Anna McCowan-Johnson

Obituary of Anna McCowan-Johnson


Anna McCowan – Johnson


It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of Anna McCowan-Johnson on Saturday, August 15, 2020.  She died as she lived, with grace, dignity and on her own terms.  She is survived by her loving husband, Donald K. Johnson, her two sons, Sean McCowan (Victoria McCowan) and Kaelin McCowan (Crystal Asher) and her two brothers, Henry and Michael Wilmot. As well as her stepchildren Virginia Johnson (Louis Trochatos), Carter Johnson (Diana Dumitru) and Jessica Johnson. She is loved and will be dearly missed by her seven wonderful grandchildren, Lily, Rheya, Tim, Carrie, Annabel, Graham and Andrew. She is finally reunited with her beautiful daughter Erin Gilmour who tragically predeceased her, who she shared with her first husband David Gilmour.

Anna was born in Brantford, Ontario. After surviving polio and scoliosis at a young age, she was encouraged to take up ballet. As a teen, she attended Havergal College in Toronto where she honed her passion and skill for dance. Anna was a glamourous beauty who also modelled extensively before choosing to pursue dance professionally. She was taught and mentored by Gweneth Lloyd, co-founder of the Royal Winnipeg Ballet where Anna was further schooled and eventually joined. She continued her dance career on CBC TV where she met George McCowan, her second husband and father to Sean and Kaelin.


Her entrepreneurial spirit and love of fashion led to Anna founding The Whimsey Tree, a children's clothing store in Yorkville, followed by a few years living abroad in Greece with her daughter, two sons, an afghan hound, a container-full of her prized Canadian pine antique furniture and her beloved and foul-mouthed parrot "Quero". 


In 1981, Anna met Don who would love her madly for the next 39 years. Don was an incredible husband to Anna and stepfather to her kids and made sure that they lived a wonderful life together full of friends, family and joy. He encouraged all her passions and took amazing care of her in every way.


In 1983, she founded the Interplay School of Dance, which became one of the most highly respected ballet schools in Toronto with over 150 students going on to join the National Ballet, the Royal Winnipeg and the Quinte School of Dance. “Miss Anne” taught and mentored thousands of students and fellow teachers until she stepped down as founder and artistic director in 2008. Throughout her life she and Don were loyal supporters of the National Ballet Company and National Ballet School, and many other artistic organizations.


Anna loved to entertain in her treasured home filled with a lifetime of curated antiques and was the consummate hostess.  She was renowned for organizing her and Don's annual Christmas party, complete with the Grace-Church-on-the-Hill children’s choir and their famous 20-foot Christmas tree.  In summer, she delighted in hosting parties in her spectacular garden where her fabulous ensembles could only be outdone by the magnificent flowers she so adored.


She always made people feel welcome and couldn't help herself when it came to imparting her lessons in impeccable manners and social graces to all those she loved -especially her grandchildren!


Anna was a dependable and fiercely loyal friend. She took incredible care of everyone she loved, especially Don and her two sons who she was immensely proud of and spoke of to anyone who would listen! In times of trouble, her compassion and generosity knew no bounds. Without hesitation she would offer help, comfort, guidance – whatever was needed.


Anna was a true force of nature and lover of life. In the last months of her life, she could be found in her bikini suntanning while her grandchildren swam and she and Don would dance to Neil Diamond after dinner. Anna epitomised grace, kindness and timelessness. She touched the lives of so many and will be deeply missed by all members of her family and wide circle of friends.


Her family will honour Anna with a private gathering. There will be a Celebration of Life after the COVID-19 pandemic has passed.  In lieu of flowers we ask that in Anna’s memory a donation be made to one of two favourite charities, the National Ballet Company or the National Ballet School.  Condolences may be forwarded through