John Clarence Webster
John Clarence Webster (writer and historian) was born 21 October 1863 in Shediac, New Brunswick, and died 16 March 1950. Webster was an internationally recognized physician and surgeon. Later in life, however, he became best known in Canada for his contributions to Canadian history. The majority of his scholarly work occurred when he returned to Shediac in 1919. At that time, he began collecting historical documents, prints, and articles, and he began writing books and monographs, many of which were published privately. These quickly won him national acclaim as the foremost authority on New Brunswick history at the time.
In his early years, Webster attended Westmorland Grammar School in Shediac, under the headship of D.B. White. Later he attended Mount Allison University in 1878 and graduated in 1882 with a BA. Early on, he aspired to attend Edinburgh Medical School in Scotland, a dream instilled by his Scottish father and supported by D.B. White. He completed his Bachelor of Medicine and Master of Surgery there in 1888, and his MD in 1890. His time in Europe inspired a new love of art and history, and the discovery of picture galleries enabled him to glimpse into the history of art in various countries. This preview would inspire his collection of artifacts, documents, and historical art.
With the help of his wife Alice, he was able to collect a large number of historical articles while working in Chicago between 1899 and 1919. When he retired and returned to Shediac, he began studying history and writing full time. His collection of historical artifacts and documents was unrivalled in North America, and in 1934, Webster donated it to the New Brunswick Museum as the “Canadiana collection,” known today as the “Webster Canadiana.” Webster was asked to become a member of the Historical Sites and Monuments Board in 1922, made Commander of “the Order of St. Michael and St. George,” and awarded the Order of Merit by King George V in 1935. These were only a few of the awards he received for his vital contribution to Canadian history and culture.
Webster put great emphasis on the importance of one’s own culture and heritage. This became a central theme is some of his work, especially The Distressed Maritimes: A Study of Educational and Cultural Conditions in Canada (1926) and “Historical Renaissance in the Maritime Provinces and in British Columbia,” which he co-wrote with W.N. Sage for the Canadian Historical Review (1936). For Webster, Maritime culture was a subject that should be known to all Canadians, and so Acadian culture and history forms an integral part of his work in Acadia at the End of the Seventeenth Century (1934), Charles des Champs de Boishebert: A Canadian Soldier in Acadia (1931), and Cornelis Steenwyck, Dutch Governor of Acadie (1929). Webster was similarly preoccupied with the biographies of Canadians whose stories were lost, so he sought to recover those stories through journals and letters. His biographies include The Career of the Abbe Le Loutre in Nova Scotia (1933) and Journals of Beausejour: Diary of John Thomas and Journal of Louis de Courville (1937).
He has published several historical series, such as Acadia at the End of the Seventeenth Century (1934) and Journals of Beausejour (1937), as a way to connect people to their pasts. His view was that a knowledge of heritage made people more fully Canadian. In an address to the National Conference on Education and Citizenship in 1926, he says that “to live only in the present, the richness of our great heritage is utterly ignored as a motive force in our national life” (New Brunswick Museum 1947). He espoused similar sentiments in pamphlets such as Present-Day Aspects of Canadian Nationalism (1922).
On his eighty-first birthday, Webster wrote his autobiography, privately printing it for his family and dedicating it to his children. He called it Those Crowded Years, 1863–1944: An Octogenarian’s Record of Work (1944). The book reveals his desire to make history accessible to all Canadians in a way that did not exist before. Webster brought international recognition to Canadian history in a way, wrote one journalist, that “will find a place in the great libraries of the Anglo-Saxon world as well as in the Bibliothèque Nationale and other important libraries of France, Germany and Sweden” (“Nature Writer of 200 Years Ago” 12).
Felisha DeLong, Winter 2009
St. Thomas University
Bibliography of Primary Sources
Amherst, Baron Jeffery. The Journal of Jeffery Amherst, Recording the Military Career of General Amherst in America from 1758–1763. Ed. John Clarence Webster. Canadian Historical Studies. Toronto, ON: Ryerson, 1931.
Amherst, William. The Recapture of St. John’s, Newfoundland: In 1762, as Described in the Journal of Lt.-Col. William Amherst,Commander of the British Expediary Force. Ed. John Clarence Webster. Shediac, NB: J.C. Webster, 1928.
de Dièreville, Sieur. Relation of the Voyage to Port Royal in Acadia or New France. Trans. Alice de Kessler Lusk Webster. Ed. John Clarence Webster. Publications of the Champlain Society 20. Toronto, ON: Champlain Society, 1933.
de Fiedmont, Louis Thomas Jacau. The Siege of Beauséjour in 1775: A Journal of the Attack on Beauséjour. Trans. Alice de Kessler Lusk Webster. Ed. John Clarence Webster. Historical Studies 1. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1936.
Lawrence, Charles. The Building of Fort Lawrence in Chignecto; A Journal Recently Found in the Gates Collection, New York Historical Society. Ed. John Clarence Webster. Publications of the New Brunswick Museum, Historical Studies 2. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1941.
Thomas, John, and Louis de Courville. Journals of Beauséjour: Diary of John Thomas, Journal of Louis de Courville. Ed. John Clarence Webster. Shediac, NB: Tribune, 1937.
Webster, John Clarence. Acadia at the End of the Seventeenth Century: Letters, Journals and Memoirs of Joseph Robineau de Villebon, Commandant in Acadia, 1690–1700 and Other Contemporary Documents. Monograph Series 1. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1934.
