married Dr. John Russell Ardagh in 1846, and lived in Holland Landing before moving to Barrie. On July 7, 1853, Gowan married Anna Ardagh, the daughter of Rev. S.B. Ardagh, minister at Shanty Bay and Barrie. Theirs was a happy marriage, though childless, and they celebrated their golden anniversary in 1903. By the early 1900s Gowan was suffering from cataracts. An operation on his eyes was unsuccessful and his vision continued to deteriorate. After Anna Gowan died in 1905 Gowan accomplished little in the way of public service. At the rather advanced age of ninety-two he resolved to pay one last visit to the "old country." Accompanied by Dr. E.D. Morton, Henry Hatton Ardagh and Mrs. Ardagh, Gowan again crossed the Atlantic. They were away from home for about nine months and the nonagenarian appeared none the worse for the journey. A year later, however, he lacked the energy for another long voyage, and spent the winter of 1908-1909 quietly at home. Gowan died March 18, 1909, amongst relatives and friends. Three days later he was laid to rest in the family vault at the Barrie Union Cemetery. The funeral was of a semi-private nature but, as well as members of the family, members of the County Bar and other friends were in attendance.

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Fonds consists of correspondence and other records of the law firm run by James Small, and then by James Small and James Gowan, from the years 1824-1845, as well as other records of James Gowan, and some correspondence of John Small (James Small's father). Records of the law firm include letters, bills, receipts, notes on cases, writs, summonses, bonds, leases, mortgages, indentures and estate documents. Fonds also includes letters relating to Gowan's removal to Barrie in 1843 and his position there as Judge; correspondence to and from Robert Baldwin and Oliver Mowat as Attorneys- General; correspondence and notes concerning judicial legislation with which Gowan was involved, 1873-1876, as a member of the Statute Revision Committee. Fonds also contains some general correspondence of James Gowan and of James Small, including: a letter concerning the destruction of Mackenzie's printing press, 1826; references to Indian lands, 1835-1846; a description of Toronto and Upper Canada written to an Irish friend, 1842; and a petition of the Ontario County Court Judges to Sir John A. Macdonald. Other references or correspondents include the Quebec City election of 1841; the Rebellion of 1837; Fort Henry at Kingston; Ogle R. Gowan; the Hon. C.S. Patterson; and Justice John Beverley Robinson. Also included are some records of John Small (father of James Small), Clerk of the Executive Council, including some receipts of money loaned by Small.

For a more detailed description, use this link to the Archives of Ontario's descriptive database:

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Copyright held by creator. These materials cannot be published without permission of the copyright holder.

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For a more detailed description, use this link to the Archives of Ontario's descriptive database:

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Title based on content of fonds. Fonds was originally described as the Small (James E.) Papers.

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