Jim St. Clair - Stories of Cape Breton
James O. St. Clair was born November 21, 1930 in Massachusetts, the son of Byron St.Clair and Louise May Marsh. His mother, Louise was the daughter of Susan MacFarlane of Mull River, Cape Breton, and Clarence Otis Marsh of Massachusetts. Both sides of the family were Scottish in origin; the St. Clairs had come to Massachusetts in the 1750’s, the MacFarlanes to Cape Breton some 70 years later.Trained as a teacher and historian, Jim developed a life-long enthusiasm for genealogy and family history. He has researched many of the immigrant families of Cape Breton, people of many ethnic strains, and has published in Mabou Pioneer II, histories of 50 families of the Mabou area. He is a much sought after genealogical resource for people “from away” researching Cape Breton and those at home wishing to know more.
Jim has also been the genealogy editor of the Inverness County Participaper, a cultural and heritage publication prepared by the County of Inverness for the residents. For 21 years, his column “Ancestors Unlimited’ has been a feature of this publication.
Author of a children’s book in cooperation with the Nova Scotia Highland Village and of two books on Cape Breton houses and their occupants in partnership with Dr. Mary K. MacLeod, Jim was a board member of the N.S. Highland Village for more than twenty years and has worked closely with staff in the development of Roots Cape Breton. Roots was begun in 1987 to computerize the searching for genealogical information. Jim knew firsthand the frustration of searching for families by hand and through reels of microfilm and wished to make the task easier with the introduction of computers.
He is currently a member of the Board of Governors of Nova Scotia Museum and of the Strait Area Regional Development Agency as well as a number of other museological and cultural organizations. A valued member of the Inverness Guysborough Presbytery of the United Church of Canada, Jim has served the church in many capacities.
Through his “Then and Now” spot on CBC Cape Breton Information Morning, Jim tells the world about Cape Breton and our people. Local newspapers such as the Inverness Oran and Victoria Standard carried his columns on Cape Breton history for many years.
Jim was instrumental in founding the Iona Connection, an organization of heritage organizations and individuals on Cape Breton Island. Following the bi-centennial celebrations of the founding of Cape Breton, Jim and others realized more needed to be done to preserve the heritage of the Island. In 1987 the organization met as an ad hoc committee. He served as President and a member of the Board for many years. Through Jim’s urging, the Iona Connection was reformed as a Co-op and remains as such today with over 60 member organizations.
The folks in his part of Cape Breton know Jim as a teacher, mentor, storyteller, and most of all, a friend. His knowledge and wisdom are freely given to anyone who asks. Researchers come to his door looking for information on their ancestors, and find not only the facts, but the story behind the facts. He has traveled Cape Breton many times over as a volunteer for numerous organizations, encouraging and inspiring the people involved. His stories, told in a deep and resonant voice, weave together local anecdotes and oral narratives with historical details of time and place, bringing the past alive for Cape Bretoners and visitors alike.
Biography written by Pauline MacLean, Highland Village, Iona; revised by Linda Winham
Learn More About Jim St. Clair
Heritage Cape Breton video interview
About the Recordings
Stories of Cape Breton: The magic and mystery of a people’s lives
Jim St. Clair tells tales tales of ghosts and great happenings, of courage, adventure and everyday deeds. Each has its origin in a place which can still be visited; each involves people whose descendants walk the hills of Cape Breton to this day.
All his life, Jim has listened to the stories of the island that is his home: stories told by relatives and friends at ceilihds and across kitchen tables. He has dedicated much time and energy to ensuring that the tales he has heard are passed on. Storytelling is a vital part of Cape Breton’s cultural heritage—a very particular means of keeping the history of those who came to this part of Canada from Scotland, and who for so long kept the Gaelic language alive. Sometimes the stories are about personalities, sometimes about life-shaping events; some deal in the inexplicable. Together, they reveal patterns of belief and living, of social ties and decision-making that secure a special place for Cape Breton Island in its people’s hearts.
A resident of Mull River, Inverness County, Cape Breton, Jim lives surrounded by history on the 600 acre farm established by his great-great grandparents in 1820 when they arrived from the Island of Mull and in the house built by his great-grandparents in 1871. Part of that family land is now a “Special Place”, a protected area of old-growth forest known as the MacFarlane Woods, which is available for walking tours. Jim takes people on the tour giving his own unique insights about the land and how people worked with it to build a life.
His introduction to history and the preservation of memories began as a small child with trips in the Cape Breton countryside. His aunts would tell him about the places they passed on the journey and about the people who lived there. On the way home, he was expected to repeat back to them the stories told on the journey. This way he learned the appreciation for genealogy and family history which is his trademark today.
Some of the recording was done at the McQuarrie-Fox House at the Nova Scotia Museum historic site, Highland Village, in Iona. Jim was instrumental in the creation of this historic village, which displays the type of homes a Scottish immigrant family built, from the first rough “black house” to the log cabin and increasingly comfortable and well-appointed houses of later generations. The village also shows the school, general store, church and other buildings which were typical of settlements in Cape Breton.
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Jim considers these stories to belong to humanity’s common inheritance. He is happy to have them told by all who wish. He asks only that both he and StorySave should be credited for use in oral telling.
Copyright in sound recording, liner text and images is with Storytellers of Canada/Conteurs du Canada. Written permission is required for recording, videotaping or other means of reproduction.