Fonds RBSC-ARC-1717 - McLennan family fonds

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McLennan family fonds

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on the provenance of the fonds.

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Physical description

1.155 m of textual records
79 photographs : b&w
1 screw : metal

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Biographical history

The McLennan family immigrated from Kintail, Scotland, to Canada in 1802 on the ship “Neptune,” initially settling in the province of Quebec. After the death of Murdoch McLennan (1746-1803), his widow, Christina McLennan (d. 1841), and her children moved to Glengarry County, Ontario. In 1823, the family took up land on the 4th concession of Glengarry, where they lived until 1847, when John McLennan (1789-1866) bought property on the shore of Lake St. Francis, east of Lancaster. John McLennan rose to become a man of some importance in southern Glengarry County where he held various minor offices, including clerk of the court at Williamstown, and worked as a conveyancer. John’s fourth child with his first wife was Hugh McLennan (1825-1899), who married Isabella Stewart, the daughter of Neil Stewart of Vankleek Hill. In 1853, Hugh McLennan and his brother founded the firm of J. and H. McLennan, a grain and shipping company, which later became the Montreal Transportation Company. In 1867, Montreal became the home of this branch of the McLennan family. In addition to his interest in the Montreal Transportation Company, Hugh McLennan has interests in the International Coal Company Ltd., the Black Diamond Steamship Company, and Williams Manufacturing Company, as well as serving as a director of the Bank of Montreal, among other companies. A number of Hugh McLennan’s nine surviving children made significant contributions to their chosen fields. John Stewart McLennan (1853-1939) was a businessman in the coal industry, a newspaper publisher, a Conservative Senator for Sydney, Nova Scotia, and the author of books including “Louisbourg from Its Foundation to Its Fall, 1713–1758.” William McLennan (1856-1904), was a notary, scholarly antiquarian, and the successful translator and author of poems, short stories, novels, and other works, including “Spanish John,” “In Old France and New,” “The Span o’ Life, A Tale of Louisbourg and Quebec,” and “Songs of Old Canada.” Francis McLennan (1857-1940) was a lawyer and the founder of the McLennan Travelling Libraries, in addition to contributing time and resources to McGill University’s Redpath Library and other cultural institutions. Bartlett McLennan (1868-1918) was a businessman before joining the 5th Battalion of the Royal Highlanders of Canada as a lieutenant after the start of World War I. He rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel before being killed in action at Amiens, France. Isabella Christine McLennan (1870-1960) was a philanthropist, her favorite cause being McGill University, particularly its library. Upon her death, her bequest to McGill University funded the McLennan Library, which was officially inaugurated on 6 June 1969. Hugh McLennan’s great-grandson, also named Hugh McLennan (1927-2004), earned a PhD in Neurophysiology from McGill University and later became a Professor in the Department of Physiology at the University of British Columbia.

Custodial history

First accession (boxes 1-9): Before being received by the donor, the metal trunks in which the materials were stored had previously been held by Gyneth (Wanklyn) McLennan, wife of William Durie McLennan. The materials had seemingly been passed down through the male members of the McLennan family.

Scope and content

The fonds consists of photographs and textual records spanning the period 1710-1984, predominantly 1850-1940, related to business and personal lives of five generations of the McLennan family (immediate and extended), as well as to the work of Montreal lawyer, Frederick Griffin. McLennan family materials consist of photographs; incoming and outgoing correspondence; genealogical information and family histories; diaries and remembrances; newspaper clippings and ephemera; official documents; obituaries and tributes; drafts of writings, research notes, and sketches; and other documents.

The McLennan family materials includes a series reflecting William McLennan’s writing career, personal interests, and family life. William McLennan’s materials include full and partial drafts of published and unpublished works; research and reference materials; incoming and outgoing correspondence; legal and official documents; collected historical materials and documents; notes; sketches; journals; newspaper clippings and ephemera; photographs; and other materials.

The fonds also consists of a series reflecting Frederick Griffin’s occupation as a lawyer and his role as founder of the Canadian Loan Company. Frederick Griffin’s materials include incoming correspondence and draft responses; various financial and legal documents; legal research notes and drafts of legal documents; memoranda; meeting minutes; land and property documents and surveyors reports; newspaper clippings and ephemera; and other documents.

Finally, the fonds contains a series consisting of William Durie McLennan’s records, which were primarily created between 1914 and 1915 and pertain to his military service during the First World War. Record types in this series include the following: a handwritten, personal notebook; a typescript of this notebook; correspondence; service records from the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Forces; news clippings; black and white photographs; collected signatures from Canadian dignitaries; and materials from the 5th Battery Association of 1914.

