No Regrets

No Regrets cover page

No Regrets, Susan McNicoll in Conversation with Gowan Guest, is a book I wrote as a private commission and it came to me when I was least expecting it. I knew the son of the man I ended up writing about, but did not know of his family or its amazing history. Doug knew I was a writer and that I wrote history and biography. One day he sat down next to me. He told me a little of his family’s history and that they had long wanted to have a book written about his father. Would I consider doing it?

This began a two-year journey that involved research, interviews and writing. In the beginning the scope of the book was not defined and it ended up being a much bigger project than either Doug or I had anticipated. Because of illness, I was only able to have a few interviews with Gowan himself but these were invaluable to the book, as was Doug’s help. I did a number of other interviews, including ones with all of Gowan’s children.

As a writer, one of my greatest joys is digging through boxes of old documents and photographs, so I managed to have a LOT of joy with this project! Researching the ancestor’s was also a blast and I was able to find out a great deal about them. Gowan’s own life, which included two years as assistant to then-Prime Minister of Canada John Diefenbaker, was rich and full so I had no trouble writing at length about it. Lastly I found great pleasure in compiling and placing the many photographs in the book. When writing about history I love to find photographs to illustrate it because they give such colour, even when in black & white!!


What the client had to say about No Regrets

Susan McNicoll was the perfect choice to write our family story. Her ability to talk to family members to get their insights and do the research around the family stories was impressive. Even more so, Susan’s approach to weaving the many stories and anecdotes into a very entertaining read was seamless. Our family now has a treasure of family history and a great testament to the life of my father in a wonderfully written story.

– Douglas Guest


Please enjoy the following excerpts from No Regrets, printed here with the permission of Douglas Guest.

Excerpt from Chapter Five, The Guest Legacy:

Gowan’s father, Edmund Thomas Guest, was born in this family home August 11, 1901 and he was last of the litter. Perhaps growing up on the wrong side of the economic tracks gave him his motivation, but Ed would spend most of his life climbing the social ladder of Toronto. In his own way, he wanted to prove he belonged as much as Ogle Gowan had wanted the same thing a hundred years earlier. Ed was always proud of his background, however, and often boasted that he came from a long line of railroad men.

Ed would have three older siblings: Abigail Luella (Lu) was born June 13, 1888; Ernest Francis (Ernie) April 22, 1892; and Edith Lillian (Nellie) June 4, 1898. . . .


The youngest of the children born to Thomas and Sarah Guest was small in stature but not in ambition and drive. Perhaps because of his size, Ed learned to use words rather than his fists which led him to be a powerful public speaker. He was the only one of the four siblings to graduate from university. Before that, though, he attended two elementary schools, Coleman and Kimberley and then followed with his secondary education at Malvern Collegiate Institute.

“To supplement the family income, he worked in Fred Murch’s drugstore at the corner of Main and Danforth Avenue,” Bob Guest said. “This fostered his interest in things medical. His ultimate decision to become a dentist was governed more by the fact that it was a four year course instead of the six required by medicine, than by a specific love of dentistry per se.”

Excerpt from Chapter Eight, A Slice of Dief:

Gowan spent many hours walking with Diefenbaker around the grounds of the Parliament Buildings. It was there they conducted a lot of their business, away from the demands of the office. And so, in 1960, when Gowan was seriously considering running for the nomination as the Conservative candidate in a British Columbia riding he asked Diefenbaker what he thought.

“Come and walk with me across Parliament Hill,” Diefenbaker said to Gowan.

They walked and talked with Gowan asking for Diefenbaker’s advice on what to do. The two men came to the statue of Wilfrid Laurier and then the one of Sir. John A. Macdonald.

“Look at them all Gowan,” Diefenbaker said, “those great Canadians, their heads all covered in pigeon shit and that’s what will happen to you if you try to get this nomination.”

Apparently Gowan did not take his advice and Diefenbaker’s words ended up being prophetic some months later.

Gowan’s relationship with Diefenbaker began to change when Gowan started to talk about leaving and returning to his law practice in Vancouver. Politics in Ottawa was the be all and end all for Diefenbaker and he simply could not understand why anyone would want to leave such a high-profile position, why anyone would want to leave him. Gowan was determined to leave, though and on August 4, 1960 he officially informed the prime minister.

“In a relationship such as I have been privileged to have with you, it seems slightly inappropriate to submit, in cold formality, a letter of resignation in confirmation of the conversations we have had,” Gowan wrote in his letter to Diefenbaker. “However, I know you will not misunderstand if I now ask your permission to vacate my desk in this office on Friday, September 2nd next, and, if you see fit to approve for me leave credits in accordance with regular civil service practice, to resign from the government service effective Friday, October 7th next.

“No words can ever express my feelings concerning these past two years, and no one but you personally could begin to imagine the emotions of friendship, respect, gratitude and admiration that fills me at this time. If I may say it, my regard for you, which, if it was genuine and enthusiastic two years ago, has been enriched and deepened by the association of the past 24 months.

“Of an employer, perhaps the best compliment one can pay is to say that only he knows how many mistakes were made, and only I know how often he forgave and protected me from them.

Gowan Guest with Prime Minister of Canada

Photograph by Ashley and Crippen Photography
Gowan Guest with Prime Minister of Canada, Rt. Honourable John Diefenbaker, circa 1959