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John Robert Bigelow, the son of Halle Bigelow and Hannah Ann (Blenkhorn) Bigelow, was born 16 September 1906 in New Salem, Nova Scotia. He was raised and educated in Canning, Nova Scotia, with his four sisters, Anna, Laurabel, Mabel and Lydia. He studied engineering at Acadia University for two years before transferring to the University of New Brunswick, Fredericton, from where he graduated in 1933 with a Bachelor of Science in Forestry.
He began his career marketing forestry products for the government of Nova Scotia. During World War II he moved to Ottawa to work on federal lumber export policies and controls. IN 1946 he returned to Nova Scotia and became the manager of the Maritime Lumber Bureau, later taking employment as a provincial civil servant and ending his career as Deputy Minister for the Department of Trade & Industry.
John Bigelow married Muriel Olga Smith in 1938, with whom he had two children, John Robert, Jr. (1942-1994) and Mary Emery (1946-). He died in 1997.