Memorable Manitobans: Gordon Thompson “Doc” Howden (1875-1937)
Policeman, actor, theatre manager.
Born at Montreal, Quebec on 31 January 1875, son of James G. Howden and Eleanor Jane Howden, he was educated locally through grade school and attended post-secondary classes at Stanstead College, Bishop’s College, Mount St. Louis College, and McGill University, the last from which he graduated as a medical doctor (1895) and gained his nickname. During his education, he was an officer in the local Cadet Corps. He joined the Northwest Mounted Police (NWMP), working at their Montreal detachment prior to being stationed in North West Territories, including Yukon (1898). He had made Sergeant and returned to Montreal where, by January 1900, he enlisted for military duty with the 1st Canadian Mounted Rifles for service in the South African War. He served as a hospital sergeant, was promoted to Corporal, earned the Queens Medal with Clasps, and was discharged in January 1901. Within a month of his return to NWMP duties, he was posted as an Inspector to the Regina detachment. The precise time that he resigned from the force is uncertain.
He arrived at Winnipeg, reportedly in 1902, in the employ of the Canadian Pacific Railway. By 1904, he worked with Corliss Powers Walker in the theatre and show business. In 1906, he joined the Winnipeg Permanent Players (WPP), a theatre stock company founded by William Blake Lawrence, reportedly Western Canada’s first community play company. It operated out of the Winnipeg Theatre where he was named the Managing Director in 1917, following a stroke suffered by Lawrence. The WPP remained there until the structure’s fiery destruction in 1926, after which they moved to the Playhouse Theatre. He was the troupe’s theatre manager as well as stage actor.
He was active in the community and served on the organizing committees of numerous street parades, including the Winnipeg Golden Jubilee (1924), Dominion Diamond Jubilee (1927), and Manitoba Diamond Jubilee (1930), often as the parade marshall, leading the column atop a white horse. In 1923, he wrote a multi-issue Art of Make-Up industry column for the Winnipeg Tribune. He oversaw the Dominion Theatre, Winnipeg Theatre, and Pantages Theatre, and was a Director of the Winnipeg Amusement Company Limited, Manitoba Amusement Company Limited, Dominion Amusement Company Limited, and served as President (1919) of the Manitoba [Winnipeg] Theatre League, in response to proposed Provincial taxes levied under the Public Amusement Act. He was a member of the Winnipeg Rotary Club, Carleton Club, Elmhurst Golf and Country Club, AF & AM (Master of Tuscan Lodge, Scottish Rite, Royal Arch), Shriners, Order De Molay for Boys, and Anglican Church. His residences included 265 River Avenue around 1920, and later 126 Gerard Street. He is not known to have married, though was a ward to John Mathison Foster (1895-?, son of John Foster), who also worked for the WPP.
He died at the St. Boniface Hospital on 13 May 1937 and was buried in the Elmwood Cemetery.
1901 Canada census, Automated Genealogy.
1906 & 1916 Canada censes, Library and Archives Canada.
Birth [John Mathison Foster] and death [John Foster] registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.
“At old M’Gill,” Montreal Gazette, 24 June 1896, page 2.
“The Montreal Cadet Corps,” Montreal Gazette, 20 December 1889, page 3.
“Reportorial round [Sergt. Gordon T. Howden],” Winnipeg Daily Tribune, 8 February 1901, page 8.
“Local and General [G. T. Howden],” Daily Herald [Calgary Herald], 2 March 1901, page 8.
Obituary [John Foster], Winnipeg Tribune, 8 June 1906, page 9.
“Dominion [... The Dominion Permanent Players ...],” Winnipeg Tribune, 10 September 1910, page 7.
“Wm. B. Lawrence dies, following year of illness,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 16 May 1918, page 8.
“Next week at the theatres,” Winnipeg Tribune, 20 July 1918, page 28.
“Manitoba Theatre League elects officers,” Manitoba Free Press, 25 January 1919, page 30.
“Theatre League elects officers,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 25 January 1919, page 6.
“Theatre League officers ask Govt. to reconsider ‘flu’ ban compensation,” Winnipeg Tribune, 30 January 1919, page 1.
“Accepts rebate of 20 per cent. for compensation,” Winnipeg Tribune, 8 February 1919, page 13.
“‘Doc’ Howden hobnobbing with ‘Snub’ Pollard,” Winnipeg Tribune, 31 July 1920, page 36.
“Congratulations in order to “Doc” Howden,” Manitoba Free Press, 4 January 1921, page 18.
““Doc” Howden secures the best,” Manitoba Free Press, 15 January 1921, page 4.
“Winnipeg Play fans may look for good fare,” Winnipeg Tribune, 21 May 1921, page 31.
“Art of Make-up,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 10 February 1923, page 25.
“Auspicious season predicted for ’Peg,” Winnipeg Tribune, 28 July 1923, page 21.
“‘Doc’ Howden to Marshal civic jubilee parade,” Winnipeg Tribune, 27 May 1924, page 1.
“Old-timers are arriving for Jubilee spread,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 12 June 1924, page 2.
“50 historic years depicted in moving cavalcade as Winnipeg honors Jubilee,” Winnipeg Tribune, 19 June 1924, page 1.
“Local chapter Order de Molay has birthday,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 March 1925, page 11.
“I first saw,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 21 September 1925, page 4.
“School children will play role in Jubilee fete,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 19 January 1927, page 14.
“Enthusiasm at Stock opening,” Winnipeg Tribune, 22 January 1929, page 15.
“Plans for City's participation in Jubilee laid,” Winnipeg Tribune, 25 June 1930, page 2.
“Final Jubilee plans arranged by committee,” Winnipeg Tribune, 8 July 1930, page 3.
“Thousands cheer colorful program presented in park by City's new Canadians,” Winnipeg Tribune, 16 July 1930, page 2.
“G. T. ‘Doc’ Howden, veteran of pioneer stock company, answers final curtain call,” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 13 May 1937, page 16.
Death notice, Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 13 May 1937, page 25.
“Gordon T. Howden dies,” Montreal Gazette, 14 May 1937, page 9.
Obituary, ” Winnipeg Evening Tribune, 17 May 1937, page 19.
Henderson’s Winnipeg and Brandon Directories, Peel’s Prairie Provinces, University of Alberta Libraries.
Companies Office corporation documents (CCA 0059), 78D - Dominion Amusement Company Limited, GR6427, Archives of Manitoba.
Companies Office corporation documents (CCA 0059), 417M - Manitoba Amusement Company Limited, GR6427, Archives of Manitoba.
Companies Office corporation documents (CCA 0059), 615W - Winnipeg Amusement Limited, GR6427, Archives of Manitoba.
Pioneers and Prominent People of Manitoba, Winnipeg: Canadian Publicity Company, 1925.
This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer.
Page revised: 6 September 2021