George Frederick Clarke (1883-1974) was a man of the St. John River Valley and a true romantic. From the age of 8 he was determined to become a writer, and a writer he became, against great odds. Clarke is best known for his classic salmon fishing memoirs and for his book on archaeology and First Nation People. But he also published novels, histories, poetry, children’s books, and dozens of short stories.
He created a body of work full of adventure and romance. But the story of his life is as extraordinary as anything he wrote, full of contradictions: a romantic idealist who was intensely practical, a man devoted to family who nearly left his wife and daughters for his lover and their son–a love affair that shocked and polarised his hometown of Woodstock, New Brunswick. He rose above the scandal by sheer force of character.
By the 1960s he was one of the best-known men in New Brunswick, the “great-hearted old man” whom the poet Alden Nowlan knew and loved. He was a strong advocate for his Maliseet First Nation friends. He was a fierce opponent of the Mactaquac dam, which destroyed the St. John as a salmon river. He is considered a pioneer of the conservation movement.
This is no ordinary biography; it has the pace of a lively novel. Mary Bernard’s vivid portrayal of Clarke’s life and times includes a full discussion of his published works in the context of their cultural setting.
The Last Romantic adds a significant chapter to the history of New Brunswick and to the larger story of Canadian cultural identity.