This time-stained portrait of John Hiram McCleary shows a man with a determined look about him. The prospective turkey farmer sought out Albert’s advice when he was a dreamy boy of nine; obviously, Albert had made a great impression on him during his visit in 1891, and a flame was kindled. Albert would express his gratitude to John for ‘kindness shown’ during his last days. John inherited the old homestead property and farmed it before selling it to George McCleary in 1971, three years before his death. (Photo courtesy of George McCleary)

Walter Volovsek: Time Windows, John H. McCleary — A Link in the Chain

When Albert returned to his family homestead in 1891 he learned the property had been subdivided

When Albert returned to his family homestead in 1891 he learned the 200-acre property had been subdivided according to his father’s will, and the portions were managed by his brothers. Samuel, now married with three sons, owned the southern portion and lived in the newer wood frame building that had replaced the original log cabin. John was the owner of the northern half, and with Samuel’s help, he was putting up his own house and barn. Eventually his mother Caroline would live with him. John remained a bachelor.

During Albert’s stay on the farm, he entertained his hosts with many stories of his adventures. Samuel’s two elder sons especially must have been awe-struck by the stories of an adventuresome life. He kept them spellbound as he recalled barroom brawls with violent endings, adventures in the bush with his back-packing dogs, and winning a prize by extracting a vicious badger from a barrel. He threw in his dog to do the work for him.

Neither of the two older boys would marry, and both would remain dedicated workers on the farm. John Hiram had a close call with appendicitis: he had been saved by a doctor who performed emergency surgery on the kitchen table. The youngest son, Charles, was only two years old during Albert’s visit; he would bring a wife to the farm, whose woman’s touch and cooking skills were greatly appreciated by the three brothers. Samuel died relatively young in 1902.

The lure of the West soon enticed Albert to return to the Kootenay region: the winter of 1893 was spent in Revelstoke. On January 21 Albert replied to a letter from nine-year-old John Hiram McCleary, whom he befriended during his home visit. Not a letter-writer by nature, Albert struggled to offer him some practical advice on animal husbandry. Hidden between the lines, however, is a glimpse of Albert himself: his regret over the poor schooling he had obtained, his consideration for not offending John’s mother, and his fundamental integrity. After giving practical advice on raising turkeys, he concludes:

“Well John, I think your ma should allow you to raise all the Ducks and Geese and Hens and Turkeys that you can take care of. There is lots of men made a fortune raising Poultry. The main thing is to keep a good breed. It does not cost any more to keep a good Fowl than it does to keep a poor one. Well John, I think you and Albert had better keep to school and learn to read and write and Spelling and Grammar and all other branches of Learning. You will find that when you grow up that a good Learning will be more benefit to you than anything else. Write again. A. McCleary”

Albert returned briefly home in 1917 as John had offered him a share of his property, but Albert changed his mind and reversed the legal procedure. He returned to his job with the CPR for two more years, before coming home for the final time. In his will, prepared two weeks before his death on November 29, 1921, he stipulated that the $100 loan to John Hiram and his brother Charles be forgiven “in consideration of the kindness extended to me during my last days”.

After the death of Samuel responsibilities for managing the farm transferred to his widow Eliza and three sons. When Charles married Eva Bull in 1912, another capable woman was brought into the household. The house became progressively emptier with the deaths of Eliza (1926), Albert (1957), Charles (1964) and Eva (1971). In 1971, George McCleary, eldest son of Edwin McCleary (son of Robert George), bought the property.

John Hiram was fondly remembered as a pipe-smoking storyteller, some of those undoubtedly of Albert’s vintage. He outlived all of his brothers and became the solitary occupant of the historic dwelling, which still survives. On a hot summer day in 1974, during the haying season, John collapsed from a heart attack in the kitchen, where relatives found him. He died in hospital on July 30. George built a new home on the property, about 150 meters from the old house, where he now resides with his wife Anne. In 1994 he retired from a distinguished career in education and followed it with civic and community service. A genuine interest in history led to the publication of his book on the McCleary clan, which was of great assistance in this Time Windows series.

This is the fourth part of the history of the McCleary’s, based on the book Ireland to Canada: The John McCleary Story, by George McCleary.

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