Memorable Manitobans: John Alexander Bovey (1934-2005)

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John Alexander Bovey
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Born on 11 February 1934, only child of Edith and Reginald Bovey, the seeds of John’s lifelong enthusiasms were sewn during his happy childhood in Vancouver. He was educated in Vancouver and received his BA and MA degree in history from the University of British Columbia, and undertook graduate research at the University of London, England.

John had a distinguished archival career of over 35 years, and in retirement he continued to contribute to the profession. He was Archivist of the Northwest Territories in the early 1960s, Provincial Archivist of Manitoba (1967-1979) and Provincial Archivist of British Columbia from 1979 until his retirement in 1998. He also served as the Archivist of the Diocese of Rupertsland and that of the Ecclesiastical Province of Rupertsland. Among his proudest achievements during his Manitoba tenure were the 1973 deposit agreement for the transfer of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives from London, England, to Winnipeg; and the transformation of the former Civic Auditorium into the Provincial Archives Building in 1975.

In British Columbia, he established the Community Archives Assistance Program and was a founding member of the BC Archives Council. His contributions to the archival profession were many, including his early promotion of the use of the Internet for archival reference and research and the period he served as chair of the Provincial Documents Committees in Manitoba and British Columbia. He served on many historical and community boards including the Canadian Conference of Historical Resources, the Manitoba Record Society, and the Historical Sites and Monuments Board of Canada. John became involved with the Manitoba Historical Society shortly after his arrival in Winnipeg in 1967. He was an active member of the MHS Council and served as chair of the Margaret McWilliams Awards committee for several years. Following his return to Winnipeg, he again became a member of the Council, and joined the Sir John A. Macdonald Dinner committee and the Centennial Farms committee. At the time of his death, he was a member of the Council of St. John’s College (University of Manitoba), Manitoba Historical Society, Friends of the BC Archives, and the Vestry of All Saints Church.

Perhaps the most remarkable characteristic of John’s distinguished career was his distinctive genius for bringing to life historical material that would otherwise have been forbiddingly dry, arcane or obscure. In the 1980s he shared his seemingly endless supply of revealing - and often hilarious - historical anecdotes with a wide audience during a regular weekly spot on a CBC radio program. His command of historical fact was formidable, but always offset by his ready wit, modesty and evangelical confidence in the importance of history. John was an omnivorous reader and brilliant conversationalist, who carefully recorded items of particular interest, amusement or irony in a little black book. He enthusiastically pursued interests including maritime history, opera, horticulture, gastronomy, art and literature, which he shared with his wife, children, family, and an army of devoted friends. A man of enormous charm and generosity, John demonstrated his affection for his friends and family with subtlety and imagination. Always loquacious, John’s company was entertaining and instructive, as were his inimitable postcards and envelopes of newspaper cuttings.

He and wife Patricia had two daughters.

He died at Winnipeg on 12 January 2005.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Winnipeg Auditorium / Archives of Manitoba / Manitoba Legislative Library (200 Vaughan Street, Winnipeg)

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Mitchell House (45 East Gate, Winnipeg)


Obituary, Winnipeg Free Press, 16 January 2005.

This page was prepared by Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 26 December 2021

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

This is a collection of noteworthy Manitobans from the past, compiled by the Manitoba Historical Society. We acknowledge that the collection contains both reputable and disreputable people. All are worth remembering as a lesson to future generations.

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