Charles William Macdonald (1874-1967) was at various points in his life a seaman, labourer, artist, a manufacturer, and perhaps most importantly a visionary. Bernard Riordon wrote in the 1981 Art Gallery of Nova Scotia catalogue for a posthumous exhibition showcasing Macdonald's artwork, "to study about the life of Charles Macdonald is to learn and gain an appreciation for a man who was filled with boundless energy and ambition and who lived life to the fullest extent. His life exemplified the spirit of the 'common man' in Canada."
During his life, Charlie was not driven by monetary concerns. He never sold his artwork, preferring to give pieces away to friends and family. He was an environmentalist, taking out newspaper advertisement space to implore the public to save the bees. He cared about his employees, making Kentville Concrete Products into a cooperative partnership, and when he retired he handed the keys over to his workers to continue on without him. When he died, Charlie willed his property to the community of Centreville so that future generations would benefit from his generosity.
His concrete buildings in Centreville and Huntington Point, with their unique mode of construction and architectural style, have become Annapolis Valley landmarks on par with the Maud Lewis house in Digby. Charlie's legacy is an important contribution to the political, social, economic and cultural life of Nova Scotia.
Although he would travel around the world, Charles Macdonald spent most of his long life in the rural Annapolis Valley of Nova Scotia. Born into a family of six children in Steam Mill, Nova Scotia, Macdonald's father worked as an apple grower and his grandfather as a Presbyterian minister.
In 1898, during the twilight of the Golden Age of Sail, Charles Macdonald went away to sea. Macdonald had been born in 1874, and Nova Scotia's own shipbuilding and shipping industries had peaked ten years earlier. By 1898, the days when Nova Scotia had boasted the world's fourth-largest merchant fleet had passed by.
LIFE AS AN ARTIST
Mabel Misner Macdonald was born in the Fundy shore village of Chipman Brook, NS, in 1898, the twelfth of the twelve children of fisherman James Albert Misner and his wife Lila Jane. The Misners belonged to what Mabel's nephew Mariss described as "a good old Nova Scotian family" that had arrived in Nova Scotia aboard the English ship 'Murdock' in 1751.
Charles Macdonald was, at various times in his life, a carpenter, a sailor, and a manufacturer. But he was always an artist. In perhaps 200 paintings and several surviving sketchbooks, Charles Macdonald has left us an invaluable record of his Nova Scotia, especially the Annapolis Valley on the mainland and the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton.
VIEWS ON POLITICS
Mabel and Charlie Macdonald got new neighbours in 1924, as Roscoe Fillmore, his wife Margaret, and their four children, Dick, Ruth, Rosa, and Alexandra, arrived in Centreville from New Brunswick. Roscoe had been an ardent communist since high school.
Charles Macdonald spent most of his twenties and thirties as a wanderer. Several years at sea were followed by several years in British Columbia. Only in 1912, at the age of 38, was Macdonald ready to come home to Nova Scotia and to settle down. He would devote the next forty years of his life to manufacturing, promoting, and using concrete.