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
Arts Alberta #100
In this episode of Arts Alberta, broadcast on April 9, 1987,
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
and radio broadcaster both locally and nationally
for CBC Radio. At the
time, Holmes was best known as
Canada's oldest radio broadcaster. Gowan
about her childhood and writing.
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.