Many a story has started with a girl and Ben Cowie’s return to the Forest City is no different.
Well, in Ben’s case, the story might have started with returning to London to support his mother during her cancer treatment, but he ended up staying when he met the woman who would be his partner ever since.
Ben left the Forest City when he was 18 and he wasn’t particularly interested in looking back.
“When you’re 18, the world is a different place. I grew up in Byron. Most of my friends lived in the burbs. I had that pretty blah, suburban upbringing that was safe and comfortable and easy,” he said. “We had a little freedom to roam around without a lot of threat, but it wasn’t super exciting. I didn’t see much of that for London when I left, and I didn’t think that was what I wanted for my life.”
The first stop on Ben’s North American journey back to London started in Hamilton where he studied geology at McMaster University.
Later he moved to Boston, Mass., where he earned a post doctorate degree, before he eventually settled in Calgary for more than a decade.
By the time 2016 came around, Ben’s life headed in a far different direction.
Shortly after his return, he met his partner Caroline, who for the next four years is working as a psychiatry resident in the Forest City.
That got Ben thinking about what to do next.
“I was happy in Calgary. Most of my really close friends were there. Most of my life was based there so it didn’t seem like a likely thing for me to move back,” he said. “Caroline and I had what was supposed to be this six-week thing. She lived downtown and so we could walk everywhere. It just felt different . . . finding this beautiful walkable city in the place I grew up was really unexpected.”
He still hadn’t met many of the people he knows today, and he essentially felt like a stranger in the city, not really knowing anything about what was going on.
One thing was clear though, a career in geology didn’t seem in the cards, so he reached back to his other passion, cycling. The result of that passion is London Bicycle Café, which he describes as “a bike shop for ordinary people with really great coffee.”
The café has become a focal point for not only Ben’s passions, but for the growth of London’s cycling community.
“I think the big part of this place is bringing this bike culture to London,” he said. “We have a pretty good sense of who the community is and who are the people who want to push London forward as a real big city where people ride bikes to get around. A civilized town.”
Ben’s return to his hometown has been made all the better, he explains, by his feeling London is “more interconnected,” than the other cities he has lived in with “so many cool things” happening on a regular basis.
In fact, he finds it something of a challenge to keep up with everything, which certainly wasn’t his impression when he left London looking for excitement.
“Anywhere you are, it’s always the people. You can be in the middle of nowhere, if you have good people around it’s going to be fun, and London has been great for that,” he said. “It’s weird; I grew up here . . . but integrating back into the community has been easier than I expected. It’s been easier to get connected to what’s going on.”