Memorable Manitobans: Hartwell Walter Lewis “Hart” Bowsfield (1922-2008)
Born at Toronto, Ontario on 7 July 1922, one of three children of Walter James Bowsfield (1878-1961) and May Jane Bowsfield (c1892-1978), he was came to Winnipeg with his family in 1936 and was educated at the University of Manitoba (BA Honours).
During the Second World War, he served as a gunner with the Royal Canadian Air Force. Returning from military duty, he did graduate work at McGill University (Montreal) and Lehigh University (Bethlehem, Pennsylvania). He was the Provincial Archivist of Manitoba 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. In the 1960s, he served on the Historical Committee of the Manitoba Centennial Corporation. 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.
He left the Manitoba Archives in 1967 to pursue a doctorate, which he received from the University of Toronto in 1977. The topic of his doctoral thesis was Manitoba-Minnesota relations between 1812 and 1870. His studies were interrupted in 1970, when he was recruited to become the first archivist of York University (Toronto), as well as lecturer (1970-1973) and later associate professor (1973-1978) 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 unmarried at Toronto, Ontario on 10 August 2008 and his cremains were buried in Manitoba. His books and papers were donated in 2003 to the York University Archives and Special Collections.
His articles for the Manitoba Historical Society:
Attestation papers [Walter James Bowsfield], Canadian Expeditionary Force, Library and Archives Canada.
Obituary [Walter James Bowsfield], Winnipeg Tribune, 4 August 1961.
Obituary [May Jane Bowsfield], Winnipeg Free Press, 11 February 1978, page 53.
Obituary [Hart W. Bowsfield], Winnipeg Free Press, 23 August 2008.
This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.
Page revised: 13 February 2023