It is with great sadness that we must share the news that Edgar Arthur Cowan (Ed) passed away peacefully at the age of 86, on February 9th, 2024, in Toronto, Ontario, the city he called home his entire life.
Ed joins his beloved wife of 57 years, Nuala (née Cassidy), who passed away six months ago on July 31, 2023, and his cherished son Noah (John), who passed away one year ago on January 25, 2023.
The son of the late Maurice and Anne (née Finsten) Cowan, Edgar was predeceased by his brother Walter. He will be greatly missed by his two stepsons, Tim FitzGerald (Sandi) and Brian FitzGerald (Diane), and his grandchildren Zoe (Julian), Julie (Jason), Meagan, Brendan and Garrett.
Ed left this world surrounded by family and in the compassionate care of the doctors, nurses and PSWs at Kensington Gardens, where he had been residing for the past three years.
Ed was afflicted with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy (PSP), a degenerative disease which seriously eroded his motor skills, eyesight and speech, but did not diminish his enthusiasm for life, for people and for the world around him, despite it slowly growing further out of reach. Ed had a zest for life and a sense of hope that allowed him to fight a courageous battle against this disease. He participated in research studies with Toronto Western Hospital’s team of great physicians and never gave up his will to live, hoping for a cure not only for himself, but for future generations.
A creative visionary, Ed's passion, hope and belief that things could be better was how he approached his whole life, with a net that was cast far and wide and touched many. He was once described by his friend, the late Paul Break, as the man who could squeeze air and get water.
Ed led a remarkable life. He graduated in Business Administration from Ryerson (Now TMU) in 1960, and 59 years later, in 2019, TMU recognized him with the Ted Rogers School of Management Lifetime Achievement Award.
After graduating, Ed spent a few years at the Toronto Telegram and became actively involved in the folk music scene in the early 60s. In 1961, he established and co-owned The Fifth Peg on Church St. with business partner Jack Wall. “The Peg” became an important establishment in the folk scene, recognized as one of Toronto’s most sophisticated and ambitious of the city’s after-hours coffee houses. Ed worked with various artists at the beginning of their careers, including Bob Dylan, Gordon Lightfoot, Peter, Paul & Mary and Ian & Sylvia Tyson, with whom he developed a long-time friendship.
In August 1961, Ed was the first music producer of the Mariposa Music Festival. That first festival saw thousands of attendees with an impressive line-up of artists, and it is still thriving 63 years later. Gordon Lightfoot, one of the earliest folk artists of Mariposa, performed again at the 2005 Festival, and before his performance, the original founders were invited on stage to be inducted into the Mariposa Hall of Fame, and Ed was presented with an award in appreciation for his imagination and initiative in creating a festival that has succeeded for so many years.
From the folk music scene, Ed transitioned into the PR field, working with MacLaren Advertising and then starting his own company where he spent his career working on a myriad of projects in the area where business, politics and the arts come together. Ed's longtime friend, David Harrison described Ed this way:
'Ed was a believer. He believed in the power of the arts, politics and communications. And he lived his life committed to improving our lives by influencing these worlds in creative ways. As a founding producer of the Mariposa Folk Festival; helping launch CITY TV; creating C Channel; publishing Saturday Night; starting and operating Carlton Cowan, a major PR company; and adviser to many Liberal politicians in Ottawa. Indeed, in 1993, he even went to Kiev as part of a Canadian delegation, running sessions on the fundamentals of democracy and elections. He was a player in the world of Canadian culture.'
Ed always had a few irons in the fire, from major projects like the startup of C-Channel, one of the first pay TV stations in Canada, to small publishing projects with his friend Howard Astor at Mosaic Press. In the late 80s, Ed and Nuala owned and ran The Old Bank House, a beautiful bed and breakfast in Niagara-On-the-Lake, and in the early 2000s, they purchased a small cottage in the southwest of Ireland where they spent a lot of happy time working on the garden, connecting with friends, going for long beach walks and enjoying the cozy pubs.
Former Mayor of Toronto and friend, David Crombie, who spent time with Ed and Nuala in Ireland, describes Ed this way, “Ed loved being alive and was a constant shot of vigor wherever he went and for whomever he was with. I always enjoyed his company.”
Ed loved a good celebration, and there were many of those over the years. The society pages of the 1970s and 80s tell stories of the great events that he and Nuala hosted at their Walmer Rd. home in Toronto. The folks in Caherdaniel in Ireland still talk about Ed’s lamb-on-a-spit Easter barbeque feasts, and he always brought his energy and party spirit to the family get-togethers in Barrie, Ontario.
Deeply devoted to his family, Ed - or Granpa Zed - would lend a hand whenever he was asked or whenever he felt someone could benefit from his help. He used to tell tales of life as a camp counselor in his early teens and his family saw this talent resurface once his grandchildren were old enough to take direction and he would marshal them and their friends to the park for hours of old-time camp games – three legged races, sack races, egg and spoon races etc. No screens and no electronics whatsoever. It was always a very good time and counselor Ed was in full control. This was Grampa Zed at his finest.
Ed was always tremendously proud of all of his grandchildren and was their biggest cheerleader. He frequently attended his grandchildren’s school events, even appearing as the stern teacher in a school film project that won an award at the York Film Festival in 2013.
By 2018, Ed was beginning to feel the early effects of PSP, and although it was not yet diagnosed, it was affecting his ability to put out the physical effort required to maintain the Irish property. He and Nuala reluctantly sold it and stayed close to home in Toronto until Ed was admitted to Kensington Gardens in the fall of 2020.
Ed embraced life and in his creative ways, left a legacy that will continue to bring joy to many. He was one of a kind.
A celebration of life of both Edgar and Nuala will take place in early spring. In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Kensington Health Foundation.
Donate at: www.kensingtonhealth.org/memory
or by phone at 416-964-3636
or by mail to:
Kensington Health Foundation
2350-340 College St.
Toronto, Ontario, Canada M5T 3A9