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MOWAT, JOHN BOWER, Presbyterian minister and college professor; b. 8 June 1825 in Kingston, Upper Canada, son of John Mowat* and Helen Levack; m. first 24 Sept. 1855 Janet McGill in Montreal, and they had one son; m. secondly 26 June 1861 Emma McDonald, and they had two sons and two daughters; d. 15 July 1900 in Kingston.

John Bower Mowat was the third of five children whose father was a successful and respected citizen in Kingston. His eldest brother, Oliver*, with whom he maintained a close and affectionate relationship throughout his life, would later become premier of Ontario. John grew up in Kingston and spent some time attending school in Brockville. When Queen’s College (later Queen’s University) began classes on 7 March 1842, he was one of three students enrolled in the first-year program. Even before graduating with his ba in 1845, he had decided to enter the Presbyterian ministry. Therefore, while continuing his studies at Queen’s, in August 1846 he accepted a position as catechist in the Victoria District. In 1846–47 he attended the University of Edinburgh for further study and in 1847 he received his ma from Queen’s.

In the fall of 1848 Mowat was appointed catechist to John Machar*, minister of St Andrew’s Church in Kingston and principal of Queen’s. Though this post lasted only 21 months, it provided excellent training for Mowat. In the summer of 1849 he accepted a call from St Andrew’s in Niagara (Niagara-on-the-Lake) and, on completing his commitment in Kingston, was ordained at Niagara on 2 May 1850.

Mowat became a successful and well-loved pastor. He planned activities to attract young people, and records show that while he was at St Andrew’s four young men from his church entered the ministry. On Sunday afternoons he often preached to the local black congregation in their own church. Mowat family members frequently visited Niagara, sometimes to have one of their children baptized. During Mowat’s term, a church bell was bought, the congregational library was increased, and damages to the church from storms in 1854 and 1855 were repaired. In 1855 John married a daughter of the Reverend Robert McGill*. In December 1856 his young wife died a few days after the birth of their son (the father of Angus McGill Mowat* and the grandfather of author Farley McGill Mowat).

In the fall of 1857 the 32-year-old Mowat was appointed professor of oriental languages, biblical criticism, and church history at Queen’s. This appointment aroused some comment, since his father was one of the trustees and since five Scottish applicants had been passed over. Letters of recommendation from Thomas Liddell*, Peter Colin Campbell, and George Romanes (all of whom had taught Mowat) had stressed his character, diligence, and scholarly bent more than his intellectual powers.

Mowat’s years at Queen’s were characterized by his quiet unselfish enthusiasm, an insistence on accuracy, and unfailing energy. A lack of clergymen meant that he was often called on for additional ministerial and missionary work. In 1861 he married his second wife, a daughter of Gananoque businessman John McDonald*. During the illness of Principal William Leitch*, Mowat undertook extra classes in 1863–64, and he also filled in as registrar for some time before George Bell assumed the post in 1881. In 1883, the year in which he was awarded an honorary dd by the University of Glasgow, the chair he held was divided; Mowat retained Hebrew, Chaldee, and Old Testament exegesis and Donald Ross assumed a new chair in apologetics and New Testament criticism. Mowat received additional help in 1899 when Principal George Monro Grant* appointed William George Jordan* to assist Mowat with his teaching duties.

Although Mowat did not take “an active or prominent part in church courts,” the controversy in the mid 1870s surrounding Daniel James Macdonnell’s publicly expressed doubts about the Westminster Confession’s statement on eternal punishment prompted Mowat to speak out on the matter. According to the reminiscences of a former student who attended the 1876 General Assembly, Mowat’s speech there in defence of Macdonnell was “unassailable” in “its historical standpoint, its candor, and its truthfulness.”

In May 1900, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mowat’s ordination, his presbytery presented him with a complimentary address in his own class-room at Queen’s. Less than three months later, after a life devoted to his church and his university, “the venerable Dr. Mowat” passed away.

John L. Field

QUA, 1241, Mowat appointment, 1857; 3032 (photocopies). St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.), Reg. of baptisms, marriages, and burials; Session books, 1849–57. Aleph, “Jubilee of Rev. Dr. Mowat’s ordination,” Westminster (Toronto), [2nd] ser., 8 (January–June 1900): 511–12. Janet Carnochan, Centennial, StAndrew’s, Niagara, 1794–1894 (Toronto, 1895), 35–36. Oliver Mowat, “‘Neither Radical Nor Tory Nor Whig’: letters by Oliver Mowat to John Mowat, 1843–1846,” ed. Peter Neary, OH, 71 (1979): 84–131. Queen’s University Journal (Kingston, Ont.), 26 Oct. 1900. C. R. W. Biggar, Sir Oliver Mowat . . . a biographical sketch (2v., Toronto, 1905). Janet Carnochan, History of Niagara . . . (Toronto, 1914; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1973), 91. History of StAndrew’s Presbyterian Church, 1791–1975 ([Niagara-on-the-Lake, 1975]), 13–14. J. T. McNeill, The Presbyterian Church in Canada, 1875–1925 (Toronto, 1925). H. [M.] Neatby and F. W. Gibson, Queen’s University, ed. F. W. Gibson and Roger Graham (2v., Kingston and Montreal, 1978–83), 1.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

John L. Field, “MOWAT, JOHN BOWER,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed December 7, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mowat_john_bower_12E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/mowat_john_bower_12E.html
Author of Article:   John L. Field
Title of Article:   MOWAT, JOHN BOWER
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   December 7, 2023