Skip to main content

The Speakers of the Canadian House of Commons


Hon. James Langstaff Bowman
P.C., K.C. (1935–1936)

Only a few hours before the House reconvened on January 17, 1935, Conservative Prime Minister R.B. Bennett notified James Bowman that he was about to be nominated as Speaker. Two days earlier the previous Speaker, George Black, had resigned for health reasons. A modest lawyer with a commanding voice, Bowman had had no idea that he would be chosen in his first term as an MP. He had previously run against William Ward (a Manitoba farmer and insurance agent) in the Dauphin riding in two general elections, losing each time. Successful at last, Bowman became the first Manitoban to be elected Speaker.

When Bennett announced the nomination in the House — seconded by former Prime Minister Mackenzie King — members on all sides applauded loudly. As was customary at the time, the Speaker’s election was unanimous. Bowman’s inexperience was occasionally evident, as when he failed to appear when a Depression relief bill was about to be reported to the House (pages eventually found him). Nevertheless, members seemed to like his manner and the even-handedness of his rulings.

Although his term would be cut short after less than 13 months by the 1935 general election, during his tenure he presided over several momentous debates. Social legislation was the subject of heated discussion in the House as the Great Depression intensified. To help alleviate large-scale unemployment and hardship, Bennett’s government had already created unemployment relief camps and brought in economic legislation. It was at this time that the Bank of Canada and the Canadian Wheat Board were established. Yet under the British North America Act, 1867, responsibility for social legislation remained with the provinces, not the federal government. This prompted difficult debate on issues such as minimum wages, hours of work, unemployment insurance and labour standards.

In the general elections of 1935 and 1940 Bowman was once again defeated by William Ward, and he returned to his law practice in Manitoba. His service as Speaker was not recognized until 1950, when he was appointed a Privy Councillor.

Bowman was elected to the House of Commons once in five attempts, and found himself Speaker when the post unexpectedly became vacant.

Next Speaker: Hon. Pierre-François Casgrain

Previous Speaker: Hon. George Black

Artist: Kenneth Keith Forbes
Date: circa 1935

Born: Thornhill, Ontario, 1879

Died: 1951

Professional Background: Law

Political Affiliation: Conservative

Political Record:

Prime Minister During Speakership: