Nova Scotia

These volunteer firefighters came together to honour a 51-year veteran days after he died

For the past 51 years, the sound of sirens would prompt Charles MacLaren to reach for his gear and run over to the Stellarton fire hall — but on Sunday, the fire trucks went to his house instead.

Charles MacLaren became a firefighter soon after he turned 20; he stayed on until he died at 72

After his passing, a 51-year veteran of a N.S. fire department is honoured by his peers

5 months ago
Duration 1:48
Careers may come and go for some, but Charles MacLaren found his calling early on. He was a member of the Stellarton Fire Department for more than five decades.

For the past 51 years, the sound of sirens would prompt Charles MacLaren to reach for his gear and run over to the Stellarton fire hall.

But on Sunday, the fire trucks went to his house instead, the lights and sirens ringing through the neighbourhood as a final send-off to a man who was a brother to his fellow firefighters and an adopted grandfather to many of the children in this rural Nova Scotia town. 

MacLaren died of cancer on Jan. 14 at the age of 72.

He had continued to serve as a volunteer firefighter until the last months of his life, despite having been diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, said his daughter, Annette MacLaren.

Pandemic restrictions meant the MacLaren family — and the Stellarton firefighting family — couldn't hold a funeral reception with its accompanying honour guard and parade of fire trucks.

Charles MacLaren served as a volunteer firefighter in Stellarton, N.S., for 51 years. His fellow firefighters paid tribute to him in a special way after he died Jan. 14. (Submitted by Annette MacLaren)

So more than a dozen volunteer firefighters drove up Charles MacLaren's street in uniform and recited the firefighter's prayer outside his family home. 

His daughter and her children watched from the porch.

"I know my dad was up there smiling down, knowing that they had come to the house," she said. "The fire department was such a big part of his life."

MacLaren had just turned 20 when he and his brother joined the Stellarton volunteer department. Although his brother later moved away, Charles found another brotherhood at the fire hall. 

"His brothers from another mother," Annette MacLaren said, laughing.

Until his COPD diagnosis, Charles MacLaren was always the first person to climb onto the roof of burning buildings. One of his daughter's earliest memories is seeing her dad from a height, surrounded by smoke. 

Annette MacLaren says some of her earliest memories of her dad involve him responding to fires. (Submitted by Annette MacLaren)

"I remember him running, because we only lived two streets over from the fire department," she said. "When that beeper would go off, Dad would be off and running down the street."

But he had other responsibilities, too. He worked at the Michelin Tire factory for most of his adult life, raised a daughter and a son, Anthony, and while he was officially a grandfather of four, he was the chosen grandfather of many.

A life of service and simple pleasures

In retirement, MacLaren enjoyed the simple pleasures — a morning drive through town to get a coffee or a visit with friends who might be at the fire hall. 

And he never retired from firefighting; he switched over to traffic control when he couldn't climb up on the roof any longer, said Stellarton fire Chief Mike O'Sullivan.

"He was always there to help out [and] as he got older, he let the younger guys do the climbing," O'Sullivan said. "But he was always there to help, regardless of how big or small of a job it was."

The family plans to hold a service for MacLaren once pandemic restrictions allow.

And his fellow firefighters are promising there will be an honour guard.



Laura Fraser

Senior writer

Laura Fraser is a senior writer and editor with CBC News and is based in Halifax. She writes about justice, health and the human experience. Story ideas are welcome at


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