Scientist, philosopher, outdoorsman, Renaissance man. Born on Oct. 3, 1932, in Springhill, N.S.; died on Jan. 26, 2014, in Oakville, Ont., from prostate cancer, aged 81.
When Earle Brown stood at Queen Maeve’s tomb atop a steep bluff in Knocknarea, Ireland, he fulfilled a spiritual and genealogical quest that had its beginnings in his childhood in Cumberland County, Nova Scotia.
Earle was born to a young couple working as a lumberjack and a cook in a lumber camp during the Depression. Wartime brought a factory job for his father, Chesley, and a move for the family to Amherst, N.S. But tragedy struck with his father’s death when Earle was nine. He and younger brother Bill were raised by their mother, Blanche, on a widow’s pension, and from a young age, Earle helped out by working weekends and summers.
Music was an early passion. A cousin taught him to play guitar, and he listened to everything from classical to country to blues. Yet his favourite songs were the traditional folk and fiddle tunes first heard in Nova Scotia kitchens.
Earle’s love of learning was evident from his early days in a one-room schoolhouse through high school in Amherst. After having to leave high school to work, he finished his last year by correspondence and then completed teachers’ training at the provincial college. While teaching in Timberlea, he received a Lord Beaverbrook Scholarship that enabled him to attend Mount Allison University in Sackville, N.B., where he graduated cum laude with a bachelor of science in 1956. At “Mount A” he met his wife of 57 years, Mary,
Earle worked as a chemist at the Naval Research Establishment in Halifax for many years, while also studying for his master’s in science at Dalhousie University. When the NRE laboratory closed, Earle and Mary decided to “go down the road,” moving their two daughters, Carolyn and Winnifred, to Toronto and then to Oakville, Ont. Earle made a career specializing in materials chemistry with the Ontario Research Foundation.
Earle spent as much time as possible outdoors. Weekends would find him fly fishing, a fiddle tune on his lips, or taking the family out in the fibreglass canoe he made. He and Mary camped and fished in remote spots on the Pacific coastline. Earle hiked with his daughters on Ontario’s Bruce Trail, and fished Nova Scotia’s fabled Star Lake with his brother and nephews. He and Mary built a cottage on Brule Point, N.S., where they would canoe into the bay as the sun set.
He made lifelong friends, from the students he influenced to the high school and college buddies who listened to folk and blues records with him, from fellow Rotarians to his snooker opponents at the seniors’ centre.
In retirement, he had more time for the genealogical research he began in the 1970s. Over the years, he cleared overgrowth in pioneer cemeteries, scoured family bibles and interviewed elderly relatives to trace a family history stretching back to the earliest European settlers in Canada and the United States.
He also had more time to read. Earlier in life he had favoured social history and mythology, and these led to classical literature, philosophy, religion, and the history of science. As he often said, “You never stop learning.”
Earle was 78 when he went to Ireland with his daughters and granddaughter Krista to learn more about Celtic beliefs and the origins of his family. Despite having to use a cane, he gamely made the ascent to the Neolithic passage tomb on Knocknarea and looked out from the land of his ancestors across the ocean they were to traverse so many centuries later.
Carolyn Brown is Earle’s daughter.