Photo of John Maclean

John Maclean

Biographical Sketch

John Maclean (1851–1928) was a Methodist minister, missionary, scholar, book collector, librarian and archivist. He changed the spelling of his name to “McLean” around 1890 (or 1896), and it is often misspelled as “MacLean.” Maclean published his books and articles under various pseudonyms, such as Old Gustavus, Robin Rustler, and Samson Sing.

He was born in Kilmarnock, Scotland, on October 30, 1851. He married Sarah Anne Barker on June 10, 1880 in Guelph, Ontario. The Macleans had six children. Anne accompanied her husband in his travels and participated in his missionary work. He died on March 7, 1928 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Maclean settled in Canada in 1873 and entered the ministry of the Wesleyan Episcopal Methodist Church of Canada two years later. In 1882, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree from Victoria College (Cobourg, Ontario), followed by a Master of Arts degree, awarded in 1887. He continued his education at Illinois Wesleyan University (Bloomington, Indiana), where he obtained a doctorate in church history in 1888. Maclean was also a student of the University of Manitoba (Winnipeg, Manitoba), graduating with an LLB in 1926.

During the years 1880 to 1889, Maclean and his wife engaged in missionary activities among the Kainai Nation at the Ryersonia Mission, Fort Macleod, near the Rocky Mountains (presently located in the province of Alberta). In addition to preaching Maclean, learned a number of languages of the First Nations and conducted ethnological research, collecting artifacts for the Provincial Museum of Ontario (the predecessor of the Royal Ontario Museum, Toronto, Ontario), the Canadian Institute (Toronto, Ontario), and the Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C), and the Field Museum (Chicago, Illinois). Maclean and Anne also taught reading, writing, and religious instruction to local children in the first school in southern Alberta.

In the last decade of his life, Maclean served as the chief archivist of the Methodist Church at Wesley College in Winnipeg. Beginning in 1922, he also assumed the post of the chief librarian.

Maclean was a prolific author, publishing numerous books: Canadian Savage Folk: The Native Tribes of Canada (William Briggs, 1896) and The Indians: Their Manners and Customs (Methodist Mission Rooms, 1889) are among his most significant works and they were used as missionary textbooks. He also contributed to Acta Victoriana, Beaver (a Hudson’s Bay Company magazine), Proceedings of the Canadian Institute, American Antiquarian, and Journal of American Folk-Lore.

Maclean was also an active member of many learned societies: the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Folk-Lore Society, the British Science Association, the Historical and Scientific Society of Manitoba, and the Ontario Historical Society.

Scope and Content

The collection consists of over six hundred books, pamphlets, and journals gathered by Maclean in the course of his life, education, and scholarly pursuits. Maclean was an extensive, lifelong reader, collecting biographies of Christian missionaries, and consulting anthropological research literature in preparation for his ethnological study of the First Nations.

The titles were published in the nineteenth and twentieth century.

The collection is particularly strong in titles on military history, anthropology (including works by Franz Boas, Horatio Hale, and John R. Swanton), ethnology (Daniel G. Brinton and R.G. Latham), mythology and folklore, history of the Canadian cities and provinces, the Arctic, church history, Canadian government documents related to the First Nations, and reports and journals published by scientific societies and museums.

Selected Highlights

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    The Indians
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    Canadian Savage Folk
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    Handbook of Canada
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    The Warden of the Plains
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    North American Indians
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    The People of the Plains
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    The Education of the New Canadian
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    Kutenai Tales

History of the Collection

Librarian Francis Louis Barber (1877–1945) arranged for the Victoria University Library to finance the purchase of the collection in November, 1931, from Sarah Anne Maclean, Maclean’s widow. As Maclean died suddenly in his seventy-seventh year and his last place of residence was Winnipeg, Manitoba, it was necessary to arrange for the shipping of the books to Toronto.

George Herbert Locke (1870–1937), the chief librarian of the Toronto Public Library, Victoria College alumnus, and a member of the Victoria University Library Board, enlisted the help local librarians from the Winnipeg Public Library to pack and dispatch the collection to Toronto.

Originally, Barber intended for the collection to be part of the missionary library of Victoria College, but honoured Mrs. Maclean’s wishes and deposited the collection at Victoria University Library (located at that time in the Birge–Carnegie Library).

