Daybreak Alberta host Russell Bowers says goodbye after 25 years on the air

Broadcaster farewells are too often self-serving affairs. So instead of banging on about ending this one chapter in my life, rather than my career (which isn’t over), I wanted to share with you a story about my father.

Steadman R. Bowers is a quiet man, not given to displays of ego, but he is immensely proud to have been born in the country of Newfoundland, even a depression-era one, in 1932. He was the first in his family to go to a postsecondary institution, and at the Mount Allison University, he learned to become a teacher. In 1959, he started his life as an educator on Bell Island, N.L., and a United Church school, Jackson Memorial.

  • LISTEN |  Russell Bowers speaks with two pop culture icons, comic book writer, Stan Lee, and Star Wars actor, Billy Dee Williams

Daybreak Alberta18:58The Best of Daybreak, Part One

During the decades of the 60s and 70s when he was in his prime, corporal punishment was commonly used by teachers to maintain control in the classroom. Having failed to do it with engaging lessons or genuine concern for the children, a ruler or pointer was often produced to enforce discipline. As kids, we often joked that the only reason you didn’t get hit in school is because you were off sick that day.

Russell Bowers speaks to the audience at a Daybreak Alberta remote recording session at Lunchbox Theatre for the Social Media Breakfast group, 2017. (CBC)

During Grades 7 and 8, my father was my homeroom teacher and he taught history and literature, mainly.  And even though I was familiar with Mr. Bowers from home, something was different in the classroom. And I could see it in the other kids too. There was a core of 20-25 kids I went to school with from Grade 7-12 at St. Boniface High, and so with a school of only 300 kids, rather than go from room to room for lessons, teachers came round to us. And it was clear to me even then, when Mr. Bowers walked in, the mood was different.

  • LISTEN | Russell Bowers with TV legend, Joyce DeWitt of Three’s Company

Daybreak Alberta22:08The Best of Daybreak, Part Two

Two years ago, my father wrote a book, at age 87, about his experiences in his hometown of Woodstock, his days in Sackville, N.B., attending school, and his early years as a teacher. When I posted about it on Facebook, the comments became flooded by former students from his 33-year career, all reflecting on what they remembered about having Mr. Bowers as a teacher. (And it was always Mr. Bowers. We did have teachers we called Gary, or Lew, or Peter, but even the other teaching staff said Mr. Bowers.)  

Russell Bowers and actor, Michelle Thrush, laugh during a live recording for Daybreak in 2013. (CBC )

In over three decades in a classroom, my father never struck a child. That might seem like a ridiculous claim in this century but once upon a time, that was an accomplishment. Sure he might raise his voice, and if things got really serious, someone would get sent to the principal, but most of us knew that in history class or literature, you were paying attention. My father told stories about Napoleon. Regaled us with Leiningen Versus the Ants. Sure he wrote notes on the board with his ever present chalk pen, but he wanted us to learn, rather than recite.

  • LISTEN | Russell Bowers with ‘the excellence of execution,’ Bret The Hitman Hart

Daybreak Alberta18:58The Best of Daybreak, Part Three

He understood long before it became part of a teacher’s training that psychology was important to maintaining a child’s attention. Threats or imminent violence wasn’t nearly so effective as just being a decent person and speaking to students as you would anyone else. Again, not a radical concept in 2021, but in 1960, that era was like a joke you don’t find funny … you had to be there.

Russell Bowers, left, in 2013 with Canada’s Walk of Fame member, former pro wrestler, Bret ‘The Hitman’ Hart, right. (CBC)

Somewhere in the back of my mind, all this sunk into the career I’ve tried to have for myself.  At CBC Radio, I knew I could never interview a book. Delving deeply into a book’s content with the author was a job much better done by Shelagh Rogers or Eleanor Wachtel. There was no point in me trying to copy them. I could never interview a play, a craft fair, or a financial services product. So in a world where a person has so many choices when they get out of bed, I wanted to know why people did what they did. I didn’t want a message. I wanted a story from my guests. If a listener at home could hear their values come through in the conversation, then they’d be more likely to seek out that book, that expertise, or that musician.  

  • LISTEN | Russell Bowers with Giller Prize winning author, Will Ferguson

Daybreak Alberta22:08The Best of Daybreak, Part Four

As I wrap up this part of my life, permit me to credit my father with teaching me that we should do things in a way that’s most human. Not by design or because that’s how it’s done, or how everyone does it.  

Russell Bowers presents a pair of coveted Daybreak pyjama bottoms to a listener at a Daybreak at Night recording in Banff, 2017 (CBC)

So, I’ll confess this as I wrap up my time at CBC for now. In my 25 years with the “Corp,” I never did a tap of work. I snuck through the doors in 1994 and found a place to make my niche, play around with ideas, try things, make mistakes, innovate, and have a few little victories. Peter Gzowski once said that at the CBC, “your highest compliment is a lack of criticism.” If that’s true, I must have been highly praised.

  • LISTEN | Russell Bowers with international rock superstar, Meat Loaf on Daybreak Alberta 

Daybreak Alberta18:57The Best of Daybreak, Part Five

Certainly I owe much to the Canadian cities where I have been proud to work and live over the course of 25 years. St. John’s, where I started and now return, a place colourful in experience and people. Fredericton, the first Canadian city I ever visited outside of Newfoundland when I was 25, you opened the country for me. Calgary, my home at three different times in my life, and Edmonton, one of my favourite places to work … and shop!  Alberta showed me what self-reliance and hard work was all about. Toronto and Vancouver, they gave me a sense of how big and diverse this country is and the potential for greatness we all possess. To Prince George, a place built with toughness and resilience. And to my beloved Prince Rupert. You gave my life meaning and courage.  I often regret leaving but I will walk again in the rain on Kaien Island.

  • LISTEN | In this final segment, Russell Bowers looks back at his conversations with late CBC broadcaster, Stuart McLean

Daybreak Alberta22:08The Best of Daybreak, Part Six

A lesson I also learned from my father is that “it’s a strange road that has no turns.” So, if life is a highway, long may you run, with many roadside attractions.

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