Marjorie Montgomery Bowker




Life and Work

Though born in Prince Edward Island, Marjorie was raised in Wetaskiwin from age four. She obtained all her schooling there, finishing in 1934. She won medals in Grades 8 and 11.

She graduated in 1939 from the University of Alberta with degrees in Arts and Law, and practised with an Edmonton law firm. During the War, Marjorie carried on her husband's practice in that firm.

In 1966 she was appointed Judge of the Family and Juvenile Courts of Alberta, the first woman to hold this position. She served in that capacity for 17 years, retiring in 1983. Throughout most of her time as Judge, she conducted circuit court in Wetaskiwin once a month.

After her retirement she wrote several books on public issues all of which were national best sellers. All were of current concern at the time: "On Guard for Thee" (free trade) 1988; The Meech Lake Accord, 1990; "Canada's Constitutional Crisis: Making Sense of it all" 1991; as well as a booklet on "Canada's National Referendum: What is it all About?" 1992.

She has received many awards - including the Order of Canada in 1990 (the highest civilian honor to be accorded a Canadian); three honorary doctorate degrees, including one from a Women's University in Korea. On November 18, 1995 she was honored at a ceremony in the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa as one of Canada's pioneer women judges.

Her husband, Wilbur Bowker, now retired, was Dean of Law at the University of Alberta for 20 years. They recently celebrated their 55th wedding anniversary. Their 3 adult children are all in the health-care field, two in Ontario, one in Edmonton. There are 7 grandchildren.

Her father was Frank Montgomery (partner in Montgomery Brothers Store and fur ranch) - he died in 1939. Her mother died in 1953 and her brother Jim Montgomery in 1992.

Other members of her family who continue to live in Wetaskiwin are: sister-in-law Irene Montgomery and Donald, Bob, Kathy and their families.


Childhood Memories by Lorna Bowker Pennie
I have always felt greatly privileged to have Marjorie and Wilbur Bowker as my parents. They raised my two brothers and me to be secure and responsible adults who are perpetuating their values in our own homes. To me as their only daughter my mother has been my role model. And now, as a wife, mother and professional myself, I continue to be strongly influenced by my mother in my values, attitudes and activities.

Until my teens, I saw my mother give her priorities to raising a family and serving as a volunteer in many organizations. As a mother, she was serene, wise and encouraging. Her Christian faith has always been paramount in her life and she begins every day with a prayer in which she gives her day to God. She and my father instilled in us several overriding values - honesty, kindness, intellectual curiosity and service to others. The modest yellow house they have lived in for 50 years was a haven of sorts, always tidy and organized, where voices were rarely raised. In our home, opinions were welcome, liberal thought was encouraged, and whenever we finished one book, we were always given another one.

While valuing her role as a wife and mother, my mother was also constantly stretching her mind by learning and studying a wide variety of subjects. If there was something to be done, or started, she did it. She had the courage to speak out for what she thought was right, and taught us not to be concerned with "keeping up with the Joneses." Even though she was often the first or only woman in what was formerly "men's territory," she retained her femininity and graciousness. She has passed on to me her wish to always look her best, and her love of pretty things. When my mother became well-known as a judge and analyst, she applied the same qualities of organization, study, serenity and wisdom to her new roles which she has displayed in our home. She succeeded in balancing her professional life with her family life. We always knew that her family came first.

In commenting on my mother's role as a model to me, it is important to mention her marriage to my father, and the example of a successful partnership they gave to us. An image that permeates my childhood is of the two of them talking - always talking - about their day, their interests, their ideas. It was obvious that they mattered ultimately to each other. The security of their marriage allowed them to blossom as individuals and to make their many contributions in such a variety of areas. So often when people have a high public profile, their private life is less happy, but this is not the case with my parents. They are as exemplary, generous and stimulating in their private as in their public lives.

My mother has always been very proud of her hometown of Wetaskiwin. She often recounted to us stories of her school days, teachers and activities. I have wonderful memories of spending every Easter in Wetaskiwin with my Montgomery cousins and visiting Montgomery's store. One of our most prized possessions is the Montgomery family tree made by my Uncle James Montgomery. And when our daughter was born 12 years ago, we named her Claire Montgomery Pennie, after my mother and the Montgomery connection.

Although my mother is a very strong individual, as her daughter, I was never made to feel that I should be cast in the same mould. In fact, my differences were welcomed and celebrated. Even though I remained single until I was 31, my mother never once mentioned that fact! - or pressured me to be anything other than what I was. She encouraged any educational interest I had, including studying French in Quebec, Italian history in Rome and spending four years at Queens University studying history, with little concern about where it would lead. My parents' interest in service and social issues encouraged me to choose social work as a career. Now that I am married and the mother of two young children, I find myself striving to create the same kind of home my mother did, with the same balance in life that she achieved. Although I am educated with a career, like my mother, I find great satisfaction in being the "household manager" (as my husband calls me!) and to do volunteer work. My husband and I could have no higher goal than to raise our children in the similar atmosphere of unconditional love and acceptance which I experienced growing up in the Bowker home.

In summary, I feel that my mother's success in life can be measured not only in the amazing public success she has achieved as a lawyer, lecturer, judge, writer and activist, but in the fact that she has been happily married for 55 years, is on excellent terms with her adult children and grandchildren, and that she remains serene and contented within herself.

Yours sincerely,
Lorna Bowker Pennie, BA (Hons), MSW


Research and Writing: Jennie Lundell, Roma Simonson and Harriet Liddle
Contributors: Irene Montgomery and Marjorie Bowker
Curator: Harriet Liddle