Saturday, January 22, 2011

Small county, big impact

Royce MacGillivray,
from the Queen’s Alumni Review, Kingston, Ont Issue 4 2010  ALUMNI SPOTLIGHT - '50s  p44
Small county, big impact

It took Royce MacGillivray, Arts'59, almost three decades of research to produce his magnum opus, the 777-page Dictionary of Glengarry Biography. The book, which builds on his earlier works chronicling other aspects of pioneering Glengarry County, is an invaluable source of information for historians, genealogists, and area residents alike.

Glengarry is known for military heroes (including Glengarry Highlanders and the King's Royal Regiment), for brave Loyalist settlers, and for both the Catholic and Presbyterian faiths that dared challenge the Anglican establishment, but Glengarry's geography is less known, tucked as it is into the rolling hills behind Cornwall, ON, north of the st. Lawrence Seaway. Because of Queen's Scottish roots and the calibre of students "sent down" from Glengarry, it has been said that the history of the two is inextricably linked - and MacGillivray's book underscores that fact.

Says Royce, "What was most surprising to me, even though it was always assumed that Glengarry's achievements were exceptional - especially when you consider its small population - is that Glengarry's collective achievement is even greater than expected."

Royce was a natural to write about these achievements. After all, he was born in Alexandria, ON, in the heart of the county, and he attended Glengarry District High School before coming to Queen's in 1955. He went on to earn his PhD at Harvard in 1965 and then spent his 30-year academic career as Professor of History at the University of Waterloo. When he retired in 1996, Royce moved to England. It was there that he began working in earnest on the Dictionary of Glengarry Biography.

Although he had been compiling the research for many years prior, writing, fact-checking, and revising the book still took Royce the better part of 14 painstaking years. He wrote every one of the 1,600 biographical sketches in the book, 185,000 words in total. That in itself is an unusual feat, since most dictionaries of biography are written by multiple authors, with an editor presiding.

Glengarry's legacy is an astonishing one for such a small rural county. Some of the many famous people whose biographies appear in the Dictionary include William Lyon MacKenzie King, LLD 1919, who was Member of Parliament for Glengarry in the 1920s before serving as Prime Minister, 1921-30 and 1935-48; George Samuel Horace Barton, Minister of Agriculture during the Great Depression; and W. Clifford Clark, BA 1910, MA 1912, Queen's Commerce professor, Deputy Minister of Finance (also during the Great Depression), and the founder, with 0.D. Skelton, of Canada's public service; Rev. Alexander Macdonnell, first
Catholic Bishop of Kingston (the first English diocese in North America); George Sanfield Macdonald, first Premier of Ontario: a surprising number of National Hockey League players; novelist Ralph Connor; Sir Edward Peacock, MA 1894, LLD'41, a most distinguished Queen's grad who became a well-known British financier; plus a multitude of famous entrepreneurs, including J.D. McArthur and others of North America's best- known railway builders.

As Royce notes, "A great many Glengarrians became famous in the early 1900s as railway builders and contractors and terrific entrepreneurs. But Glengarry achievement fell off sharply pre-WWI, when American railway building came to an end. Glengarrians seemed to flourish in the American Wild West." But then, they'd had experience in what had been not long before "the Canadian Wild West."

Royce found the time he spent researching and writing the book, which became practically a full-time endeavor, to be "pleasant detective work." He did the bulk of his research from England, but to North America once or twice a year. His major sources of information were personal interviews, libraries, municipal records, and archives, including Queen's Archives. The Dictionary covers the 230-year period from 1770 to 2000. The criteria for inclusion were that individuals must have spent some part of their lives in Glengarry or had an important link to the county.

Paul Banfield, MA'85, was one of the Queen's archivists who worked with Royce over the years, answering his queries about individuals who had both Glengarry and Queen's connections. "This book was a labour of love for Royce, and I know from my interaction with him that he was meticulous in his research and would always double-check references and source material," he notes. "This work will be an indispensable tool for anyone who is tracing their family and Queen's roots in Eastern Ontario." - LINDY MECHEFSKE

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barbie said...

I am very interested in the history of Glengarry especially the one room school I had attended-Greenfield Public School. I wuold love to find more history on these schools as I find they were the best schools yet.

Alex W Fraser, Rhoda Ross said...

Hi Barbie
Thanks for your comment. There is a book out called the SCHOOL OF THE GLENS, edited by Marion MacMaster, hard cover, illustrated, no index, about 425 pages A history of the one-room schools of Lochiel and Northeast Kenyon of Glengarry County and the fringes of Prescott County by the teachers and students of those schools. check out this page I have done a photo name index of this work consisting of about 90 pages printed out. If this interests you feel free to get back to me at info @ of 866-517-2113. I also have an extra copy of this book
take care and God Bless
Alex w Fraser