Kenora Great War Project


Personal Details
Date of BirthJanuary 7, 1878
Place of BirthMaybole, Ayrshire
Marital StatusMarried
Next of KinMrs. Margaret McDowall (wife), Keewatin, Ontario
Trade / CallingLabourer
ReligionChurch of England
Service Details
Regimental Number1038045
Service RecordLink to Service Record
BattalionNo. 54 District
ForceCanadian Expeditionary Force
BranchCanadian Forestry Corps
Enlisted / ConscriptedEnlisted
Place of EnlistmentKeewatin, Ontario
Address at EnlistmentKeewatin, Ontario
Date of EnlistmentAugust 19, 1916
Age at Enlistment38
Theatre of ServiceGreat Britain
Prisoner of WarNo
Survived WarYes
Death Details
Date of DeathSeptember 4, 1947
Age at Death69
Buried AtLake of the Woods Cemetery, Kenora, Ontario

McDowall, Robert Glass

Private Robert Glass McDowall was 38 years old, married and living in Keewatin, Ontario when he enlisted in August 1916. He was sent overseas a month later and he served for two and a half years with the Canadian Forestry Corps in England.

Robert was born on 7 January 1878 in Maybole, Ayrshire, Scotland. He was raised in the nearby town of Girvan, a small fishing port on the country’s southwest coast. He had three older brothers: John (b.1867), William (b.1869 or 1870) and James (b.1874). His mother Margaret McDowall (née Glass) was widowed and worked as a cotton winder to support the family. The main industry in Girvan at the time was cotton weaving and her first husband, William McDowall, had been a cotton weaver. Margaret was remarried in 1886 to William Girvan, also a cotton weaver, and she had one more son, Thomas. Robert became a journeyman shoemaker and shoe finisher. Sometime in the 1890s he enlisted in the British army and served in a volunteer battalion with the Royal Scots Fusiliers. He also joined the Seaforth Highlanders twice, the first time in January 1896 (reg. no. 5579), when he served for a year and a half, and the second time in February 1899 (reg. no. 6516), when he was with them for two months. In both cases his discharge was by purchase.

Robert was married in Maybole on 16 July 1900. His wife, 20-year-old Ellen Harris, was a sewing machine worker and the daughter of John and Jane Harris of Maybole. Robert and Ellen had one son, Robert Jr., who was born in October 1901. Sadly Ellen died just three months later of septicemia and tuberculosis, at age 22. Robert probably left his  son in the care of relatives and in the spring of 1907 he immigrated to Canada, arriving in Quebec on 6 May on the SS Corinthian with his destination listed as Winnipeg. A short time later he moved to the small town of Keewatin in northwestern Ontario. When the 1911 census was taken he was working as a general labourer and lodging with the McKie family, who were also from Maybole. Robert soon found work at a local flour mill, the Lake of the Woods Milling Company, and he was married again on 6 April 1912 in St. Boniface, Manitoba. His wife, Margaret Knight, was born in England and she’d been living in Canada for about a year. They had two daughters, Nonol Grace in 1913 and Winnifred Margaret in 1914.

Robert enlisted on 16 August 1916, signing up in Keewatin with the  238th Battalion. The 238th was a forestry unit headquartered in Ottawa and recruited in Ontario and the western provinces. Just a few weeks after enlisting Robert was on his way overseas, embarking from Halifax with his battalion on 11 September on the SS Scandinavian. He spent the next two and a half years serving in England with the Canadian Forestry Corps. He was stationed in London from October 1916 until May 1917, when he was transferred to the CFC Base in Sunningdale. At the end of May he was assigned to CFC District No. 53 (headquartered at Egham, west of London) and in September he was transferred to District No. 54 (Southampton), where he remained until March 1919. In District No. 54 he spent over a year with No. 134 Company, which was employed in Devonshire in the southwest part of England.

In each district the men cut timber, operated saw mills, laid railway track as needed, hauled logs to the mills and transported lumber to the nearest railway. Company camps had sleeping huts, dining rooms, recreational huts, canteens, officers’ quarters, workshops and garages, bath houses, stables and medical units. Many of them also had farms where the men grew grain and vegetables for their own use. In February 1919 Robert was transferred to No. 105 Company, based at Wool, Dorset, and in March he was given eight days leave. By then the war had been over for four months and forestry operations in England were winding down. Robert was transferred back to the base depot then to Kinmel Park, to await his return to Canada. He embarked from Liverpool on the SS Celtic on 7 May, landing at Halifax and getting discharged on 18 May in Port Arthur. Two of his wife’s brothers also served, Charles Morris Knight with the Canadian Cavalry and John Morris Knight with the navy.

Robert returned to Keewatin and had a long career as a shipper with the Lake of the Woods Milling Company. His son also moved to Canada, arriving in 1922 at age 20 and joining the family in Keewatin. Robert became a member of the Canadian Legion, Keewatin branch, and St. James Anglican Church. He retired from the flour mill in 1941 at age 63. On 4 September 1947 he was working at a local school, helping with repairs, when he fell and fractured his skull. He died in the hospital that same day, at age 69. His son Robert Jr. passed away in 1958 and his wife Margaret died in 1965. They are all buried in Lake of the Woods Cemetery in Kenora.

Robert is commemorated on the Lake of the Woods Milling Company plaque, a Roll of Honour for staff and citizens of Keewatin  who served in the Great War. He is also remembered on the Municipality of Keewatin ‘For King and Country’ 1914-1918 Honour Roll.

By Becky Johnson

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