The man with his face in shadow riding the horse and holding the banner is my father, Joe Gowan. The woman holding up the other side of the banner is my Aunt Juanita.
Charlie Warren was the Bandmaster of The Swift Current Boys Band, the proprietor of Warren’s Funeral Home in Swift Current, and a close friend of my grandfather, Nelson Gowan. It was Charlie Warren who gave my father the manual from which he learned the art of taxidermy.
The last time I said good bye to my father was in Warren’s Funeral Home.
He didn’t answer.
Formed as The Swift Current Air Cadets Band in 1944, The Swift Current Boys Band became ambassadors for the city as it entered its greatest economic boom in the 1950s. Nelson Gowan volunteered his children and his horses (taking them to Calgary at his own expense) to lead the band into competition at the 1950 Calgary Stampede.
The band won first prize. Here’s how a booklet published to celebrate its 10th Anniversary described the event: “Juanita Gowan on a prancing steed, carrying a small banner first caught the eye of the spectators. Behind her came her brothers, Howard and Joe, carrying a new banner between them. They were also mounted on beautiful horses. Then came sisters Shirley and Carmel in a rope spinning act, the majorette corps, drum major Lloyd Payne, and finally the musicians themselves.”
Aunt Carmel and Aunt Shirley had seen Bobby Hill, the rodeo clown, trick-rope at the Frontier Days Fair in Swift Current in 1942. They were impressed enough that they started practicing every day. More than anything else, it was their distinctive skill that differentiated The Swift Current Boys Band from all the rest and led them to three straight titles at the Calgary Stampede.
In 1952 the band and horses travelled by train to Toronto to compete against marching bands from across Canada and the US at the Canadian National Exhibition. This time they finished third. My Uncle Howard donned a uniform that had been worn by Major General Frederick Middleton (who led troops west to crush the Riel Rebellion) and my father wore Superintendent James Walsh’s NorthWest Mounted Police uniform (according to Walsh, he once rode into Sitting Bull’s Sioux encampment at Wood Mountain with six men and told the chief and a few thousand warriors, some displaying the scalps of American cavalrymen, that they’d better behave themselves if they were going to stay in Canada).
It was the girls, though, with their magic ropes, who created the greatest sensation.
I wonder what happened to all those boys. If you know any of them (or any of the majorettes), please leave a response in the box below.