J. B. McLachlan: A Biography, by David Frank

Advertisement, [1999]

J. B. McLachlan: A Biography.
The Story of a Legendary Labour Leader and the Cape Breton Coal Miners

By David Frank


J. B. McLachlan is a towering figure in early Canadian labour history, and in Cape Breton he is revered not only as a labour leader but as a social visionary and a great moral exemplar. His story, now made accessible is a fine new biography by David Frank, is not merely a fascinating glimpse at the past: it is also an inspiration for the struggles of the future.

Silver Donald Cameron

David Frank has written an outstanding biography. The story of Jim McLachlan is the fact behind much of the fiction being produced about Cape Breton today. McLachlan is the hero not only of the men who go under the ground, but also of men and women who labour everywhere.

Alistair MacLeod

It would be hard to exaggerate the importance of this book. It makes major contributions to the writing of Canadian biographical, labour, social and political history. The author has produced the most meticulously researched and sensitively written account of any working-class leader on Canadian history. He has brought the sophistication to working-class biography that has previously been restricted to such middle-class contemporaries as Mackenzie King and J. S. Woodsworth. The book will stand among the best biographies available on Canadian history bookshelves.

Craig Heron

There are many reasons to read this book... perhaps most of all, the volume reminds us that McLachlan, like those revolutionary socialists of less legendary status, were real people who drew on multiple resources, from Moscow to Glasgow and beyond, to try to figure out how to build a movement ‘to the end that the workers will take control of Canada’

Jim Naylor—Canadian Dimension

Deeply researched and written in a graceful style that will appeal to specialist and general reader alike, the McLachlan biography is the story of a man who embraced the cause of a better world, and of the mining families that came to revere him.

Bryan Palmer—Labour/Le Travail

The drama, vibrancy and intensity of the period are admirably portrayed by author David Frank in his biography of McLachlan. J. B. McLachlan is a Canadian history book that sparkles with vitality and is richly informative. It is an excellent biography of an exceptional Canadian. As the Cape Breton coal industry prepares for another restructuring one might suggest this work be read by everyone involved in and affected by those decisions.

Don MacGillivray—Atlantic Books Today

Frank has poured 25 years of research into this project, and this worked-over text shows every sign that it is, if you'll forgive the expression, a labour of love. Every chapter is buttressed with exhaustive but not exhausting detail, and there is a complete absence of jargon—in short, this book is both a model of what a historical biography should be, and utterly worthy of its subject. J.B. McLachlan should go a long distance toward reviving the memory of a true, yet largely forgotten, hero.

James Covey—Coast

...[this] meticulously researched biography of McLachlan... [contains] vivid descriptions of McLachlan's public theatrics, and moments that crackle with conflict.

Harry Bruce—National Post

...engaging and authoritative... undoubtedly the finest study of a labour leader in Canada yet written.. it is the kind of history that McLachlan was calling for some 75 years ago.

Colin Howell—Telegraph-Journal

A monumental biography by labour historian David Frank, 25 years in the making and published this fall, should assure his place in history.

Dean Jobb—Chronicle-Herald

David Frank's biography expertly knits together the socio-political environment of Nova Scotia during the first third of the 20th century, the coal industry, and the history of the miners' unions. J. B. McLachlan, A Biography belongs on the bookshelves of every trade unionist, and every communist or left-winger. It is a masterpiece of the art of biography.

Emil Bjarnason—People's Voice

It serves as an eloquent reminder of the challenges facing Canadians as we regress toward the very social conditions that McLachlan fought at the turn of the century.

Matthew Behrens𕱼Quill & Quire

As Frank elegantly and persuasively argues, it was through the efforts of people like McLachlan, despite their miscalculations and not infrequent naivete, that we have benefited from a measure of social progress.

James Cullingham—Globe and Mail

The appearance of this biography of one of Canada's most distinguished labour leaders is a timely event indeed. The product of the sustained scholarly efforts of University of New Brunswick historian David Frank, this is a powerfully moving story of an individual who devoted his life to the struggle for social and economic justice. This is a social rather than a personal biography, and the reader must be satisfied with limited and occasional glimpses of what McLachlan was like as a person. This emphasis should be seen as a strength rather than a weakness, if we value biography as a way to understand the social, political and economic forces that have shaped our history.

Scott Burbidge—Royal Nova Scotia Historical Society Journal

...incredible detail - obviously a labour of love whose research extended over twenty-five years... a monumental study of a fascinating leader of the Canadian working-class.

Keith Ralston—The Beaver

David Frank insures that [the] biography is not only a thorough picture of one labour leader's life but a panoramic overview of the forces that shaped coal miners' struggles in the early 20th cenutry...It sets a very high standard for labour history biographies, indeed biographies generally.

Alvin Finkel—University of Athabasca

Frank is far too skilful, though, to settle for the two-dimensional presentation of a working-class hero. We share in the triumphs, frustrations and failures of the man, his times, and the community he represented.

Ellison Robertson—Our Times

J.B. McLachlan is essential reading for serious scholars and popular enthusiasts of Canadian history.

Laurie C.C. Stanley-Blackwell—Canadian Book Review Annual

Frank has added immeasurably—both to labour history and to our collective memory as Canadians—struggling to maintain the respect and dignity for working people and reeling under globalization from above.

Catholic New Times


Winner Kenny Prize for Labour History; Dafoe Book Prize 1999
Winner Dartmouth Book Award 2000
Shortlisted Drannie-Taylor Biography Prize 1999