Born in Nipawin in 1931, Stirling McDowell attended the Saskatoon Normal School and earned Bachelor of Arts and Education degrees as well as a Master's of Education degree from the University of Saskatchewan. He completed a PhD in Education at the University of Alberta. After teaching in Outlook and Rosetown, he joined the staff of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation (STF) in 1957. He served as STF general secretary from 1967 to 1982, and then became secretary general of the Canadian Teachers' Federation in Ottawa until 1993. He retired to Saskatoon, where he continued to work on a contract and volunteer basis until his death in 2002. McDowell was the first chair of the Saskatchewan Universities Commission. His reputation for taking a co-operative approach to negotiations contributed to the Education Act of 1978 and the development of a bi-level system of collective bargaining for teachers in 1973. In 1994-95, he chaired an independent committee on compensation for members of the Legislative Assembly, which resulted in Saskatchewan becoming the second province to make MLA salaries fully taxable. He was a delegate to many international conferences, including the founding convention of Education International in Stockholm in 1993. He was president of both the provincial and national associations for retired teachers, as well as an honorary life member of the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation and the Canadian Educational Association. He received the Canadian Teachers' Federation Special Recognition Award in 1993, and in 1997 was awarded the Saskatchewan Order of Merit.
In 1991 the Saskatchewan Teachers' Federation established in his name a foundation for research into teaching. The Stirling McDowell Foundation is a charitable organization that funds research aimed at the improvement of teaching and learning in publicly funded elementary and secondary schools. Grants are given annually to teachers and others who submit research proposals to the Foundation. It encourages teachers to develop projects involving collaborative action research as a means of improving instruction and stimulating professional growth. The results of all McDowell projects are published by the Foundation and highlighted at an annual conference.
Verna Gallen, Bill Quine