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Donald Cowan

Image by Agnieszka Kowalczyk


August 9, 1946 - January 7, 2022

In a sunny living room strung with Christmas lights and with his family beside him, Donald Hugh Cowan died peacefully on January 7, 2022, at the age of 75.


He will be dearly missed by his wife, Marisa Hernandez Mora, children Lesley and Ian, brother Earl, sister Valerie Cloutier, and many relatives, friends, colleagues, and students.


Born in Montreal in 1946, Don grew up in Transcona with his parents Mildred and Hugh (known as Bunt), older brother Earl and younger sister Valerie. They spent summers at the cabin built by their father at Nora Lake in the Whiteshell, swimming, building forts, and making do without a refrigerator. After working a few years for CN and making up the stray French credit needed to graduate from high school, Don enrolled at the University of Manitoba. Disregarding the career advisor who suggested "accountant," he graduated with a degree in Education.


His first teaching job was at Arthur Day Junior High in Transcona. He and Susan Henley were married in 1970. Lesley was born several years later and the family moved to Minnedosa, where Don taught Junior High and Grade 5, and where Ian was born. "Mr C." was a popular teacher, famous for spearheading elaborate papier-mâché projects that were the envy of the school: flying pigs one year, a larger-than-life-sized statue of Sir Knightmare the next. Every winter he took all the Grade 5s snowshoeing around Moon Lake. One year he assigned his class the task of creating their own coats of arms accompanied by a motto: his was "Be Interested in Things", and he was.


Don was a skilled amateur carpenter and stained-glass artist. He spent hours in his workshop constructing unique furniture for his kids and turning out more bookcases than he knew what to do with. His stained-glass work often featured interlocking figures inspired by the designs of M.C. Escher. These pieces made their way into the homes of family and friends, and one became the window of the new outhouse he built at the cabin.  He was a cactus enthusiast, coaxing dozens of them into bloom every year in the unpromising climate of Manitoba. And he loved going for long drives and walks in the country.


After teaching for many years in Minnedosa, Don taught for a few more in Forrest and Rivers, then enthusiastically signed up for early retirement. He was ready for the next phase of his life, one which involved freedom, uncertainty, and adventure. After a couple of visits to Mexico he was hooked and began spending more and more time there. He loved the weather and was fascinated by the differences between Canada and Mexico. He was adventurous and would spend the day walking around Mexico City or travelling by bus to untouristy destinations, adopting the pseudonyms Don Agustin and Diego Sanchez to avoid the confusion that inevitably resulted when he tried to book a hotel room under his own name, a respectful title in Spanish. The guy who had failed Grade 12 French devoted himself to learning Spanish and became relatively fluent--fluent enough to meet his future wife, Marisa, in 2006.


They spent half the year at her home in Morelia, eating too much with her family and growing more cactuses effortlessly in the garden. In emails home he would share photos of his flowering cactuses in Morelia, recalling the years of difficulty he had growing them in Manitoba. He made many friends in his travels and kept in touch. Despite not being much of a joiner, he joined up with a band of gringos and became an integral member of their bridge, hiking, and writing clubs. After his death it was reported that he was an excellent bridge player (who knew?). In the summer he returned to Manitoba to spend as much time as possible at the cabin, fixing up the place and observing nature. Marisa came up too and Don enjoyed showing her the ropes. Don and Marisa were married in 2017.


He devoted much time to writing at the café in downtown Morelia he called his office. He wrote short stories, essays, and musing emails that don't seem ever to have been published, but were treasured by friends. The kitchen table at the cabin was covered with pens, pencils, rulers, and markers that he used to write and draw in his journals. After he was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer about eight years ago and was suddenly faced with his own mortality, he had a lot to write about. He made the most of this new adventure, but he certainly did not like it. And when his treatment options ran out, his time in palliative care was mercifully brief. Although we're sad he's gone, we are glad he's not suffering. Those of us who had the privilege of knowing Don have his writing, stained glass, and extra bookcases to remember him by.


A small celebration of life has taken place. We hope Don would have liked it; he always did like funerals. In his memory, consider making a donation to the Canadian Cancer Society, and maybe taking a walk across a bridge you haven't ever walked across before, or looking at something from a new point of view. Be interested in things.


Cremation & Life Celebrations

530 St, Mary Avenue - Winnipeg

204-421-5501 -

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