J.B. McLachlan: A Biography, New Edition

The Story of a Legendary Labour Leader and the Cape Breton Coal Miners

by David Frank

The story of famed Cape Breton trade unionist, educator, and agitator J.B. McLachlan, the coal miners’ wars of the early twentieth century, and the fight for social justice.

Agitator, educator, organizer. J.B. McLachlan is legendary in Cape Breton as the pre-eminent labour leader of the early twentieth century. Long considered a classic in the field of Canadian social history, this authoritative biography by award-winning scholar David Frank tells the story of McLachlan, champion of Cape Breton’s coal miners and political rabble-rouser who fought tooth-and-nail for social justice across the country.

He led the coal miners of Nova Scotia in their struggles for union recognition, defending their cause in the labour wars of the 1920s and uniting them around ideas of industrial democracy and social reconstruction. The battles between mine owners and the miners were epic. Mine owners and their friends in government used violence and intimidation in their efforts to defeat workers. McLachlan was charged with sedition in 1923, and his political trial in Nova Scotia stands as a notorious use of the courts to punish and silence the labour movement and its leaders.

By the 1920s and 30s, he was recognized across Canada as a leading spokesman for the radical Left. McLachlan helped change the balance of power in industrial society, advancing the struggle for social and economic justice. Readers today, fighting for better wages, better benefits, better lives, can learn much from McLachlan’s exploits.

J.B. McLachlan: A Biography is a rich portrait of a brilliant early twentieth-century Canadian rebel. It has been widely recognized as an outstanding work of biography and a compelling account a Canadian labour hero. This monumental text offers an unparalleled history of Canadian labour history in the twentieth century, rousing the legacy of one of Canada’s most important radicals for all readers who yearn for social and economic justice today.

About the Author

David Frank

DAVID FRANK is a leading figure in Canadian history. He taught for over 30 years at the University of New Brunswick, and he has written six books on Atlantic Canadian labour history. His articles on labour and social history have appeared in numerous books and journals.

Frank also edited Acadiensis, a leading journal in the study of the Atlantic region, for 12 years, where he also edited many books on the subject at Acadiensis Press. Previous teaching stints saw Frank take posts at the University College of Cape Breton and Atlantic Region Labour Education Centre. He has also contributed journalistic work to Canadian outlets in radio, television, magazines, and newspapers.

Fascinated with J. B. McLachlan from his undergraduate days at Dalhousie University, Frank researched J.B.’s story through the coal towns of Cape Breton through to libraries and archives across Britain, Canada, and the United States. The first edition of this biography is considered a classic in the field of Canadian social and labour history. He lives in Fredericton, New Brunswick. 


John W. Dafoe Book Prize
Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize
Dartmouth Book Award (Non-Fiction)
Robert S. Kenny Prize for Labour/Left Studies
Clio Award, Canadian Historical Association

Subjects (BISAC)


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