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February 3, 2007

Haileybury’s Leslie McFarlane Archives Given to McMaster


While visiting my two daughters in Hamilton at Christmas I noticed the news report of an exciting acquisition for the McMaster University Archives.  It was a huge and valuable collection of material on Leslie McFarlane (1902-1977), the highly prolific writer of books, films, and television material who is originally from Haileybury.  The Northern Ontario connection got my attention. 

Some of the hundreds of items in the McMaster University Library collection.

McFarlane is best known now for work he was not particularly proud of when he wrote it.  Twenty one of fifty one Hardy Boys books in the 1930s and 40s that sold millions of copies in 50 languages and taught millions of young people to read.  He also wrote other adolescent pulp fiction books on contract while trying to survive as a writer from 1926 to 1947.  He had no rights to the books but the publisher got rich. 

I checked in the North Bay Library and there are dozens of the books there – many updated by the company to make them more current and politically correct.  His contract required that he write in a pseudonym (Franklin W. Dixon) and to not reveal he was the author.  In 1976 in his excellent biography Ghost of the Hardy Boys he admitted that he wrote the books. 

When I decided to write about Leslie I remembered reading his books and my kids reading his books.  I was watching Corner Gas recently and saw Davis with a Hardy Boys book.  Bill Bryson in his very funny new book The Thunderbolt Kid tells about reading the Hardy Boys books.  The computer shows that Haileybury is proud of McFarlane, has a display in their fine museum, and a street named after him.  Bruce W. Taylor has written a book about him called The Hardy Boys’ Haileybury Connection that is on sale at the museum. 

Leslie, who was born in 1902 came to Haileybury when his dad became a school principal there in 1910.  The family lived in several different homes over the years.  Leslie won a first prize for his writing in 1915 and won several others before he became a newspaper reporter for the Cobalt Nugget (Now the North Bay Nugget) and other papers including those in Sudbury and Welland.  As a newspaper reporter in the U.S. he saw an ad for a pulp fiction business producing children’s books and wrote several books for one series before the Hardy Boys where he set the standard. 

He married and had three children and moved back to Haileybury where he wrote more Hardy Boys books plus some books under his own name.  He also wrote dozens of articles for publications like Maclean’s where he became an editor.  In 1929 he moved to Whitby where he lived until his death in 1977.  There is a school named after him there. 

Later in his career he became a producer/director for the National Film Board and made some 50 films including one nominated for an Academy Award.  He also had a job overseeing scripts for the CBC and wrote some 70 scripts himself for radio and television.  He met Lorne Green there and wrote for Bonanza briefly. 

The Hardy Boys appeared in several T.V. series – two in the 1950s, and another in 1977.  A 1995 series had the brothers no longer as teenagers – it lasted only 13 episodes. 

In 2004 Marilyn Greenwald wrote a book called The Secret of the Hardy Boys: Leslie McFarlane and the Stratemeyer Syndicate.  Most of the book is about “Les” McFarlane including his life in Haileybury – much of it from his many diaries which are now at McMaster. 

McFarlane’s author daughter Norah who with her brother donated the material to McMaster is writing a book on her father.  Brother Brian spent 25 years on Hockey Night in Canada as a commentator and has written some 65 books primarily on hockey.  Quite a remarkable family. 

It is fitting that now on the 30th anniversary of his death Leslie and his family are getting the recognition they deserve.  For more information check online where there are dozens of references.  The Haileybury Museum is open Monday-Friday from 9-4 and from June 1 to Labour Day 9-6 – seven days a week. 

By the way, I called Chris Oslund, the curator of the Museum in Haileybury to congratulate him on becoming the new President of the Ontario Historical Society and found he has moved on to be the Clerk of the Town of Haileybury.  Congratulations Chris. 


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