---. The Biological Basis of Menstruation. N.p.: n.p., 1897.
---. Catalogue of Exhibits in the Fort Beauséjour National Park Museum. Ottawa, ON: J.O. Patenaude, 1937.
---. Catalogue of the John Clarence Webster Canadiana Collection (Pictoral Section) New Brunswick Museum. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1939–1949.
---. Charles des Champs de Boishebert. A Canadian Soldier in Acadia. Shediac, NB: J.C. Webster, 1931.
---. Chignecto Dry Dock: An Undescribed French Dock-Like Structure on the La Coupe River. Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada Ser. 3, Sec. 2, Vol. 27. Ottawa, ON: Royal Society of Ottawa, 1933.
---. The Classics of Acadia. Ottawa, ON: Progressive Printers, 1933.
---. Cornelis Steenwyck, Dutch Governor of Acadie. Shediac, NB: J.C. Webster, 1929.
---. A Criticism of Recent Views Regarding Lateral Deviation and Rotation of the Uterus. Edinburgh: Y.J. Pentland, 1897.
---. Diseases of Women: A Text-Book for Students and Practitioners. Edinburgh: Pentland, 1898. Rpt. Philadelphia, PA: W.S. Saunders, 1907.
---. The Distressed Maritimes: A Study of Educational and Cultural Conditions in Canada. Toronto, ON: Ryerson Press, 1926.
---. Ectopic Pregnancy: Its Etiology, Classification, Embryology, Diagnosis and Treatment. Edinburgh: Y.J. Pentland, 1895.
---. Edinburgh Memories and Robert Louis Stevenson. Sackville, NB: Tribune, 1943.
---. An Historical Guide to New Brunswick. Fredericton, NB: New Brunswick Tourist Association, 1928.
---. History in a Government House. N.p.: n.p., 1926.
---. A History of Shediac, New Brunswick. Shediac, NB: J.C. Webster, 1928.
---. Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres and the Atlantic Neptune. Proceedings and Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada Ser. 3, Vol. 21. Ottawa, ON: Royal Society of Canada, 1927.
---. Life of John Montrésor. Ottawa, ON: Royal Soc. of Canada, 1928.
---. Life of Joseph Frederick Wallet Des Barres. Shediac, NB: J.C. Webster, 1933.
---. The Maritimes Since Confederation: An Economic Survery. Sydney, NS: n.p., 1927.
---. Ourselves and Others: Or, Does History Pay? N.p.: n.p., 1924.
---. The Pelvic Viscera in Relation to Microorganisms in Health and Disease. N.p.: n.p., 1897.
---. The Proposed Vauquelin Monuments. Shediac, NB: n.p., 1928.
---. Researches in Female Pelvic Anatomy. Edinburgh: Y.J. Pentland, 1892.
---. Sir Brook Watson: Friend of the Loyalists, First Agent of New Brunswick in London. Sackville, NB: The Argosy, 1924.
---. A Text-Book of Obstetrics. Philadelphia, PA: W.B. Saunders, 1903.
---. Thomas Pichon, The Spy of Beausejour: An Account of His Career in Europe and America, With Many Original Documents. Trans. Alice de Kessler Lusk Webster. Sackville, NB: Tribune, 1937.
---. Those Crowded Years, 1863–1944: An Octogenarian’s Record of Work. Shediac, NB: J.C. Webster, 1944.
---. Tubo-Peritoneal Ectopic Gestation. Edinburgh: Y.J. Pentland, 1892.
---. “A Visit to the Birthplace of James Wolfe, the Conqueror of Quebec.” The Canadian Magazine 9.1 (1897): 22-31.
---. Wolfe: A Bi-Centenary Celebration, London, January 3rd, 1927. Shediac, NB: J.C. Webster, 1927.
---. Wolfe and the Artists: A Study of His Portraiture. Toronto, ON: Ryerson, 1930.
---. Wolfiana: A Potpourri of Facts and Fantasies. Shediac, NB: J.C. Webster, 1927.
Webster, John Clarence, and Jean Louis Le Loutre. The Career of the Abbe Le Loutre in Nova Scotia: With a Translation of His Autobiography. Shediac, NB: J.C. Webster, 1933.
Webster, J.C., and W.N. Sage. “Historical Renaissance in the Maritime Provinces and in British Columbia.” Canadian Historical Review 17.4 (1936): 413-18.
Willard, Abijah. Journal of Abijah Willard: 1755. Ed. John Clarence Webster. St. John, NB: n.p., 1930.
Winslow, Joshua. The Journal of Joshua Winslow. Ed. John Clarence Webster. Publications of the New Brunswick Museum, Historical Studies 2. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1936.
Bibliography of Secondary Sources
Bailey, Alfred Goldsworthy. The John Clarence Webster Collection, an Address. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum, 1936.
“History and Nationalism.” The Globe [Toronto, ON] 28 Dec.1922: 4.
“Nature Writer of 200 Years Ago.” The Globe [Toronto, ON] 8 Feb. 1934: 12.
New Brunswick Museum. Souvenir Commemorating the Presentation of Portrait to ... John Clarence Webster. Saint John, NB: New Brunswick Museum. 1947.
Roche, Janet Webster. Last Letters. Shediac, NB: Privately printed, n.d.
Thomas, G.A. “John Clarence Webster: The Evolution and Motivation of an Historian 1922–1950.” MA thesis. U of New Brunswick, 1990.
“The Webster Canadiana Collection.” New Brunswick Museum. 2003. Nov. 2009