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Celebrating the life of Harry Freeman

The village of Greenfield said good-bye to Harry Cleveland Freeman on Thursday, in the church that he helped to build.

Harry Freeman

The community turned out en masse to pay its respects to Harry, who loved Greenfield and did everything he could to help it thrive. More than 500 people filled the church and recreation centre that is attached.

There is hardly a part of Greenfield that hasn’t felt his touch, from the recreation complex to the fire department to the ball field to the local museum. And it is the big Harry Freeman & Son mill that is the economic engine driving the village’s existence.

Freemans have been associated with Greenfield since its earliest beginnings, when Gorham Freeman built a sawmill in 1832. Freeman mills, then powered by water, produced lumber and shingles and even ground grain into flour. The mills continued, rebuilding after destruction by fires, hurricanes and disastrous flooding, to the current mill, which is in the midst of a major expansion.

Thus it was that friends, neighbours, workers, people from other parts of Nova Scotia and Canada and business and political leaders joined the Freeman family in a memorial service that was warm, heartfelt and sometimes even funny – just the way Harry Freeman would have wanted it.

At the centre of the gathering were the members of Harry’s immediate family, including his wife, Freda, whom Harry first met when he saw her at the age of fourteen, singing “You Are My Sunshine” at a variety concert in Chelsea. As the story was told, Harry could do nothing but talk about her after seeing her at the concert, but it was three years before he managed to ask her out.

It was especially poignant, at the end of the service, when “You Are My Sunshine” was sung again, by a group of singers from the church, called the Praise Team, which included a number of members of the family.

Harry’s life was described in the eulogy by his daughter, Charalyn, who lives in Whistler, B.C. She spoke of his early mechanical ability, where at the age of three he began taking apart a hand-operated sewing machine and putting it back together again. When he was nine, people in the village brought him pocket watches for repair, and he built bicycles for his sister, Alean, and brother, Walter. One day, when 12, he was taken out of school to repair the washing machine at the nearby Maple Leaf Hotel.

That ability led to his joining the Royal Canadian Air Force, winning his class’s gold medal as an aero engine mechanic. After serving from 1942 to 1945, he went to Acadia University, where he earned both bachelor’s and master’s degrees in science. He then undertook a career as a research scientist with the Fisheries Research Board in Halifax.

He was recognized internationally as a scientist, authoring, co-authoring and refereeing scientific papers. He developed laboratory research methods still in use today, and pioneered in studies of fish health, particularly that of the Atlantic salmon.

At the same time, as Charalyn said, he lived and breathed forestry, working in partnership with his father – also named Harry Freeman – in developing the lumber mill in Greenfield and serving on a variety of forestry boards and in forestry associations. When his father died in 1982 Harry continued to build the industry in Greenfield. Harry’s own sons, Charlie and Richard, joined the company, with Charlie serving today as company president.

What mattered most to Harry Freeman were his family and his community. Charalyn said, “Dad spent much of his life trying to make Greenfield a better place – one that would attract young families and keep the community alive. We are surrounded by many things that Dad was instrumental in bringing to Greenfield.”

There is so much more to the story of Harry Freeman. We didn’t get to Harry’s antique automobiles, parked on Thursday outside the Greenfield church, or to the photograph of Harry chatting with Fidel Castro, or to his beloved dogs, or to the grandchildren who meant so much to him. That would take more than a column. That would take a book. - Tom Sheppard can be reached at

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