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Rev. Alexander Maclean Sinclair,
F.G.S.C., LL.D (1840-1924)



As published in Roslin O Roslin, Summer 1997 (Vol 3 No 8), Rory Sinclair, Editor.


Last issue, we announced the re-publication of the Sinclair Classic "The Sinclairs of Roslin, Caithness, and Goshen" by A.M. Sinclair... We have asked, Alisdair Sinclair, the grandson of Alexander M. Sinclair, and himself a distinguished academic, to compose a brief historical sketch of this remarkable man who cared so deeply about his Scottish roots. Here is his response to our request:


Alexander MacLean Sinclair was born in 1840 at the home of his maternal grandfather, John MacLean ("the Bard MacLean"), on March 1, 1840, in Glenbard, Antigonish Co. Nova Scotia. His father, John Sinclair, was born in Breckrow, Scotland in 1797 and his mother Christy MacLean, in Tiree Scotland in 1809.

Alexander lived with his parents in Goshen, Nova Scotia only briefly: his mother returned shortly to Glenbard with him and he did not see father for 12 years even thought he lived only 16 miles away. Thereafter, he saw his father more regularly. His father died in 1875; his mother in 1887.

Alexander was raised in a Gaelic environment and was an outdoors enthusiast. When he started school in 1848 he was unable to speak English but by the age of 15, he was a teacher in Lochaber with 90 pupils enrolled, each paying 1 shilling per month.

In 1856, he entered the well known Pictou Academy, where he studied for about a half a year being commended for his proficiency especially in mathematics. He returned to the Academy for a further four months in 1858 while teaching at the same time, his mother going with him to keep house. Subsequently, he studied at the Free Church College, Halifax and Dalhousie College, Halifax.

He became an ordained minister of the Presbyterian Church at the age of 26 in 1866 and spent 40 years in the ministry, serving congregations in Springville and Sunnybrae and in Belfast, P.E.I. for 18 years. He married Mary Ann Campbell in 1882 and the couple had five children: Charles MacLean (1885), John MacLean(1888), Christy (1891), George MacLean (1895) and Donald MacLean (1899). Alexander retired from the active ministry in 1906 and eventually settled in Hopewell, N.S. where he built a house.

He had a life-long interest in the Gaelic language, and while in Springville in 1874, he developed a strong interest in local and family history. After retirement, he taught Celtic Studies at Dalhousie University and at St. Francis Xavier for 7 years. He was made a fellow of the Gaelic Society of Canada and in 1914, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws by Dalhousie University. He died in 1924 and is buried in Glanbard.

Alexander MacLean Sinclair was a man of wide learning and of many interests. He prepared and had printed in several volumes, a large collection of Gaelic poetry but his book on the Clan MacLean was his major achievement. His book on the Clan Sinclair is a much slimmer volume (45 pages as compared to 532).

He wrote dozens of articles for the press on family and local history. He also composed Gaelic poetry and maintained the used of the Gaelic throughout his life. He was able to collect some rare and valuable manuscripts, many of which are now in the Public Archives of Nova Scotia. He was a recognized Gaelic Scholar on both sides of the Atlantic.


(Alisdair modestly adds that these notes were compiled from "Some Family History" [1979] by D.M. Sinclair, now in the Provincial Archives. D.M. Sinclair was the son of Alexander M. and the father of Alisdair.)

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