Carmel Gowan: From Speedy Creek to The Moulin Rouge

If you ever shared a bedroom with a sibling or siblings you know it ain’t easy.  The Gowan girls, Juanita and Shirley and Carmel, shared the tiny room at the top of the stairs that was my sister Heather’s room when I was growing up. I can’t imagine how three of them managed that for so many years without killing one another and I wonder if the lack of privacy wasn’t a motivating factor in my Aunt Carmel running off to join the circus when she was only seventeen.

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While at The Canadian National Exhibition with the Boy’s Band (see last post), she’d seen a roper in The Autry Show and, knowing she could do 24 more tricks than her, she travelled down to Bangor, Maine and got an audition with Gene Autry, The Singing Cowboy. He gave her a job touring with his show and she began to make a name for herself in the USA.

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In 1958 she appeared on The Captain Kangaroo Show. According to the program description, the Captain turned his playhouse into a ranch to make her feel more comfortable. It’s doubtful that would have made Carmel feel more comfortable. She told me once that the only thing she liked about Saskatchewan were the sunsets and the honey. I remember a bumper sticker on her van that said, “Bee Healthy: Eat Your Honey”.

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She wanted to see the world and in 1958 Ed Sullivan’s agent Mark Leddy landed her a booking at The Moulin Rouge in Paris. Many agents saw her that month, which led to bookings in Morocco and then the Lido in Algeria, where there was a war going on. She heard machine guns in the streets and rarely left her Hotel. From there she did Madrid, Hamburg, the Blackpool Circus in England and many other night clubs on a two year European tour. Here’s some footage from a television appearance she made in France in 1958:

She’d come a long way, but there were still things she wanted to see.

13 thoughts on “Carmel Gowan: From Speedy Creek to The Moulin Rouge

    1. She saw a rodeo clown named Bobby Hill doing rope tricks at Frontier Days in Swift Current when she was eight years old. She went home and started practicing. Check out the previous post on The Swift Current Boys Band for more details.

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  1. Carmel is intriguing, Lee. While women in society almost all zigged back then, she zagged. That took balls to say no to all the social expectations she would have been fed along the way. The how is interesting to me: did your family encourage her to do her own thing? Did she have to rebel to get her way? I can only imagine the number of times she had to stand up for herself backstage. And the loneliness on the road. But she did it and she left her mark and now our class is talking about her and wanting to know her and her daughter, Kim, better. Please write more. ~ Alison 🙂

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  2. Carmel was and is definitely a rebel. As you can tell, I love the way her story connects the West to the East and to such a significant portion of 20th Century history. She’s a remarkable woman.

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  3. This is so amazing!! Carmel is my mom’s cousin, Joan Gowan Ryan, her Bday is coming up on Friday December 14, 2018 (born in1933). Carmel performed her show in our living room at 22 Margaret St. Saranac Lake, NY, in the 1960’s ,for all of us kids. My sister told me, I was only a baby, Rosemary Ryan then. Carmel was amazing!! Is she still with us? Mom would love to hear from her if so!

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