Notes area

Physical condition

Materials are in generally very good or better condition.

Immediate source of acquisition

The first accession of records was donated to Rare Books and Special Collections at UBC Library by Neil McLennan, son of Hugh McLennan (1927-2004) in May 2014.

The second accession (an accrual) was donated in May 2017 by Neil McLennan.

The third accession (an accrual) was donated in March 2022 by Neil McLennan.


The fonds comprises three accessions, the first of which was donated in 2014. This accession spans boxes 1-9. The second accession (an accrual) was donated in 2017 and spans box 10 and files 11-01 to 11-10. The third accession (an accrual) was donated in 2022 and consists of file 11-11.

First accession: While some of the materials in the fonds had clearly been arranged by members of the McLennan family, there was no order apparent to the majority of the materials received by RBSC. Some materials had been organized by Hugh McLennan in the 1980s, and materials belonging to the “Writing, research, and publications” sub-series of the William McLennan series appeared to retain much of their original order. However, most of the materials in the fonds were stored loosely in metal trunks for a number of years and became disordered and interfiled over time. Where no discernible order was present, the archivist provided an order to increase ease of use by researchers.

Given the lack of order, it was difficult in some cases, particularly in the case of collected historical materials and documents, to distinguish whether materials were collected by William McLennan or other members of the McLennan family or by Frederick Griffin. Given the connection of the McLennan family to Glengarry County and William McLennan’s interest in scholarly antiquarianism, historical materials originating from that area were arranged in the William McLennan series. Additionally, historical documents without any obvious connection to Griffin’s legal work were arranged in the William McLennan series.

While there seems to have been a number of tenuous connections between the McLennan family and Griffin, it is unclear how Griffin’s materials came to be included in the fonds. As a fellow lawyer with an interest in history, William McLennan may have collected Griffin’s materials at some point, perhaps after Griffin donated his papers and books to McGill University, where McLennan was librarian and later honorary librarian.

In addition to providing an order to some of the materials, the archivist weeded some material such as duplicate copies of newspapers and clippings or other published materials without any annotations.

Second accession: Similar to the first accession, materials from the second accession had no apparent order. Given this, it was difficult to ascertain the provenance of particular records. The archivist assigned records to series after analysis and in consultation with members of the McLennan family. In keeping with the order determined by the first archivist to work on this fonds, the second archivist created a series to reflect new records originating from William Durie McLennan. No materials were removed from the second accession.

Third accession: The third accession consists of a single file of letters from Barlett McLennan and therefore was arranged with other materials related to him which are located in the Series: Hugh McLennan (1927-2004) files.

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Materials in the fonds are primarily in English, with some materials in French and German.

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Associated materials

McGill University holds 3.5 cm of McLennan family papers, which include family letters and business documents spanning the period 1849-1940, while Library and Archives Canada holds the “McLennan family fonds” (0.4 cm). McGill University also has limited holdings related to Francis McLennan (1857-1940) and Hugh McLennan (1887-1915). Dalhousie University has limited holdings related to John Stewart McLennan (1853-1939) and the Archives of Ontario holds the “Neil Stewart fonds” (1793-1881). The description of the fonds (12 cm) notes that, in addition to records created and received by Stewart, materials include correspondence from John McLennan to his son Hugh. The custodial history note reads: “Fonds was donated to the Archives of Ontario in two accessions in 1984 by Hugh McClennan [sic] of Vancouver, British Columbia.” The Law Society of British Columbia Legal Archives holds the “William McLennan fonds” (30 cm) and McGill University also holds papers (25 cm) related to William McLennan’s writing career spanning from 1880-1898. Finally, McGill University holds some of Frederick Griffin’s papers (2.5 cm), which include documents and letters accumulated during the course of Griffin’s legal career and spanning the period 1827-1876.

Related materials


No further accruals are expected.

General note

Contains the following photographs from the first accrual (see boxes 1-9): ARC-1717-BC 2174-01 to ARC-1717-BC 2174-40
Contains the following photographs from the second accrual (see boxes 10-11): RBSC-ARC-1717-PH-41 to RBSC-ARC-1717-PH-79

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Photograph identifier: BC-2174

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Finding aid prepared by Chelsea Shriver (February 2015).
Finding aid updated by Gillian Dunks (July 2017).
Finding aid updated by Catherine Hall (August 2023).

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