Lee Bowie, who farmed near Penhold, Alta., spent almost 60 years collecting modes of transportation from an earlier time
When Lee Bowie passed away at age 90, he left his family, his farm near Penhold, Alta., and his large collection of carriages and sleighs.
Bowie had been a collector for almost 60 years, and his collection was one of the most extensive in North America, reaching 30 to 40 carriages at its peak.
His family auctioned off the collection in his honour in mid-June.
“This was definitely a passion for Dad,” said his son, Greg Bowie. “He just really enjoyed working with his hands and working with animals.”
Lee Bowie started collecting carriages because he became interested in their history.
“The ingenuity that was put into some of these sleighs and carriages and whatnot, way back 100 plus years ago, is really quite amazing to see,” said Greg. “I think it intrigued Dad a lot, he enjoyed the history around it.”
Greg’s sister, Kim Bowie, said her father often gave her mother rides around the countryside.
“Mom and Dad both really enjoyed going on a carriage ride on the country roads,” she said.
“All the neighbours thought Dad was this big romantic guy.”
Although both Kim and Greg had moved out by the time their father started collecting carriages and sleighs in earnest, they still got to enjoy them.
“Every Christmas, it was tradition for us to get out on a sleigh ride,” Greg said. “And in the years when there wasn’t enough snow, we’ve hooked the horses up to a hay wagon, and still get out. So he introduced my generation, the kids of the next generation, and then his great-grandchildren as well.”
Greg said whenever he came back to the farm with his own family, Lee was quick to bring out a sleigh or carriage.
“When I’ve gone back with my kids and my grandkids, Dad has hooked up various rigs, and the kids and grandkids have been able to go for a ride. So it’s a multi-generational thing. And it’s always lots of fun.”
Kim said Lee also taught them how to drive the carriages and how to handle the horses.
“Dad’s children and their children learned to drive as well, using his carriages,” she said. “It was special to get tips on driving from Dad.”
Due to COVID-19, the auction occurred online, but Greg and Kim said it turned out well.
Of their father’s collection, they sold about 20 carriages and sleighs, one of which was a rare Newfoundland Taxi.
“As far as any of the research that we’ve done, and the auctioneers who are very knowledgeable in that area, there’s only three of them left in the world,” Kim said of the Newfoundland Taxi, which was built in 1890.
Most of the collection was sold in the auction, with the Bowie family keeping only a few select carriages. Greg said they selected the ones to keep based on the unique things Lee added while restoring them.
“One of them was a New England Blackboard. And there’s lots of those out there. But that had one that had a rumble seat on it. And the fact that it had a rumble seat on it made it very unique. And the same thing with some of the other carriages, you know, they either had rumble seats or they had a dog kennel under the seats.”