Gowan, Ogle Robert (1803–76), grand master of the Orange order in Canada, journalist, and politician, was born 13 July 1803 in Wexford, eighteenth child of John Hunter Gowan (qv), magistrate of Gorey, Co. Wexford, and captain of the yeomanry, and his second illegitimate child by his mistress, Margaret Hogan, who was governess to some of Gowan's twelve surviving legitimate children. Ogle was educated privately in the outbuildings of his family estate in Mount Nebo, Gorey; the main house was burnt down in 1798 and never rebuilt. At 12 he was put to work as apprentice to his uncle, a saddle-maker in Gorey, but after protesting to his father he returned home and resumed his studies. On 4 June 1818 he followed his father and grandfather into the Orange order, the protection and aggrandisement of which became his life's purpose. He married (August 1823) Frances Colcough Turner (d. 1852), who was his half-niece, daughter of his half-sister Jane and her husband, Edward Haycock Colcough Turner, of a prominent protestant family; his first son was born within months of the wedding.
He moved his family to rooms in Parnell Square, Dublin, and was soon taken on as a writer for The Antidote, or Protestant Guardian, which had been launched (1822) under the aegis of the prominent Orangeman Sir Harcourt Lees (qv). With the latter as his patron, the ambitious Gowan was made master of a lodge in Shillelagh, Co. Wicklow, and in spring 1824 became secretary of Wicklow's grand lodge. He then managed to expel (September 1824), on grounds of corruption, the influential committee of six who oversaw the business of the grand lodge of Ireland. After this coup Gowan was named grand secretary, and persuaded the grand lodge to adopt the Antidote as its official organ. Two months previously he had assumed full proprietorship and editorship of the paper, thereby earning himself the enmity of its previous printer-proprietor, George Perkins Bull (1795–1847). In March 1825 the Orange order was dissolved under the newly enacted statute prohibiting political societies in Ireland; but Lees and Gowan found a way round this by founding (December 1825) the Benevolent and Religious Orange Institution, which they declared non-political, and Gowan published The annals and defence of the loyal Orange institution of Ireland (1825). This kept the order alive till the unlawful societies act lapsed in October 1828. However, by this date Gowan was persona non grata in the order. His father had died in May 1825 leaving him £200 a year. He was subsequently persuaded by his full brother, William, also illegitimate, to forge deeds so that William could inherit their father's second property, Ashwood. These deeds were contested by the legitimate heirs, who took the case to court in December 1826 and won. George Perkins Bull then circulated a pamphlet of the trial, which exposed the illegitimacy and forgery, and this led to Gowan being dropped as grand secretary. His hard-won position in Ireland was now untenable and he was also disgusted by the passage of the catholic emancipation act (1829), so late that year he emigrated to Leeds county, Upper Canada, with his wife, four children, two servants, and mother-in-law.
He lost no time in calling on 1 January 1830 a meeting that founded the Grand Orange Lodge of British North America, of which Gowan was named deputy grand master; in subsequent years he was named the first Canadian grand master, after the duke of Cumberland declined. However, Montreal Orangemen denounced his leadership in the 1830s, apparently because George Bull's pamphlet, which had hounded him out of Dublin, was being circulated round Canada. Gowan, however, overcame difficulties to embark on a successful political career. Contesting Leeds as an ‘independent’ immigrant candidate in the general election of 1830, he appealed to catholic as well as protestant Irish, and though he lost by a narrow margin, he received more votes than the local conservative candidate. Four years later he was elected to the national assembly for Leeds in 1834, and again in 1835, but each election was declared invalid because of Orange violence at the polls. At the 1836 election he finally secured a seat as representative of Leeds and Grenville (1836–41, 1844–8). In parliament he generally sided with the tories but always described himself as an independent. He was said to be the best speaker and the best-informed member of the house. However, he failed to secure a place in W. H. Draper's conservative government in 1847, and with the return of the liberals to power in 1848 lost his seat and his last chance of office.
Two years previously he had also lost the position of grand master to George Benjamin. However, he remained active politically through the medium of his paper, the Brockville Statesman, which he had founded in 1836. In 1852 he sold it after moving to Toronto, where he acquired the tory Patriot, and was elected alderman in 1853 and 1854. From this position he mounted an attack on Benjamin's leadership of the grand lodge and succeeded in having him ousted, despite Benjamin's circulating Bull's ubiquitous pamphlet. Benjamin retaliated by setting up a separate lodge, which attracted 106 of Canada's 563 lodges. In the interests of unity Gowan agreed to step down as grand master in 1856 to enable the reunion of the lodges under George Lyttleton Allen. By 1861 Gowan had retired from provincial politics and accepted undemanding civil service duties. During the 1860s he continued to devote himself to the Orange order and in 1866 attended a conference in Belfast, where he proposed that an imperial grand council of Orangemen be held annually. He died in Toronto on 21 August 1876, and was survived by his eleven children and second wife, Alice Hitchcock (m. 1866). His history of the order, Orangeism, its origin and history, was published in 1859–60. Gowan is generally considered as the most impressive of all Canadian Orange grand masters and an adept parliamentarian who was barred from high office because the tories considered him insufficiently respectable.