Professor Hartwell Bowsfield was York’s first archivist

York University lost one of its founders when Professor Hartwell Bowsfield died in Toronto on Sunday, Aug. 10. 

Born in Toronto in 1922, he received his BA from the University of Manitoba in 1948. Prof. Bowsfield served as the provincial archivist for the Province of Manitoba from 1952 to 1967. He was also the secretary of Manitoba’s Historic Sites Advisory Board. 

Left: Hartwell Bowsfield in a photograph taken during his time as the provincial archivist for the Province of Manitoba

Prof. Bowsfield left the provincial archives to pursue his doctorate, a degree conferred by the University of Toronto in 1977. He made significant contributions to the history of Western Canada, including his edition of The James Wickes Taylor Papers, 1859-1870 (1968), two books on Louis Riel (1969 and 1971), numerous articles and three volumes for the Hudson’s Bay Record Society (he was also the society’s general editor). His studies were interrupted in 1970, when he was recruited by Dean John Saywell to become York’s first University archivist, as well as lecturer (1970-1973) and later associate professor (1973-1978) with the Department of History. 

When not busy with the pursuit of major acquisitions for the York University Archives – such as the correspondence of Lady Victoria Welby he acquired in 1970, which still attracts researchers from the United Kingdom and Europe – he continued to write on the Canadian West, and lectured on archives administration at the University of Toronto. 

Prof. Bowsfield chaired the Archives Section of the Canadian Historical Association and was an active member of the Toronto Area Archivists Group. He retired from York University in 1988, and was inducted into its Founders Society in Nov. 1999. He donated his books and papers to York University in 2003 and remained a supporter of the Clara Thomas Archives until his death. 

Prof. Bowsfield’s lengthy career as York’s first University archivist created a solid foundation of research collections for the benefit of future generations of faculty and students, which, along with his many important contributions to historical scholarship, will remain his enduring legacy to Canadian society.

For more information on his many published works, visit the Manitoba Historical Society Web page.