"It’s important to recognize that things don’t get done unless volunteers step up and help drive important community projects to a successful conclusion."
William (Bill) Bowes has offered over 50 years of service as a dedicated community builder and volunteer for Alberta's Peace Region and a respected leader in newspaper publishing throughout the province and across Canada.
William Harold Bowes was born in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan on March 25, 1925. His father, Harold, served as principal of Moose Jaw Tech and taught French and German while his mother, Ruth, worked to raise their family of six children. Bill’s early years were touched by the same powerful forces that shaped many of his generation: the Great Depression, the pervasive effects of drought on the prairie landscape and the Second World War.
When Bill was 16 years old, his father went overseas to put his language skills to use monitoring enemy transmissions for the Allied Forces. Meanwhile, Ruth and the children moved to Ingersoll, Ontario to be closer to extended family. Bill completed his schooling and did whatever he could to earn some money, often taking on hard labour for little pay. With his father stationed in Europe and his elder brother, Jim, writing for the Canadian military newspaper The Maple Leaf it wasn’t long before Bill heeded his own call to serve. He enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and was shipped overseas as a navigator with 424 Squadron. Bill flew from a base in England until discharged in 1946.
In addition to a commitment to military service, the Bowes family enjoyed a tradition of publishing. After the war, Jim Bowes returned to his work in Ontario as a journalist for the London Free Press and convinced Bill to join him in the profession. Bill set about learning the business aspects of publishing and familiarizing himself with print operations. Soon their brothers, David and Howard, joined them and they all became part of what would one day be referred to as the Bowes publishing chain.
The chain had modest beginnings. In 1948, Bill and Jim had saved enough money to buy a small weekly newspaper in Dresden, Ontario. Soon after, Bill heard two travelling salesmen remark that if they were younger, they’d invest in a weekly newspaper that was up for grabs in a small town called Grande Prairie, Alberta. The Bowes brothers knew next to nothing about the region but their curiosity had been piqued. They bought the Grande Prairie Herald Tribune in 1950 and Bill embarked on a journey that would lead him to great success as a business leader and central figure in the development of the growing community.
Jim set about bringing the paper up to date while Bill looked after the business end of operations. From his office window, he would often see Margaret O’Brien on her way to work at a nearby car dealership and made a point of chatting with her whenever possible. They soon discovered that they were a perfect pair and were married in 1952. Over the years they welcomed four boys to their family: Bill Jr., Rick, Dave and Steve. A devoted family man, Bill would often take time out from business and community commitments to coach his sons’ hockey and baseball teams and to support his boys in their various activities.
As the family grew so did the roster of newspapers under Bowes management. In time, the chain would expand to include over 100 weekly newspapers from Nova Scotia to the B.C. Interior. Bill would also contribute to the industry as president of the Alberta Weekly Newspaper Association and a director of the Canadian Weekly Newspaper Association. Bill began to add other business ventures to his publishing holdings, including retail, real estate and self-storage concerns. The Bowes family eventually sold the publishing chain to Sun Media in 1988.
The energy and enthusiasm that Bill has devoted to his businesses over the years has been equalled by the commitment and generosity he has invested in bettering his community. He has served as a longstanding leader with a wide range of Grande Prairie organizations, including the Rotary Club, the Chamber of Commerce, the Industrial Development Commission, the local Music Festival Association, the Grande Prairie Regional College Foundation and the Alberta Colleges Commission. He has helped to support the preservation of Peace Country history through contributions to the Grande Prairie Museum Regional Heritage Discovery Centre and has honoured his military background through his longstanding membership in the Royal Canadian Legion and his work to preserve the local armoury as a centre for cadets and other community groups.
Bill has also worked to ensure a healthier future for his fellow citizens. His contributions to health care include his service as South Peace chairman for the Provincial First Aid Community Training Program, as a member of the Queen Elizabeth II Hospital Foundation Board and as a generous donor to the hospital’s MRI facility.
Bill’s abilities as a consummate community organizer were particularly useful in his work as co-chairman of the 1995 Canada Winter Games Committee. Grande Prairie’s successful turn as host to the Games is due in no small part to the excellent work Bill and his team did to raise both funds and public enthusiasm for the event. In fact, they were so successful that Grande Prairie set a nation-wide precedent for Canada Games support and still had enough funds remaining to create a $1 million legacy that has been used to foster sports and community development for current and future generations of Peace Country residents. In addition, a significant financial contribution from Jim and Bill Bowes helped spur construction of the Bowes Family Crystal Gardens, a downtown multi-use facility that now forms part of the Canada Games Arena complex.
The tremendous dedication and reliability Bill Bowes has demonstrated as a community leader has led to numerous awards and honours, including Grande Prairie Citizen of the Year and “Down Towner” of the Year, the Paul Harris Fellowship from Rotary International, the Canada 125 Commemorative Medal and the Board of Governors’ Award of Distinction from Grande Prairie Regional College. He is a Member of the Venerable Order of St. John Ambulance, an Honourary Member of the Grande Prairie and District Chamber of Commerce and was awarded a Life Membership in the Royal Canadian Legion.
Bill’s impressive record of service has positively influenced the vitality of the business community, both in Alberta and across Canada, while fostering a better and stronger quality of life for the people of Grande Prairie, the Peace Country region and the province as a whole.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence