Katharine McLennan (1892-1975) developed and nurtured many interests and causes during her lifetime, most of which were dedicated to the betterment of her community.Born to wealth and privilege, Katharine was educated in Canada, the United States and Europe, and by private tutors. Until her early 20s, she led a sheltered life of travel with her family in winter, and summers spent on the McLennan estate, Petersfield in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. After the death of her mother Louise Bradley McLennan in 1912, she assisted her father J.S. McLennan with his extensive research of the Fortress of Louisbourg.
Shortly after the First World War began Katharine’s only brother Hugh was killed in battle at Ypres, France. She felt she needed to contribute to the war effort and so joined the Red Cross as a nurse’s aide. From accounts of the war and the photographs, correspondence and drawings that remain of her three years overseas, the effect of this experience on Katharine was profound and lasting.
Upon returning to Cape Breton after the war, Katharine ignited once again her passion and commitment to the history of Louisbourg. She worked to preserve the Fortress of Louisbourg site, helping to finance and manage the building of the Louisbourg Museum. She served as volunteer Curator for over twenty years. In addition to her work at Louisbourg, Katharine became involved with the Cape Breton Regional Library Board, the Victorian Order of Nurses, and the Red Cross. She was a founding member of the Old Sydney Society and an ardent supporter of the Cape Breton Miners' Museum and St. Patrick's Church Museum. For her service, she was given many honours by organizations such as the National Library Association, the Business and Professional Women’s Club of Sydney, and the Sydney Centennial Commission. Katharine was also invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada and received an honorary doctorate from St. Francis Xavier University.
Katharine’s passion for history and her independent spirit led her in directions not usually followed by women of her generation, which, combined with her commitment to her community, made her an exemplary citizen whose legacy continues to inspire, even today.