A prominent provincial politician, Gowan was born in County Wexford, Ireland. He came to Upper Canada in 1829 and immediately immersed himself in political affairs. Drawing upon his experience in the Irish Orange Order, Gowan established the Grand Orange Lodge of British North America in 1830 and , as the first Canadian grand master, ably guided the organization during its formative years. In 1836 he was elected to the Legislative Assembly, representing this area intermittently until 1861. A shrewd strategist and an effective orator, he gradually broadened his influence, using his newspaper, the "Brockville Statesman," to promote his political views. Following his retirement from provincial politics, Gowan continued to work for the retention of strong ties with Britain, a cause he had upheld throughout his career.