Gowan, Elsie Park

Elsie Park Gowan (née Young), playwright (b at Helensburgh, Scotland 9 September 1905; d at Edmonton 2 Feb 1999). Gowan immigrated with her family to Edmonton in 1912 and worked as a rural teacher prior to attending the University of Alberta to acquire an Honours BA in History (1926-30). Her involvement with the University Dramatic Society and its director, Elizabeth Sterling HAYNES, encouraged her to express through theatre her interest in historical, economic and social issues, often from a strong liberal feminist and socialist perspective.

Between 1930 and 1958, Gowan became a dynamic participant in educational and community theatre in Edmonton and the province, serving as an adjudicator and instructor for the Banff School of Fine Arts (seeBANFF CENTRE), and core member of the Edmonton Little Theatre. However, her major contribution was through her plays for stage and radio, including Breeches From Bond Street (1949), a witty portrayal of the reception of a mail-order bride in southern Alberta. Her three-act comedy, The Last Caveman, premiered at the Edmonton LITTLE THEATRE in 1938 and toured in 1946-47 with Everyman Theatre, one of Western Canada's first professional theatre companies, However, because of limited opportunities for live stage production, Gowan began writing extensively for radio (seeRADIO DRAMA, ENGLISH-LANGUAGE).

Her first two series of historical plays for radio, New Lamps for Old, co-written with Gwen Pharis RINGWOOD in 1936-37, and The Building of Canada (1937-38), were commissioned by the University of Alberta station CKUA. They were re-broadcast by the CBC, reaching a national audience. Gowan wrote over 200 scripts for local and national radio between 1939 and 1958, some reaching audiences in America, Britain, Australia, the Caribbean and South America. Her series writing in particular provides a valuable perspective on a changing Canadian society during and after the war, exploring issues such as pensions, social welfare, mental illness, prison rehabilitation, dysfunctional families, daycare, unwed pregnancy and the changing status of women.

Gowan's return to teaching after her husband's death in 1958 effectively ended her writing career, but she continued to lead writing workshops, especially for seniors. For her contribution to Canadian culture as a teacher, historian, and playwright she was awarded a Canadian Drama Award (1942), a Provincial Achievement Award for Excellence in Literature (1977), an honorary doctorate from the University of Alberta (1982) and inclusion in the Edmonton Hall of Fame (1993).