Summer afternoons on his dock overlooking Twelve Mile Lake will never be the same for Haliburton resident Gary Rowden, who lost his dad, Harold, last week.

One of the County’s last remaining Second World War veterans, Harold ‘Rowdy’ Rowden passed away Jan. 14, just three months shy of his 100th birthday. The veteran had spent the past three years living at the Gardens of Haliburton retirement residence after a long life that involved a lengthy tour of Europe with the Canadian Armed Forces as a teenager and stints living in the Highlands, Toronto, and on both the west and east coasts.

“Dad always liked to keep busy. He worked and travelled around a lot, especially once he and my mom split and he left Haliburton County,” Gary said.

His return in 2020, just prior to the COVID19 pandemic, was a big deal for the entire Rowden family, Gary said. Its patriarch was home.

Some of the best memories he has of his dad were made in the years since. Gary recalls how every weekend his dad would join him at the cottage for a catchup – and a beer.

“We’d have some laughs out there – he had his license until last year, so he would drive himself over and stay for a while. He always made sure to only have one beer so he could drive himself back to Haliburton,” Gary said. “For the last year or so, my sister [Gail] and I would take it in turns to pick him up and take him out for a drive, or to do something, a couple times a week. He always liked us doing that.”

Rowden was fiercely proud of his military service, Gary said. Serving with the 3rd Division of the 13th Field Regiment during the Second World War, ‘Rowdy’ was there the day members of the Canadian military went where no Allied soldier had gone before, pushing the Nazis out of their beachfront strongholds, and sending them into retreat.

Harold was 15 when he signed up for the war effort. He spent years training at various sites across Canada and the UK, though was in Portsmouth, England on that fateful day, June 6, 1944. The Normandy landings, particularly the Canadian affront on Juno Beach, have long been considered the catalyst for the Allies’ eventual victory.

Rowden shared his story with The Highlander for a piece in the lead up to Remembrance Day in 2021. He told how, as a dispatch rider, it was his job to collect messages from one command point and deliver them to another. It was dangerous work – his orders were often top secret.

After emerging from the wreckage of Juno Beach, Rowden saved lives while treating wounds during a fight with the Nazis in a small French town, Courseulles-sur-Mer, and saw action in the Battle for Caen. He was injured during intense enemy shelling in Caen, sent to the UK to recover and discharged once the war was won.

Once back in Canada, he met and married Nellie Miscio. He moved to Haliburton and took a job at Carnarvon Lumber, where he worked for years while he and Nellie raised their nine children. After they split, Rowden moved to the city, where he spent years working as a mechanic and, later, a truck driver. He retired to Orillia in 1990, living there for almost three decades.

After moving to the Highlands, Rowden became a member of the Haliburton Legion. Its president, Mike Waller, said ‘Rowdy’ was always in good spirits when visiting the branch.

“He was very forthcoming, always made time to chat. He was very generous that way,” Waller said. “He was a fun guy. He had some good stories – he’d always have people laughing when he came in.”

Waller said Rowden would visit the legion once a week. While he didn’t like to talk about his experiences during the war, ‘Rowdy’ was a central figure at the Haliburton Remembrance Day services the past four years.

“He always made himself available for things like that. Remembrance Day was a big deal for him. He didn’t like it when you made a big deal of him though – I remember former president Don Pitman saying to him, ‘you’re a real hero’ and ‘Rowdy’ would reply ‘no, the only heroes are the boys we left behind’,” Waller said. “He was very humble about his service.”

Gary said he’d miss seeing and spending time with his dad, but noted he has many lessons to remember him by.

“He always used to say to me ‘if a man’s word is no good, then he’s no good’. Those are good words to live by, it’s basically how he lived his life. Just be true to your word and be honest – those are the main things I learned from him,” Gary said. “I’ll miss him, but he lived a long, happy life.”

Per Rowden’s wishes, there will be no visitation or funeral service. Donations can be made to the Orillia or Haliburton legions in his honour.