Accessing the Collection

The Library Catalogue

All titles in the collections are listed in the University of Toronto Libraries catalogue.

Research Assistance

Please visit us at the reference desk on the main floor of the library or contact our reference librarians if you require assistance with researching the collection.


Selected Publications

Maclean, John. Lone Land Lights (First Series). William Briggs, 1882.

Maclean, John. “Students’ Missionary Society.” Acta Victoriana, vol. 6, no. 6, 1883, pp. 10–11.

Maclean, John. “A Voice from the Rockies.” Acta Victoriana, vol. 7, no. 5, 1884, pp. 7–8.

Maclean, John. “A Frontier Town.” Acta Victoriana, vol. 10, no. 8, 1887, pp. 8–10.

Maclean, John. The Blackfoot Sun-Dance. Copp, Clark Company, Limited, 1889.

Maclean, John. The Indians: Their Manners and Customs. Methodist Mission Rooms, 1889.

Maclean, John. James Evans: Inventor of the Syllabic System of the Cree Language. Methodist Mission Rooms, 1890.

Maclean, John. The Hero of the Saskatchewan: Life Among the Ojibway and Cree Indians in Canada. The Barrie Examiner Printing and Publishing House, 1891.

Maclean, John. Canadian Savage Folk: The Native Tribes of Canada. William Briggs, 1896.

Maclean, John. The Warden of the Plains: And Other Stories of Life in the Canadian Northwest.. William Briggs, 1896.

Maclean, John. “The Bereaved Mother.” Acta Victoriana, vol. 20, no. 8, 1897, pp. 377–378.

Maclean, John. “The Opportunity for Methodism.” Acta Victoriana, vol. 26, no. 3, 1902, pp. 227–231.

Maclean, John. Vanguards of Canada. Missionary Society of the Methodist Church, 1918.

Related Special Collections at Victoria University Library

James Evans (1801–1846) was a Methodist minister, author, translator and developer of the Cree syllabic alphabet. Maclean consulted Evans’s system of Cree syllabics prior to undertaking the missionary work near Fort Macleod.

Peter Jones (1802–1856) was an Ojibway Chief, missionary and educator.

Donald B. Smith (1946–) is a professor emeritus of History at the University of Calgary who focused his career on the history of Aboriginal Canada.

Related Material

The United Church of Canada Archives contains the John Maclean fonds, including Maclean’s correspondence, diaries, notebooks, and other materials created in the course of his missionary work and scholarship on the languages of the First Nations, in addition to photographs.

Library and Archives Canada house the John Maclean fonds, which include his letterbook from 1884 to 1887.

Victoria University Library fonds (part of the Victoria University Archives) contains correspondence between librarian Francis Louis Barber (1877–1945) and Sarah Anne Maclean regarding the financial arrangements and purchase of Maclean’s collection by the library.

Royal Ontario Museum (Toronto, Ontario) and Field Museum (Chicago, Illinois) have in their collections Native artifacts gathered by Maclean, including hand-soled and side-seam moccasins, mirror cases, drawings, pipe bags, and other items.

Related Resources

Briggs, William. Valuable Works Relating to the Indian Tribes of Canada by Dr. John McLean (Robin Rustler). William Briggs [189–].

Brownstone, Arni. “Reverend John Maclean and the Bloods.” American Indian Art Magazine, Summer 2006, pp. 44–57; 106–107.

“Dr. John Maclean as an Author.” Canadian Bookman: A Quarterly Devoted to Literature, the Library and the Printed Book, vol. 8, no. 9, pp. 269–270.

Goodman, Julia. John Maclean at the Ryerson Press: A Study of Seven Books. 1981.

Grant, John Webster. Moon of Wintertime: Missionaries and the Indians of Canada in Encounter Since 1534. University of Toronto Press, 1984.

Gray, Susan. “John Maclean.” Dictionary of Canadian Biography. University of Toronto/Universit√© Laval, 2003, Accessed 6 May 2017.

Nix, James Ernest. “John Maclean’s Mission to the Blood Indians, 1880–1889”. (MA thesis, McGill University Faculty of Religious Studies, 1977).

Rhodenizer, V.B. “Dr. John Maclean.” Canadian Bookman: A Quarterly Devoted to Literature, the Library and the Printed Book, vol. 8, no. 9, pp. 267–269.