Humboldt’s Celebrity Songstress
“I can even think in poetry.”
– Inez Bower, Toronto Daily Star, Tuesday, May 24, 1955
Mrs. Inez Bower, a beloved local “tunesmith” who played the organ for Westminster United Church, conducted the high school orchestra and was well known by family and friends for her ability to compose and perform her own songs, became a national celebrity in the 1950s.
“Mrs. Bower’s compositions about familiar things around her home have catapulted her into the top brackets of Canadian songwriters.”
The Vancouver Sun, Tuesday, August 16, 1955
Her most famous recording was a song called “The Old Red River Cart”. The editor of the Humboldt Journal at the time had asked Inez to compose a piece of music that would honour Saskatchewan’s heritage, to be performed as part of the celebration of the province’s 50th anniversary in 1955. Inez rose to the occasion and the result was the song that brought her national attention. Her simple, sweetly sentimental style of musical storytelling really struck a chord with audiences all across the country.
Inez Bower and Harry Ford riding in one of Harry’s Red River Carts, c. 1955.
Born Inez Rumble in 1900 in Iowa, she immigrated with her family to Rouleau, Saskatchewan in 1913. She came to Humboldt in the 1930s after she married Frank C. Bower, and together they raised two sons, Duane and Dennis. The family is pictured here in front of their house on Livingstone Street (now Ninth Street) across from St. Andrew’s Anglican Church.
At age 14, she started composing music as a way of exploring the world around her and celebrating the people and places that she loved. At the height of her celebrity, in August of 1955 the Calgary Herald asked her how many pieces of music she had composed. Her reply was “Oh, I think about 100.”
Inez wrote and performed “The Old Red River Cart” for Humboldt’s celebration of Saskatchewan’s 50th Anniversary in 1955. This photo was taken during her performance on the stage in the old City Hall. Soon afterwards, she began touring the country to promote her recently recorded songs.
After visiting Grey Owl’s Cabin in Prince Albert National Park with her family, Inez was inspired by the strange story of Grey Owl, a British-born conservationist, fur trapper and writer. His real name was Archibald Stansfeld Belaney, and, for many years, he pretended to be a First Nations man. She had also spent time with Grey Owl’s daughter Shirley Dawn, and from these experiences she wrote “Tale Of An Empty Cabin” and “Little Wild Rose, Shirley Dawn”.
Inez and Frank C. Bower with their sons Duane and Dennis in front of Grey Owl’s Cabin in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan.
Dennis Bower and Shirley Dawn, Grey Owl’s daughter, and Jelly Roll the beaver.
A Tragic End
Inez Bower enjoyed her success for only four short years after the release of “The Old Red River Cart”.
On the evening of September 21, 1959, on the way home from their grandson’s christening in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Inez and Frank were struck in a head-on collision near Muenster, Saskatchewan. Frank survived but suffered severe injuries, and Inez was killed instantly.
Her funeral services were held at Westminster United Church where she had been a part of the musical life of the congregation for many years.
Gone But Not Forgotten
Dennis Bower, the younger son of Frank and Inez, worked as a switcher for CBC Television in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He brought his mother’s music to the attention of the producers of the Red River Jamboree. In 1961, two years after her death, Inez Bower’s music was featured on an episode that aired on May 27. Dennis was the switcher for that episode and was mentioned by name on the air.
Dennis Bower at work as a switcher for CBC television in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
Inez Bower’s heartfelt lyrics and sweet melodies give us a unique insight into this remarkable musician’s life and loves, and ensure her place in Canada’s rich musical history.