The Honourable John J. Bowlen was a very successful rancher and farmer and was active in provincial politics and public affairs. He was Alberta's oldest serving Lieutenant Governor.
John James Bowlen was born on July 21, 1876, at Cardigan, Prince Edward Island. He was the son of Michael Bowlen and Mary Casey and was educated at the Cardigan School. John J. Bowlen was a Roman Catholic.
On July 11, 1900, he married Caroline Suive, daughter of Joseph A. Suive, of Boston, Massachusetts. They had three children: Dr. J.J., Mary H., and Alice M.
After spending his early years working in Boston, Massachusetts; Prince Edward Island; and Manitoba; John J. Bowlen purchased a farm near Muenster, Saskatchewan, in 1906. In order to maintain this farm, he began buying and selling horses. In 1910, he purchased a ranch near Rosebud, Alberta. He sold this ranch in 1917 and bought Tony Day's Q Ranch, which had a range of approximately 100,000 acres and straddled the Alberta-Saskatchewan border along the international boundary with the United States. The nearest town to the ranch buildings was Havre, Montana, and the nearest telegraph office was at Govanlock, Saskatchewan, which was forty miles north of the ranch. In 1920, he sold this ranch and purchased the Brand-27 Ranch near Alderson, which he renamed the Nine-Bar. It eventually became the largest horse ranch in Canada. In 1922, he also began raising cattle on a ranch near Pincher Creek and purchased a farm near Claresholm. When the demand for horses started to decline in 1929, he began raising sheep at the Nine-Bar Ranch. During the period 1942-45, he sold most of his property and tried to retire. In 1946, he bought a farm on the Bow River near Carseland. While he was Lieutenant Governor, he maintained this farm as well as grain farms at Cochrane, Alberta, and Macklin, Saskatchewan. He was President of the Gilchrist Ranching Company and Vice-President of the Union Packing Company and Maysland Estates.
John J. Bowlen was an unsuccessful candidate for the electoral district of North Battleford at the federal general election of 1914. He was first elected to the Alberta Legislature as a Liberal at the general election of June 19, 1930, for the multi-Member Calgary electoral district. He was one of only six Opposition Members to hold his seat in the Social Credit "landslide" of 1935. He was reelected as an Independent in 1940, but was defeated at the 1944 election. In total, he represented Calgary in the Alberta Legislature for fourteen years. He was House Leader for the Liberal Party in 1936 and 1937.
On the advice of Prime Minister Louis St. Laurent, John J. Bowlen was appointed Lieutenant Governor of Alberta effective February 1, 1950. This appointment was made by Viscount Alexander, Governor General of Canada. The Honourable John J. Bowlen was reappointed for a second term. His Secretary was Melvin J. Wright.
John J. Bowlen had many associations and received many honors. He was Vice-President and Honorary President of the Western Stock Growers' Association, Governor of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the first western Canadian to be on the executive of the same organization, Associate Director of the Calgary Exhibition and Stampede, and was a member of the Calgary Public Library Board. As well, he was a member of the Kiwanis, Elks, and Canadian Clubs, and the Knights of Columbus. John J. Bowlen was also an Honorary Chief ("Sitting Eagle") of the Blood Indians (1951), and a Knight of Grace of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (1951). He also received an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Alberta (1952).
John J. Bowlen died in office on December 16, 1959, at Edmonton, Alberta, and he was buried in St. Joachim's Cemetery in that city. A provincial government building in Calgary and a junior high school in Edmonton are named in his memory.