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A winter excursion to Dowker Island

dowker island

update: Nov. 2020, a more detailed article about Dowker Island is available at: http://tuxgraphics.org/~guido/book-a-history-of-the-town-of-baie-d-urfe/dowker/index.html

Dowker island is an uninhabited island in the St-Lawrence river near the south western end of Montreal island. In winter you can walk to the island over the ice. It's a nice walk if the weather is good. It's about 1km form the shore lines of Beaconsfield and Baie-d'Urfe. Leslie Dowker used to live on this island and ruins of his house as well as associated buildings are still there. It's and exciting place and children love to explore the old stone ruins. The ruins are near the north-east end of the island.

It's only about 1km from the shore but don't underestimate the distance. The wind on the open ice can be much stronger and walking through deep snow can be demanding. Choose a day with the right weather condition and make sure the ice is strong enough. A cold, sunny February day with no wind is what you are looking for. At least 2 weeks of continuous temperatures below -10'C are needed for the ice to be safe for walking. There are almost no currents in this area but it is still a river and moving water does not freeze as easily as standing water.

dowker island aerial view dowker island 1815, dowker island shown as Sainte-Genevieve islands, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Topographical_map_of_the_province_of_Lower_Canada_02a.png http://numerique.banq.qc.ca/patrimoine/details/52327/3473842 1800, dowker island shown as Sainte-Genevieve islands dowker island dowker island dowker island dowker island dowker island dowker island dowker island Parts of an old central heating in the basement of the house
Exploring Dowker Island

Dowker Island winter panorama
Dowker Island winter panorama (click for a bigger image)

From Dowker Island you have a nice view along the river towards Montreal:
mount royal and montreal, view from dowker island
Mount Royal and parts of the city of Montreal in the distance.

The water around Dowker-Island comes from two different sources. The water on the North-West side is from the Ottawa River where as the water on the South-East side is Saint-Lawrence River water. This can be seen in the following aerial image because the color of the water is different due to temperature, sediment and algae differences.
dowker island, ottawa river and st-lawrence river merge here
The more brown water seen in the aerial image comes from the Ottawa River while the blue green water is from the Saint-Lawrence River. Photo: google maps.

Dowker Island history

Dowker Island was granted to the governor of Montreal, François-Marie Perrot by Nouvelle-Frances intendant Jean Talon in 1672, along with Île Perrot. It was then known as Île Sainte-Genevieve. Although near the towns of Baie-d'Urfé and Beaconsfield, it is administratively part of the municipality of Notre Dame de-lÎle-Perrot. Dowker Island is marked in some older maps as "Lynch Island".

Dowker Island is today (2019) an uninhabited island. Leslie Rose Dowker bought the island in 1897, he built himself the stone house on the north east side of the island and he lived there until his death in 1945 (20 Feb. 1945). Leslie would go to his island house on the weekends, both in summer and in winter. Leslie. R. Dowker had a right of way from Lakeshore Drive in Baie-d'Urfé via the lot between 20100 Lakeshore and 20094 Lakeshore (opposite Apple Hill road). In early winter or in spring time he would pull a light weight boat behind him in case the ice was too thin and gave way. He loved his island and he spent most weekends there. He would give big parties on the island. Leslie Rose Dowker was the brother of Baie-D'Urfé's first Mayor, Vivian de Vere Dowker. Leslie Dowker's house was damaged by a fire in 1977. There was as well a barn and storage building with stone fundations towards the west (about 100m from the house).

dowker island, with annotations, north side 1966 dowker island, north side 1969 dowker island, north side 1975
North end of Dowker Island, aerial photos from April 1966, October 1969 and May 1975. Photos: City of Montreal, Montreal Archives.

In the mid 1970's two houses existed on Dowker Island. The 1975 photo shows a small cottage on Caron Island (small island to the west). It was demolished in the late 1980's. One can walk from Dowker Island to Caron Island through waist deep water. A round structure is visible on the 1966 picture of Caron Island. I am not sure what it was. Old navigation charts mention a red navigation aide light on the north end of Dowker Island but we can not see it in the above images. What remains today are the ruins of the Leslie Dowker stone house and the ruins of the barn. Right at the water towards the east is a square shaped, shed sized building. This was a pump station and generator house. It served also as an east side boat dock. The island is now zoned such that no more new construction of any sort is allowed. The island is mostly flat with just minimal elevation above the water.

Here are some pictures showing the stone structures that remain today:

dowker island, remains of the barn foundation, 2019 dowker island, remains of Leslie Dowker stone house, 2019 dowker island, remains of the small square shed by the boat dock, 2019
dowker island 2019: remains of the barn foundation, remains of the Leslie Dowker stone house, remains of the small square pump station and generator house.

Gazette, Aug. 2, 1928
It seems Leslie tried to sell Dowker Island in 1928. It did not sell but this advertisement is interesting because it contains a fairly detailed description of the buildings. source: The Gazette, Aug. 2, 1928

concrete block on the north-east end, 2019, dowker island dowker island, navigation light 1981
Dowker island navigation light: on the left you see a winter 2019 photo of a "mysterious square concrete block" at the north-east end. This was the base for a navigation light. Photo on the right: navigation light as seen in summer 1981. This area used to be the site of some heavy-metal contamination due to batteries used in the navigation light. The site was cleaned up and the contaminated soil was excavated in 2007.

Update 2019-10-21: Dowker Island May 1930

I bought recently some very interesting images from the the National Air Photo Library (NAPL) and they gave me permission to use them on this web site. Those images were taken while Leslie Rose Dowker was still alive. The aerial imaging technology was obviously not as advanced as today but we can identify larger structures:

Dowker Island, 1930-05-14
Dowker Island, northern part, 1930-05-14
Images of Dowker Island, 1930-05-14, © National Air Photo Library, Natural Resources Canada

It was expected that we would see the barn and the main house but surprisingly the navigation light did also exist and it is in the exact same location as the light in the 1980s. The original house had a porch wrapped around the west, east and north side. The main entrance seems to be on the north side.

Update 2020-02-01: The Leslie Rose Dowker property at the west end of Baie-D'Urfe

Mr. Leslie Dowker had also a house on the west side of Baie-D'Urfe.
Dowker House in St-Anne
Last page of the "Atlas of the island and city of Montreal", map from 1917, National Archives, http://collections.banq.qc.ca

Leslie Dowker Funeral
The Gazette, Feb. 22, 1945, Funeral Leslie Dowker

Update 2020-03-01: The islands around Dowker Island

Caron Island in the north west
Madore Island in the South
Daoust Island in the South, it has a summer cottage that is still in use
Montreal Island in the north. Montreal downtown in the east ;-). A very nice view along the water.

There are as well 2 unnamed islands, less than 30 square foot in size.


Dowker island, in summer from the shore line of Baie-D'Urfé:
dowker island, summer time

Dowker island, summer, view from the Ottawa River side, west.
dowker island, summer

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