A Legacy of Love in the Heart Language – Founder of CanIL Dies at 100

By Larry Hayashi

George and Florie Cowan at CanIL in 1985.

Dr. George Cowan went to be with the Lord on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2017 at the age of 100. He has served with Wycliffe Bible Translators since its early inception in 1942. He served as a linguist and Bible translator, SIL area director, training school founder and Board director for numerous organizations including Wycliffe, JAARS and SIL.

CanIL was started in 1985 on the campus of Trinity Western University by Dr. George Cowan. I had the privilege of being a student in that initial cohort. At that time CanIL was named the Canadian Summer Institute of Linguistics. George led our daily chapel time and I was moved by his deep love for the indigenous peoples of Mexico and his deep respect for their languages. All of us looked forward to hearing his unique perspectives unfolded to us through stories of his experiences in another language and culture. He was a master at telling stories, always recounted with passion and laughter.

He passed on to us students a love for language and all of its intricacies and beauty. What struck me most was his love for God, his own sense of being loved by God, how that love spilled out in abundance through God’s Word and how he longed that everyone would have the opportunity to hear of God’s love for them in their heart language. Each day, we would recite Psalm 67. Even now I can hear his voice: “May the peoples praise you, O God, may all the peoples praise you! May the nations be glad and sing for joy!”

Dr. George Cowan with his characteristic laugh. Artist Cal Bummer, student in 1985

George was involved in many foundational activities of the linguistic and Bible translation work of Wycliffe Bible Translators and SIL around the world, but I love what his daughter says about him here:

“Dad considered his prayer ministry a joy and privilege, on par or higher than anything else he did in life. He loved to pray and enter the Lord’s presence.”

George lived life, daily entering the Lord’s presence, celebrating life – real life – and cherishing people, their stories, their linguistic and culture backgrounds, and sharing the love of God. He was preparing for an eternal presence with God, with people from around the world, declaring the love and praise of God in their heart language.



For a more detailed history of Dr. George Cowan, refer to this Wycliffe.org link. Also, in the 2-minute video below, Dr. Cowan recounts the early history of SIL training in Canada.