This parcel of land, situated on Matchedash Bay, a mile north of Coldwater and across the bay from Fesserton was first settled by a young entrepreneur by the name of Constant (George) Cowan, in the year 1778.
Cowan came to Canada, from his native Scotland, as a young drummer boy with the British Army. He was soon captured by the French in the Battle of Fort Pitt, during the War of 1758-59. He was then raised by a French-Canadian family and learned the ways of life in the Canadian wilderness, including fur-trapping. By the time he became a young man, Cowan was fluent in French and English and several Native languages.
He decided to go into the fur trading business and set himself up near a major cross-roads of the time. His chosen site on Matchedash Bay provided easy access to Georgian Bay and Lake Huron to the north, and an easy portage to the north end of Lake Simcoe and the trade routes of the south. Early predictions by passing explorers and traders were that Cowan's tradefort would soon become one of the major economic communities on the Great Lakes. He hosted Governor John Graves Simcoe in 1793, during his expedition of northern trade routes.
His ability to communicate and provide trade for the local natives ensured his success, as he became a trusted agent for the French and Native trappers of the area. One hundred years before this settlement was established, the Catholic Church tried to build a relationship with the local natives at Ste. Marie along with a mission of their own, but that experiment ended in the slaughter of all the missionaries and the inhabitants. Now a famous national historic site, Ste. Marie among the Hurons was a short lived venture. That makes this site of Cowan's tradefort the oldest permanent residence and business establishment by Europeans in Simcoe County.
Throughout the 19th century Cowan's tradefort was known as The Chimneys, in reference to the two large chimneys which signified Cowan's large home. The settlement once covered both sides of the bay, about forty acres of cleared land, including an orchard and various crops and pasture land.
Constant Cowan died in 1804, a passenger on the sailboat Speedy, sunk during a storm on Lake Ontario.
Today this settlement is part of the conservation lands of the Coldwater Conservation Club, which features the Cowan Nature Trail, an Interpretive Shelter, and signposts detailing the natural history of the area.
The two chimneys from Cowan's large home are now piles of rubble. A foundation lies nearby which may be another house of his French workers. A hundred metres to the west in the overgrown bush is a large foundation, which I am guessing was the actual outpost/fort. A long line of piled fieldstones marks the pathway from the water to the settlement. At the time of my exploration there was a good cover of snow. I will return in the spring for a more thorough investigation of Cowan's Chimneys and settlement.