Born in Empress, Alberta, Anne Rowles was the youngest of three children. Her family moved to Kelowna in 1948, where her father operated a poultry farm. She was educated in a one-room school, and remembers that in those days there were “excellent teachers and a number of bright students.” Her extended family had a strong influence on her, and she had a number of strong, educated, community-minded women as role models growing up. Edith Rowles became the Chair of Physics at McGill, and Jessie Rowles became the Canadian delegate to the United Nations.
After completing her grade thirteen, a requirement in those days, she went to UBC in 1961 and took up residence in Acadia Camp, the first residence on campus and the only one which housed both men and women. She was by no means a shy student and was a member of the UBC Debating Club and the UBC Drama Club.
She studied English and Sociology, and on completion of her undergraduate degree, she decided to take a job teaching in Ocean Falls, British Columbia. Her year in Ocean Falls was an isolating experience. Having paid off her undergraduate debt in February, she decided to apply to law school. She told the UBC Law History Project that she “never regretted” entering law and that she “loved law school right away.”
In 1965 when Rowles entered law school, the study was still dominated by men. Rowles was one of only four women in her first year class and was the only one to successfully graduate from UBC in 1968.
Articles were not then easy to find, but Rowles signed on at a general firm under John Milne. In 1977 she started her own firm on South Granville with David Hodges and Andrew Davis. While Hodges and Davis would leave the firm she would be joined by Kathleen Keating, Allison McClelland and Joyce Bradley.
Rowles had originally been approached to join the County Court of Vancouver in 1982 but then decided to decline the offer. The Bennett government, a leader in gender equality in Canada, was keen to see more women judges and Rowles accepted a position in 1983 after “Carol Huddart cornered me at the airport.”
She joined the Supreme Court of British Columbia in 1986 and the Court of Appeal in 1991. At the time of her retirement from the BC Court of Appeal in January 2012, Anne Rowles had served on the bench for 28 years. From 2008 she has served as a director of the International Centre for Criminal Law Reform and Criminal Justice Policy.