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Award-winning playwright and author reflects on youth in Truro, release of new novel

He’s come a long way since his days of playing the Truro Legion with the Lincolns and John MacLachlan Gray has just released his new novel, “The White Angel.”
He’s come a long way since his days of playing the Truro Legion with the Lincolns and John MacLachlan Gray has just released his new novel, “The White Angel.”

VANCOUVER, B.C. – John MacLachlan Gray was about the size of a bread loaf when he first arrived in Truro.

Born in Ottawa just one year after the Second World War, the little baby grew up in a town that was racially and socially segregated, but he started his career by helping to bring it together.

It was in Truro’s Legion Hall that barriers slowly crumbled, as hundreds of people from all over town came to watch rock ‘n’ roll band The Lincolns, where Gray was a Hammond organ player.

The crowds lapped up the band’s music, in Gray’s words “a bunch of white guys playing Black music and dancing.”

At school he was written off as lazy and inattentive by teachers, but many decades later Gray has released his new novel “The White Angel,” a story around the 1924 cold-case murder of Scottish nanny Janet Smith.

Gray, who now lives in Vancouver, describes in vivid details his adopted hometown of 90 years ago: an opium-hazed, smog-choked and rain-soaked backdrop to murder.

“It’s like turning over a rock and a whole lot of strange creatures crawl out,” said Gray of his new “what-if” story.

His latest novel comes after years of theatrical success worldwide and a Juno nomination last year.

Gray’s most famous work, “Billy Bishop Goes to War” won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Drama after it was released in 1978. The musical follows the life of Bishop, a Canadian First World War fighter pilot.

The play was staged on New York’s Broadway and in London’s West End, as well as in Los Angeles, at the Edinburgh Festival and was released as a feature film in 2011.

Gray has written other musicals, titled “18 Wheels,” “Rock and Roll,” “Don Messer’s Jubilee,” “Health,” and “Amelia: The Girl Who Wants to Fly.”

Among his other literary and theatrical productions, Gray also made a TV musical of three Bible stories titled “The Tree. The Tower. The Flood.”

Off-stage, Gray was once a columnist for the Vancouver Sun and The Globe and Mail, as well as Western Living Magazine. His other works include thrillers set in 19th Century England and pre-Civil War America, to name a few.

His works have won him a Golden Globe, the Governor General’s Medal and the Order of Canada.

“Like a lot of people I think it was mistaken identity but that’s what happens,” quipped Gray about his awards.

Indeed, the one-time graduate of Mount Allison University has come a long way.

Despite his international success, Gray has never forgotten where he is from.

“I think Truro has moved beautifully with the times,” said Gray. “Truro is a very sophisticated little town.”

He has not returned for some years, as his loved ones in the area have passed, but in 1978 The Lincolns performed a reunion show at the local Teachers’ College.

“We had people fly in from as far away as Sweden,” recalled Gray.

Today, Gray lives in Vancouver with his wife Beverlee. They have two sons, 34-year-old Zachary and 30-year-old Ezra.

Ezra is currently an artist in London, having graduated from the Royal College of Art. Zachary is still in Vancouver and lead singer for indie rock band The Zolas.

“We nested with a vengeance,” said Gray of his family life.

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