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When Harold and Jennie McCowan decided to retire to a new home at the south end of the farm overlooking Scarborough Bluffs, the three-storey farmhouse on Kingston Road presented their third son, Bill, with a sound entrepreneurial opportunity. When they started married life in 1952, Bill and Nancy McCowan occupied the ground floor. They became good and understanding landlords to families on the second and third including the Hunter, Bird, Ford, Samler, Brown, Cashin and VanNosh families. The children in the house all attended H.A. Halbert Public School on the other side of the fence.



Quotable Quotes: #3
"Learn from your mistakes."
Bill McCowan

One day Dad explained to a visitor many of the changes that he had made to the house on the Kingston Road. The "tour" included the "attic above the third floor / attic" (ie the "crawl space" under the roof) and the roof-top itself. I marvelled at how well Dad understood that building and how that huge house was really a machine. When Dad became the maintenance man for several buildings at IBM, I knew that he was really in his element.

Dad had told me many times to "learn from your mistakes". I made one serious error in judgement that, in a few short seconds, directly taught me a lesson in ergonomics far more effectively than would an entire lecture on the scientific study of worker efficiency. At this particular point in time, I did not really appreciate that maintenance of the building meant a great deal more to IBM than dealing with contractors and effecting repairs to the building and fixtures. Dad took me into his maintenance room and showed me a recorder plot of environmental conditions in the building over time. Without thinking about the matter, I said "Is this part of your job: making people feel comfortable?" I regretted those words the moment they left my lips: they must have sounded awful. Although I have yet to take a course in ergonomics, those few words and seconds made for a very good start on the important concepts.

Responsibility and Making Ends Meet

Mom and Dad both come from many generations of farmers. Mom has researched some of the early days of the Weirs in Lesmahagow, Scotland. Whether Mom's medieval direct ancestors were of the peasant class or closely connected with those conniving feudal land barons, the Weirs of Blackwood and Stonebyres, we can leave for Chris and Tanya to sort out some day!

Councillor Ken Morrish remembers, as a young teen, struggling up the stairs and through the elevated side door of the store with 100 pound bags of sugar for Ashley and Harold McCowan. The Morrish and McCowan business relationship went back at least two more decades to 1915-1918 when the Morrish carpenter crew and Pearce Brothers bricklayers built the three houses on the Robert McCowan farm at "the Kingston Road" and "the sideroad" -- now McCowan Road.

Quotable Quotes: #6 and #7
"If you buy a cow and a bull, pretty soon you'll have another cow."
"You have to spend money to make money."
Bill McCowan

Generations of farmer-entrepreneurs in his blood, Dad has always firmly believed in hard work and free enterprise.  One of his projects in the early 50s was to convert my grandfather's farmhouse into a triplex.

One day, Bob and I took our girls to the Canadian National Exhibition. We picked up Elizabeth Carnaghan and her daughter, Jane, on our way. But then our car stalled on the Kingston Road outside the house that Harold and Jennie McCowan had just left. We were hoping that we would find someone inside from the McCowan family. Sure enough, the newlyweds, Nancy and Bill, were living on the main floor. They were just in the process of converting that big house into apartments. While we were waiting for the fellow from the garage, Nancy joined us for a picnic lunch on the lawn.

Ethel (Coathup) Martin, July 6, 1992

Dad's great-grandfather, Robert McCowan, received a letter in 1836 from his uncle in Scotland: "your father said that you were well taught the value of a shilling". True to this "McCowan trademark", Dad has a healthy respect for money and for what it takes to earn money. Consequently, there was no "allowance" around our place: my "bid" to cut an acre and a half of grass for $1.00 was "accepted" (10 "lots" at $0.10 per lot). (Mom and Dad evidently discussed this fee schedule and upped it to $0.25 per lot, a lot being roughly the size of a typical backyard.)

Quotable Quotes: #8
"Five people breaking things and only one person fixing them!"
Bill McCowan

Dad is a "jack-of-all-trades" and a master of several. As an electrician, he joined Stacey Electric shortly after the war. Traffic light repair work was one of his tasks. A bulb from one of these traffic lights is still going strong in Uncle Bob's basement.

In about 1950, Bob McCluggage convinced Dad to join him at Canteen Services in the vending machine repair trade. "One of the chaps was the son of a barber: somehow we convinced Bill to let this fellow cut his hair." Dad spent thirty years with IBM, "retiring" with due ceremony in 1981.

Who Switched the Egg?

This is the story of an IBM Production Line incident. For years, every morning about 9:30 a.m., Ivan Lewis would sneak behind his 405 computing tabulation machine and remove the shell from a hard-boiled egg and have his morning snack. One morning Ivan tapped his egg on the machine dolly to crack the shell but after the first tap, it became apparent that he had a raw egg as it started to drip onto the floor. Ivan looked up to see he had quite an audience of fellow employees watching the spectacle. The mystery -- who substituted the raw egg for the hard-boiled egg in Ivan's lunchbox?

To date the mystery has never been solved -- however, a definite suspect is still being pursued! Come on, Bill ........ isn't it about time you came clean and admit the crime!

Memories! Happy Anniversary, Bill and Nancy, and many more.

Stan and Joan Nicholls, June 3, 1992


Those little things that we seldom notice tell the real story of character. At the funeral of a family friend, a gentleman recalled the following incident:

Bill was the maintenance man for several IBM buildings and his "office" was quite a secluded and private spot. My son had just died. Bill came over and gently told me that if I ever wanted to be alone for a while, I just had to give him a call and he would find a project to complete away from his office.


From The Bill and Nancy McCowan Fortieth Anniversary Album