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Elsie Park Gowan

Elsie Park Gowan, the Edmonton radio playwright famous for her series of live-to-air plays, New Lamps for Old, first broadcast on CKUA in 1937.Elsie Park Gowan was an actress and English teacher who, in the early days of Edmonton radio, worked with writing partner Gwen Pharis Ringwood to produce plays that would be broadcast on CKUA and the CBC.

By the end of her playwriting career, Gowan had produced more than 200 dramatic pieces for radio, broadcast nationally and internationally, reaching countries as varied as the United States, Great Britain, Australia, the Caribbean and South America.

Beginning in 1933, CKUA's radio drama department was under the direction of Sheila Marryat, the first full-time employee of the station. She founded the CKUA Players, a collection of amateur actors who had acted in Edmonton's Little Theatre, the University Dramatic Society and the Dickens Society. Among the radio cast members was Merna Hirtle, who later would become the wife of W.O. Mitchell, the High River, Alta.-based author and playwright who wrote several hundred episodes of Jake and the Kid for CBC Radio.
 Featured Audio
 

Arts Alberta #100
In this episode of Arts Alberta, broadcast on April 9, 1987,
Gowan speaks with Brian Dunsmore about her creative
writing program at Strathcona Seniors Centre in Edmonton,
where she then lived, and some of the people she has met, including Peggy Holmes, a fellow resident who was an
author and radio broadcaster both locally and nationally
for CBC Radio. At the time, Holmes was best known as
Canada's oldest radio broadcaster. Gowan also talks
about her childhood and writing.
 
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In a cleaning spree in 1954, Gowan disposed of many of the New Lamps for Old scripts that had brought her and Ringwood to the attention of radio listeners when the plays were broadcast first on CKUA in 1936 and 1937. There were 20 dramas in all, ranging from 30 to 60 minutes in length, for which the pair were paid $5 per script. The plays were history-driven dramas that focused on famous personages involved with humanitarian causes or who changed the course of history. These included Socrates, Florence Nightingale, Galileo, Beethoven, James Watt, and feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft - whose daughter Mary Shelley, would write in 1818 the horror classic, Frankenstein.

The next series The Building of Canada would be broadcast on CKUA in 1937 and 1938, and on the national CBC network a year later. The series used as its lead characters fictionalized observers, common citizens who witnessed Canadian political, social and cultural developments and discoveries and were affected by them.

Gowan would give up her writing career after being widowed in 1958, but would teach high school from 1959-71, and then work as a writing instructor for seniors until she retired in her late 80s.

Gowan and Ringwood's writing is discussed at length in "Making Community History: The Radio Plays of Ringwood and Gowan," an essay by Athabasca University English instructor Anne Nothof found in Edmonton: The Life of a City, edited by Bob Hesketh and Frances Swyripa, published in 1995 by NeWest Press of Edmonton. In 1992, NeWest Press also published The Hungry Spirit: Selected Plays and Prose (http://www.newestpress.com/bios/gowan.html). This collection spans 20 years of her writing, and features scripts, and essays exploring such issues as child care and women's rights.

In 1999, Elsie Park Gowan died in her sleep at the age of 94 of complications from Parkinson's disease. She had been honoured for her dramatic writing four years earlier by Theatre Alberta in a gala evening at the Timms Centre on the University of Alberta Campus. A commemorative plaque at Edmonton's Citadel Theatre honours her 1993 induction into the City of Edmonton Cultural Hall of Fame.
 

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