The Honourable John C. Bowen was the only clergyman who ever held the position of Lieutenant Governor of Alberta. He also served longer than any of Alberta's Lieutenant Governors.
John Campbell Bowen was born on October 3, 1872, at Metcalfe, Osgoode Township, Ontario, and he grew up in Ottawa, Ontario. He was the son of Peter Bowen and Margaret Poaps.
As well as attending public schools in Ontario, John C. Bowen studied at Brandon College, in Brandon, Manitoba, and McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario.
On October 25, 1906, he married Edith Oliver, daughter of Reverend George Leslie Oliver and Margaret McIntyre Oliver, at St. Mary's, Ontario. John C. Bowen and his wife had two daughters: Margaret Gwendolyn and Emma Ruth.
John C. Bowen's first experience in western Canada was as a student harvester in southern Alberta. Later, when he completed his theological training, he held Baptist church pastorates in Dauphin, Manitoba; Broadway Baptist Church in Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Strathcona Baptist Church in Edmonton, Alberta; before becoming Secretary of the Board of Education, Baptist Union of Western Canada. He resigned from this position after one year because of ill health. Returning to Edmonton in 1912, he went into the life insurance business with Mutual Life Assurance of Canada.
In response to the Great War, John C. Bowen went overseas from Edmonton in October, 1915, as Chaplain of the Sixty-third Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force. In England, he was transferred to the Fourteenth Artillery Brigade and served in France for two years with the rank of Captain, returning to Edmonton in July, 1918. After experiencing some ill health resulting from his war service, he reentered the insurance business.
John C. Bowen was a member of the Edmonton Exhibition Board (1921-26) and was also Chairman of Edmonton's Board of Public Welfare and Board of Health. He was elected City Alderman in 1920. He was also a candidate for Mayor of Edmonton in 1928, but was defeated. In 1921, John C. Bowen was elected as one of the five candidates for the multi-Member Edmonton electoral district of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta. He was appointed Liberal House Leader on March 15, 1926. At the general election of June 28, 1926, however, he was defeated and he was also unsuccessful at a by-election for Edmonton held on January 9, 1931.
On the advice of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, John C. Bowen was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Alberta effective March 23, 1937. This appointment was made by Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada.
During his term as Lieutenant Governor, a great deal of John C. Bowen's work related to the conduct of World War II. He helped promote the sale of war bonds, visited military units posted in Alberta, and liaised with the United States Army in Edmonton and in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, during the construction of the Alaska Highway. As well, he became entangled in a serious constitutional dispute when he refused to give Royal Assent to three bills passed by the Alberta Legislature in 1937. Two of the bills would have put banks under the authority of the provincial government. The third, the Accurate News and Information Act, would have forced newspapers to print government rebuttals to stories the Cabinet deemed misleading. All three bills were later declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court of Canada and the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council at Westminster, England. John C. Bowen was reappointed Lieutenant Governor for a second term and continued to serve in that capacity until his successor was appointed effective February 1, 1950.
John C. Bowen was a member of the Northern Alberta Pioneers and Descendants Association and served on the Board of Brandon College, which later became Brandon University. He was an Honorary Colonel of the Canadian Officer Training Corps and a Knight of Grace of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (1948). He was presented with the United States Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm for meritorious services performed for the United States Armed Forces stationed in western Canada from 1943 to 1945 and he received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree (1939) from the University of Alberta.
John C. Bowen died on January 2, 1957, at Edmonton, Alberta, and was buried in the Edmonton Cemetery.