A Family whose ties run deep in Grey and Bruce

The Board of Directors of the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre (formerly the CNR Railway Station) has decided that due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Owen Sound museum located at Owen Sound Harbour will not re-open to the public for the 2020 Season.

The Community Waterfront Heritage Centre celebrates and preserves Owen Sound’s heritage on the waterfront. It focuses on the marine, rail and industrial history of the City and surrounding communities.

In the Centre’s most recent monthly newsletter, the history of the 10th Street bridge, now being replaced is explained in detail.

                                                   Bridge under construction June 2020

The bridge, originally built in 1911, was overseen by then-city engineer, Robert McDowall, who also designed the numerical street system in Owen Sound.  He was also engineer for Collingwood, Meaford, Wiarton, Chesley, the Counties of Grey and Bruce and many villages and townships. Surveying activities embraced railways, subdivisions in cities, towns and waterfronts, mining claims in Rainy River and many other assignments.

In the design of the ‘new’ bridge, it appears that McDowall was ahead of his time when he included an accessible multi-purpose pathway for pedestrians, cyclists and those with mobility assistive devices. He was also the town engineer when Owen Sound’s electricity and water plants were established. He also surveyed a lot of Grey County, Ontario.

The McDowall family has a long family history to Grey Bruce and Owen Sound.

Robert McDowall’s father was a Presbyterian minister, who is buried at Storey’s Cemetery.  His mother re-married, to his father’s friend, Rev. James Cameron, a minister at Chatsworth (outside of Owen Sound), where McDowall grew up at the manse. After attending a Normal School for teacher’s training, he went to the University of Toronto and received his engineering degree and, as a student, played on the University football team.

In 1893, the Owen Sound “Crescent Club”, of which Robert McDowall was a member, hosted an important race event, which attracted bicycle racers from across the province. McDowall participated in this Aug. 23-24 race event.

**His claim to fame, however, was his interesting aircraft, the ‘McDowall Monoplane’. Prior to the First World War (1910-1914), Mr. McDowall was interested in the idea of flight and designed an aircraft. Mrs. McDowall was not amused that he used some of her linen for covering the wings. The craft was built at Owen Sound in the Wm. Ferguson carriage works building. It was “test flown” in the country, likely at the Riddell farm, in the Annan area Sydenham Township., but it didn’t actually fly, just sort of hopped. There is some info about this plane mentioned in the Glenelg Twp. history book as well (see p. 204). Mr. McDowall, perhaps discouraged after unsuccessful flights, sold the monoplane to Edward Pratt in 1919. Mr. Pratt altered it with skiis and used it as a vehicle to pull skiers with. The monoplane was later purchased by the National Aviation Museum, and put on display:

“Owen Sound also takes its place in Canada’s National Aviation Museum where visitors will find the oldest surviving Canadian-built aircraft, the McDowall Monoplane.**

The McDowall family retains a close relationship to Grey and Bruce Counties.

Grandson, Robert J. (Bob) McDowall, reconstructed a model of the McDowall Monoplane and was also an avid model train enthusiast.

A Management Consultant, he formed his own company, McDowall Associates Human Resource Consultants, in 1987, and developed the the Universal Job Evaluation Plan used throughout corporations today to determine job value. He was also a board member of Grey Bruce Health Services  (GBHS) (6 hospitals) and also served as Chair.

Today, his wife Jeanne, son Scott and beloved companion Elsie, live on the family’s 70 acre nature estate with its trails, streams, gardens, trees and a pond.