Memorable Manitobans: John [McLean/MacLean] Maclean (1851-1928)

Cleric, archivist, librarian, author, editor, school inspector.

Born at Kilmarnock, Ayrshire, Scotland on 30 October 1851, son of John McLean and Alice McLean, he attended Burgh Academy at Dumbarton before immigrating to Ontario, Canada in 1873. He was received on trial by the Methodist Church of Canada in 1875 and whilst on probation served Ontario congregations at Vienna, Park Hill, Arkona, and Grafton. He graduated with BA (1882) and MA (1887) degrees from Victoria College at Cobough, a PhD (1888) in History at Wesleyan University in Bloomington (Illinois), a DD (1914) from Wesley College, and a LLB (1926) from the University of Manitoba. He was ordained in 1880, just prior to his wedding.

On 10 June 1880, he married Sarah Ann Barker (1859-1939) of Guelph and they had six children: Alice Anne Maclean (1883-1951, wife of Harold Thompson Garden), Walter Leonard MacLean (1885-1917), Edwin Oswald Maclean (1887-?), Albert B. Maclean (1890-?), Evelyn Elizabeth Maclean (1896-?, wife of John McLean), and Willard Gladston Maclean (1899-?). Around the 1890s, he altered the spelling of his surname from McLean to MacLean.

In 1880, he moved to the North West Territories [present-day Alberta] as a missionary to the Blood (Kainai) First Nation and pioneer settlers in the vicinity of Fort Macleod. While stationed there, he became well-versed in several indigenous languages and their culture, and would later write extensively on these topics. He served as the regional public School Inspector (1886-1887) with six schools within his catchment area, itself bounded by the Rocky Mountains to Medicine Hat to Fort Macleod to the United States border. He resigned his inspectorship in late 1887, though his engagement with the local Board of Education was not ended, as he served as an Examiner for Teachers (1889) before moving to Moose Jaw, North West Territories [present-day Saskatchewan]. During this first tenure out west, he was a historian of the Methodist Church (1883-?) and President of the Manitoba and Northwest Conference (1895) of the Methodist Church. In 1892, he and his family left Moose Jaw and were posted at Port Arthur [Thunder Bay] (1892-1895), Neepawa Methodist Church (1896-1901), and Carman Methodist Church (1901-1902). From 1902 to 1906, he lived at Halifax, Nova Scotia and was Editor of The Wesleyan.

Returning to the West around 1898, he worked at Morden (c1898-1911) before moving to Winnipeg as Reverend of Bethel Mission (1911-1919), which was renamed MacLean Mission to commemmorate his contributions to the community. Following his final Sunday at Bethel Mission on 29 June 1919, he left to become Archivist (1919-1928) of the Methodist Church at Toronto, Ontario. After a while, he returned to Manitoba and held the office of Librarian (?-1928) of Wesley College in addition to his Archivist duties. With the union of Methodist and Presbyterian congregations into the United Church of Canada, he served as Chief Archivist (1925-1928) until his death. He was an ardent opponent of the Winnipeg General Strike in 1919.

A prolific author spanning several decades, he penned dozens tracts, pamplets, articles, and books on historical and religious topics, and was a correspondent or contributing writer to The Beaver, Manitoba Historical Society (Corresponding Member 1886, 1887, 1889, & 1890), Smithsonian institute, Canadian Institute, Ontario Historical Society, Ethnographic Committee of British Association, American Folk-Lore Society, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also amassed a large personal library collection. Among the titles to his credit were: Lone Land Lights (1882), The Methodist Annual (1884), The Blackfoot Sun-Dance (1889), The Indians of Canada (1889), James Evans: Inventor of the Syllabic System of the Cree Language (1890), Life and Times of George McDougall (1891), Life of Henry B. Steinhauer: His work among the Cree Indians (1892), The Indians of Canada: Their Manners and Customs (1892), Picture-Writing of the Blackfeet (1894), The Blackfoot Language (1896), Canadian Savage Folk: The Native Tribes of Canada (1896), The Warden of the Plains (1896), The Invisible (1899), The Making of a Christian (1900), Better Lives for Common People (1901), The Destiny of Today (1902), Light for Daily Living (1903), William Black: The Apostle of Methodism in the Maritime Provinces of Canada (1907), Winning the Front Place (1908), Vanguards of Canada (1918), and McDougall of Alberta: A life of Rev. John McDougall, Pathfinder and Empire and Prophet of the Plains (1926). As “Robin Rustler,” he contributed children’s fiction to many periodicals. As Robert Watson observed of him in 1928, “Dr. John Maclean loved only one thing as he did his fellow men and that one thing was books.” noting that MacLean “cheerfully acceded to practically every call that was made on him for research and other information, spending hours and often days compiling material for which others often for their credit as well as the financial return.” In early 1928, and upon the recommendation of Watson, he began compiling an autobriographical draft; however, it was not something he would see completed.

He died at his Winnipeg residence, 64 Walnut Street, on 7 March 1928. Following his funeral, for which the College was closed that afternoon to allow students and faculty members to attend, his body was buried in the Brookside Cemetery. His diary and extensive papers are in the Victoria University Archives, Toronto.

See also:

Historic Sites of Manitoba: Bethel Mission / Maclean Mission / Maclean United Church / Maclean Mission Apartments (730 Alexander Avenue, Winnipeg)


Birth [Willard Gladston Maclean], marriage [Edwin Oswald Maclean & Margaret Porter, Alice Anne Maclean & Harold Thompson Garden, Evelyn Elizabeth Maclean & John McLean] and death registrations, Manitoba Vital Statistics.

Death registrations [Alice Anne Garden], British Columbia Vital Statistics.

1901 & 1911 Canada censuses, Automated Genealogy.

MHS Resources: Annual Reports, Manitoba Historical Society.

“Given D.D. degree,” Manitoba Free Press, 14 April 1917, page 14.

“City and district [Major Walter L. McLean ...],” Manitoba Free Press, 15 November 1917, page 5.

“John MacLean, M.A., predicts another war in 5 years,” Western Labor News, 27 June 1919, page 4.

“Dr. MacLean's last day at Mission,” Manitoba Free Press, 28 June 1919, page 25.

“Love Feast at Grace Church well attended,” Manitoba Free Press, 19 April 1924, page 6.

“Our contributors [No. 10 - Dr. John Maclean],” The Beaver, December 1926, pages 26-27.

“Rev. John MacLean, pioneer missionary of west, is dead,” Manitoba Free Press, 8 March 1928, page 7.

“Memorial services for late Rev. Dr. John MacLean,” Manitoba Free Press, 10 March 1928, page 20.

“Dr. John Maclean as an Author,” by Robert Watson, Manitoba Free Press, 2 April 1928, page 7.

Winnipeg estate files (ATG 0025A), 18396 John MacLean, GR0393, Archives of Manitoba.

Winnipeg estate files (ATG 0025A), 27281 Sarah Ann MacLean, GR4869, Archives of Manitoba.

Death notice [Sarah Ann MacLean], Winnipeg Tribune 10 July 1939, page 18.

Brookside Cemetery burial transcriptions, City of Winnipeg.

People and Organizations: John Maclean 1851-1928, United Church of Canada Archives.

Search Creator: John Maclean 1851-1928,

Dictionary of Manitoba Biography by John M. “Jack” Bumsted, Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1999.

John MacLean by Susan Gray, Dictionary of Canadian Biography, Volume XV (2005), University of Toronto/Universite Laval.

This page was prepared by Nathan Kramer and Gordon Goldsborough.

Page revised: 29 August 2022

Memorable Manitobans

Memorable Manitobans

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