JB McLachlan: A Biography


592 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-55028-677-3
DDC 331.88'122334'092





Laurie C.C. Stanley-Blackwell is an associate professor of history at
St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia and the co-author of
Canadian Studies: A Guide to the Sources (which can be found at


Until the publication of David Frank’s definitive biography, most
students of Canadian history knew little about J.B. McLachlan, save for
his infamous seditious libel trial and involvement in Cape Breton’s
bitter labor strikes during the 1920s. Frank’s compelling narrative
captures the full sweep of McLachlan’s life from pit boy to handpick
miner to labor leader with painstaking thoroughness. During his career,
this working-class leader was a controversial figure, reviled by some as
a Bolshevik firebrand and revered by many as a folk hero.

In a portrait that is balanced and scrupulously fair, Frank goes to
infinite pains to bring the scenes of McLachlan’s life alive, tracing
his intellectual formation and analyzing the social and economic
conditions that shaped his vision of industrial democracy. Frank also
details his interactions with fellow radicals like Tim Buck, as well as
his collisions with politicians, international union leaders, and
businessmen. McLachlan stood his ground, clinging to his socialist
ideals, even when it meant being left behind by the “sad march to the

McLachlan never successfully completed the transition from the pit to
Parliament; however, his influence was felt far beyond the coalfields of
Cape Breton. He was a key player in the major developments of the
Canadian left, such as the Workers’ Unity League and the Communist
Party of Canada. In Frank’s biography, McLachlan stands out as a
towering presence in early 20th-century Canadian labor radicalism. This
“grand old man of class struggle” all but walks off the pages of the
book, although the private man is not as fully delineated as the public

J.B. McLachlan is essential reading for serious scholars and popular
enthusiasts of Canadian history. Frank’s mastery of his subject is
impressive. The analysis is persuasive and the prose evocative and
refreshingly free from theoretical jargon and dogmatic judgments. The
biography is the product of 25 years of research and has received
numerous awards, including the Robert S. Kenny Prize, the John Wesley
Dafoe Book Prize, and a CHA Clio Award for Regional History.


Frank, David., “JB McLachlan: A Biography,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 30, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/8072.