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Nova Scotia historian uses fascination with letters as basis of books

Dale McClare
Dale McClare - Contributed

Telling stories of the past

By Anita Flowers

It all started when Dale McClare found a bundle of letters in a small writing desk in the basement of his father’s house near Dartmouth.

“There was this desk – the kind that you open up and place things inside,” said McClare. “And inside the desk were a whole bunch of letters.”

The letters were written by his uncle to his grandfather from 1908 to 1914, giving instructions for farming and managing the family property called Lakelands in Hants County. Charles Herbert McClare, an architect who lived in Cambridge, Massachusetts, had hired his younger brother, Percy Lamont McClare, to manage the Lakelands farm.

“Charles Herbert was a bit of a control freak. He had my grandfather run the farm but he was always the overseer and giving instructions all the way from Cambridge. He wrote all these letters about farming and how to do things better. I always wonder what my grandfather thought about all this long-range direction,” said McClare.

Charles Herbert McClare also designed Carnegie Hall at Acadia University in Wolfville.

The house at Lakelands burned down in 1918, but McClare became interested in the story behind the letters.

“Eventually, I started typing them up. The letters tell the story of two brothers and a farm,” said McClare.

The letters became McClare’s most recent book, Lakelands Letters: Charles Herbert McClare. Cambridge, MA, to Percy Lamont McClare, Lakelands, NS (2019).

McClare has long been interested in history and especially the letters telling his family history. His book, The Letters of a Young Canadian Soldier During World War I: P. Winthrop McClare of Mount Uniacke, written in 2000, tells the story of his uncle, Percy Winthrop McClare, known to family and friends as Winnie, and his letters home from the war.

“Winnie wanted to sign up at 15. He eventually joined up underage at 17 and his first battle was the battle at Vimy Ridge. He wrote that ‘it was some battle and I am glad to say that I was through it, as it will be one of the biggest things in Canadian history.’ And it was,” said McClare.

Winnie suffered a light wound in the battle but a month later he was killed.
“He was 19 years old when he died in a German attack on May 5, 1917,” said McClare.

McClare notes that he originally published the book for his family because he wanted them to know the history. However, portions of the book were read in the Canadian parliament on the 85th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge, according to McClare.

“They mostly read the part about him needing new socks,” said McClare. “I didn’t think that was the most important part.”

It was a diary that originally got McClare interested in writing about local history. In 1984, he was working as a teacher and a researcher at Cole Harbour Rural Heritage Society.

“There was a diary from a young girl named Louisa Collins. She was about 18. She wasn’t well educated but she wrote like she was. Her misspellings were quaint,” he says.

That diary eventually became McClare’s first book, 1815 Diary of a Nova Scotia Farm Girl, which detailed Nova Scotia country life and customs in the early 1800s.

“It got a lot of good reviews and attention from universities,” said McClare.

McClare also wrote Letters from a Stroke Victim: Gladys Fletcher Rosier, R.N., Windsor, NS, to Dorothy McClare Roehler, R.N., Porter, ME. Again based on letters, it’s the story of two nurses, one of whom suffered a stroke. The letters are from 1972 to 1978.

“There’s a lot of genealogy in my books. They can be a good source if you’re interested in local history or genealogy,” said McClare, who notes that his book are heavily annotated.

“I always like to include full names and birth dates, as much information as I can find. I like to look into the stories of the people I find and find out a little about them. That’s what makes it interesting.”

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