Memorable Manitobans: Hartwell Walter Lewis Bowsfield (1922-2008)
Born at Toronto, Ontario on 7 July 1922, son of Walter and Mary Bowsfield, he was educated at the University of Manitoba (BA Honours), and did PhD work at McGill University (Montreal) and Lehigh University (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania). The topic of his doctoral thesis was Manitoba-Minnesota relations between 1812 and 1870. He was the Manitoba provincial archivist from 1952 to 1967. Many searchers into all phases of Manitoba history are deeply indebted to him for patient pursuit of answers to their queries. Of him, one of our most distinguished historians remarked that he always went the second mile, not only finding what they sought but adding material they did not know existed.
A contributor to five encyclopedias, editor for the Manitoba Record Society of the letters of Consul James Wickes Taylor, entitled The James Wickes Taylor Correspondence, 1859-1870, he also produced talks and scripts for CBC productions in radio and television. He was secretary of the Historic Sites Advisory Board of Manitoba, on the council of the Champlain Society, chairman of the archives and local history sections of the Canadian Historical Association. He was closely associated with the Manitoba Historical Society, serving as a judge of the Margaret McWilliams Medal competitions, member of the Council, and editor of its magazine Manitoba Pageant. In 1970, the Society awarded him its Manitoba Centennial Medal for his contributions to the preserving and promoting the history of Manitoba. During the Second World War, he served as a gunner with the Royal Canadian Air Force.
He left the Manitoba archives to pursue his doctorate, which he received from the University of Toronto in 1977. His studies were interrupted in 1970, when he was recruited to become the first archivist of York University (Toronto), as well as lecturer (1970 to 1973) and later associate professor (1973 to 1978) with its Department of History. He continued to make significant contributions to the history of Western Canada. He edited Louis Riel, Rebel of the Western Frontier or Victim of Politics and Prejudice? (1969), wrote Louis Riel, The Rebel and the Hero (1971), and compiled Selkirk (1968), a collection of facsimile documents pertaining to Lord Selkirk. He compiled three volumes for the Hudson’s Bay Record Society: Letters of Charles John Brydges 1879-1882 (1977), Fort Victoria Letters 1846-1851 (1979), and Letters of Charles John Brydges 1883-1889 (1981). He also served as the first Canadian general editor of the Hudson’s Bay Record Society, starting in 1975. He was an active member of the Toronto Area Archivists Group. He retired from York University in 1988, and was inducted into its Founders Society in November 1999.
He died at Toronto on 10 August 2008 and was buried in Manitoba. His book and papers were donated in 2003 to the York University Archives and Special Collections.
His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 1 December 2018
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