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MACLEAR, THOMAS, bookseller and publisher; b. 12 Aug. 1815 in Strabane (Northern Ireland); m. 1839 Isabel Arbuckle of Coleraine (Northern Ireland), and they had three sons and four daughters; d. 2 Jan. 1898 in Montreal.

Thomas Maclear opened a bookstore in Toronto in the summer of 1848. He advertised as an agent of the Glasgow publishing firm Blackie and Son, and he may have worked for this company in Scotland and Canada before starting his own business. About November 1850 he began publishing William Henry Smith*’s Canada: past, present and future in a series of ten paper-covered parts. The work was “supplied to Subscribers through the medium of Travellers,” a method of publishing Maclear was to favour throughout his career. Two years later he launched another ambitious publication, the monthly Anglo-American Magazine, edited by Robert Jackson Macgeorge* and illustrated with wood-engravings by John Allanson*, Frederick C. Lowe, and other artists (a series of views of Canadian cities that appeared in the magazine were later used to “embellish” copies of Canada: past, present and future). Among its contributions to Canadian culture, the Anglo-American introduced poet Charles Sangster to its readers. Other publications in the early 1850s included the first Canadian edition of Harriet Elizabeth Beecher Stowe’s celebrated novel about American slavery, Uncle Tom’s cabin (1852), and several works, such as a history of the siege of Londonderry, that reflect Maclear’s Irish Protestant background.

In January 1854, in partnership with William Walter Copp and William Cameron Chewett, Maclear purchased the major part of the business of bookseller and publisher Hugh Scobie* from his widow. The new firm, Maclear and Company, continued the Anglo-American Magazine (it ceased in 1855) and the distribution of Blackie and Son’s publications as well as the printing, publishing, and bookselling activities established by Scobie. Among its publications were The female emigrant’s guide . . . by Catharine Parr Traill [Strickland], issued in parts in 1854 and 1855, and Adam Lillie*’s essay, written on the occasion of the Paris exhibition, Canada: physical, economic, and social (1855). The partners had purchased Scobie’s business for £6,500, £1,000 down and the balance to be paid over 11 years. The debt was endorsed by Chewett’s wealthy father, James Grant Chewett*, who in return received security on the whole business and thus had a say in its operation. Maclear evidently did not relish the amount of power held by Chewett Sr and in 1857 he withdrew from the partnership and set up on his own as a wholesale bookseller and stationer. (Copp and Chewett would continue to use the name Maclear and Company until 1861.)

At first Maclear seemed to be doing well. In 1858, taking advantage of a current fashion, he advertised the “Toronto Stereoscope Depot Where you will find the very best instruments, And the newest views.” However, by 1860 he was in financial difficulties. An agent for R. G. Dun and Company reported that in August he had had to ask his creditors for “an extension of 8, 16 & 24 mos. on his indebtedness.” The following year he sold his stock to William Manson, his former traveller. By July 1862 he had taken back the stock held by Manson and resumed business under the name Maclear and Company, but he continued to do poorly. Later that year he was forced to arrange a compromise of ten shillings in the pound with his creditors. Though despairing of his business “capacity” and his “eventual success,” the Dun agent noted that Maclear “retains still his high char[acter] for honor.” In December 1865 two of his sons, William H. and Thomas A. Maclear, bought his stock in trade, and he announced that he was retiring from the firm. The reason for this move is not clear because he continued to operate the business.

Throughout most of the 1860s Maclear and Company appears in the Toronto directories as booksellers and stationers, but by the end of the decade Maclear had returned to publishing. His output in the 1870s and 1880s reflects the popular tastes of the day: works on sex and hygiene by the American writer George Henry Napheys, several books about missionary and explorer David Livingstone, and a number of strongly Protestant publications, including William Shannon’s 400-page anthology The dominion Orange harmonist (1876). These books were sold through agents, who were promised “inducements . . . far superior to any ever previously offered by any publishing house in Canada.” Maclear’s most important publications in his later years, however, were Nicholas Flood Davin*’s The Irishman in Canada (1877) and William Jordan Rattray*’s The Scot in British North America (4v., 1880–84), both advertised as part of a “National Series” and available in a variety of binding styles and prices.

If Maclear had intended to continue the series with histories of other ethnic groups, the plan was not carried out. In 1887 he retired from business and two years later he moved to live with a daughter in Montreal. By the time he died in 1898 at the age of 82 his days of prominence were long past, but the Toronto Globe recalled that he had once been the city’s “leading publisher and bookseller.”

Elizabeth Hulse

[Valuable information about Maclear’s publishing activities appears in the advertisements included in many of his publications.  E.H.]

Baker Library, R. G. Dun & Co. credit ledger, Canada, 26. Bookseller and Stationer (Toronto), 14 (1898), no.1: 2. Canada Gazette, 27 Jan. 1866. Gazette (Montreal), 3 Jan. 1898. Globe, 19 Jan. 1854, 8 June 1861, 4 Jan. 1898. Canada directory, 1851. Dict. of Toronto printers (Hulse). Alfred Sylvester, Sketches of Toronto, comprising a complete and accurate description of the principal points of interest in the city . . . (Toronto, 1858), 118. Toronto directory, 1850–89. Elizabeth Hulse, “The life and times of William Walter Copp: the book trades in nineteenth-century Toronto,” Sticks and stones; some aspects of Canadian printing history, comp. and ed. John Gibson and Laurie Lewis (Toronto, 1980), 69–92. Patricia Stone, “The publishing history of W. H. Smith’s Canada: past, present and future: a preliminary investigation,” Biblio. Soc. of Canada, Papers (Toronto), 19 (1980): 38–68.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Elizabeth Hulse, “MACLEAR, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 2, 2014, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/maclear_thomas_12E.html.

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Permalink: http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/maclear_thomas_12E.html
Author of Article: Elizabeth Hulse
Title of Article: MACLEAR, THOMAS
Publication Name: Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher: University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication: 1990
Year of revision: 1990
Access Date: September 2, 2014