- The Bahá’í Faith
- Canadian Community
- Bahá’í Community Life
- Historical Figures
- The Arts
- Bahá’ís and the Government
- Social Action & Justice
- World Community
Donald MacLaren (1893 - 1988)
Donald Roderick MacLaren was one of Canada’s most decorated World War I flying aces, a pioneer in Canada’s aviation industry, and the first employee of Trans-Canada Airlines, the predecessor to Air Canada. In later years, MacLaren learned about the Bahá’í Faith, served on its national governing council, and taught others about the Faith through to his last days. Believing firmly in Bahá’u’lláh’s teaching that the “earth is but one country and mankind its citizens,” he is remembered with those who expressed their faith in a better world through action.
Donald MacLaren was born in Ottawa on 28 May 1893. Seven years later, his family moved to Calgary where he attended public school and Western Canada College. While MacLaren was still in his childhood, his father taught him to shoot a rifle and he became an expert marksman at an early age, practicing on clay pigeons in the field behind his family’s home. MacLaren’s family moved to Vancouver in 1911, but he and one of his brothers went east to attend McGill University in Montreal.
Despite studies in the city, his heart was in Canada’s vast northland. It was during his visits to the north that he learned the Cree language and fell in love with it. Poor health forced him to leave school early in 1914 and return to the west, but it was in Montreal that he saw his first airplane. He never had an early compulsion to fly, but the airplane was a machine that would play a significant role in his future, little as he knew it then.
MacLaren was working in a fur-trading post with his father and brother, surveying the lower Peace Keg River, when a recruiting advertisement in a 1917 newspaper caught his eye. The advertisement announced that a Royal Flying Corps recruiting officer would be in Vancouver to meet young men interested in flying for the air force. On 10 May 1917, MacLaren enlisted in the RFC and headed for France via half a dozen training stations, while his brother joined the Royal Navy.
His brief but eventful service in the air force established him as one of Canada’s outstanding aces, gaining the greatest number of victories of any RFC pilot to fly the Sopwith Camel. His combat career came to an end on 10 October 1918, when he broke his leg wrestling with a friend, but his career in aviation had only begun. The postwar years were pioneer days for airplanes, and there were many opportunities for skilled pilots.
The Canadian government started aviation branches for fisheries patrols, aerial mapping, and for training civilians, and MacLaren was called to Vancouver in 1919 to choose a suitable location for an air base. He chose Jericho Beach at the south entrance to False Creek. In 1924, he bought a second-hand HS2L flying boat, later followed by a Curtis JN-4 “Jenny,” and with financial backing started Pacific Airways Limited, which provided a freight and passenger service between Vancouver, Victoria, Seattle, and settlements up the coast. In 1928, Western Canada Airways Ltd. bought MacLaren’s company but left him in charge of Pacific Lines when the assets of WCA and an eastern company, Aviation Corporation of Canada, were combined to form Canadian Airways Limited.
Airlines in the United States were developing a cross-country network of operations and Canada did not want to be left behind. In 1937, C.D. Howe, then Minister of Transport, asked MacLaren to help in the formation of Trans-Canada Airlines, the predecessor of Air Canada. Five days after the Trans-Canada Airlines Act was proclaimed, MacLaren signed on to become TCA’s first employee.
Donald MacLaren and his wife, Verna, learned about the Bahá’í Faith from Ross Woodman in Winnipeg, joining the Bahá’í community in 1952. Ross Woodman was one of the first members to serve on the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá’ís of Canada in 1948. MacLaren was later elected to the National Spiritual Assembly and served the institution from 1954 to 1957. In October 1967, Donald and Verna represented the National Spiritual Assembly of Canada at the Intercontinental Bahá’í Conference in Sydney, Australia. Sadly, Verna passed away in 1968 from cancer, but Donald’s service to the Bahá’í Faith carried on, inspired by his wife, who had, as he described, “...led me into the Faith... lived as a Bahá’í... taught me how to treat and behave toward my fellow man.”
In the years that followed, MacLaren met and married his second wife, Alice, happily teaching and speaking about the Bahá’í Faith wherever they travelled. He was known for preferring to recite his prayers in the Cree language “because they sound better.” At the age of 85, MacLaren was quoted in an interview as saying the following when asked about his enthusiasm in the Bahá’í Faith: “If you believe in it, you’re active in it.” Donald MacLaren passed away in Vancouver on 4 July 1988.