Margaret Dickie played a significant role in her community throughout all stages of her life. Not only does she represent her own benevolence, but that of Hantsport women in general. Through her diary it is clear that the work she and other women put into their community and loved ones required commitment and courage, even if it wasn’t recognized as such at the time.
Margaret was born to Samuel and Sarah (Brothers) Dickie on July 4th, 1827 at Halfway River (now known as Hantsport). She was very active in her community, participating in many clubs and events. Margaret had many interests including sewing, knitting, singing, poetry, and writing. Her love of writing is evident in her diary where she wrote accounts of her day-to-day life. This diary starts in 1847 (when she was age 20) and continues roughly until February 1st, 1869 with some breaks in between. Not only is this diary valuable in detailing the life of Margaret Dickie, but it also gives insight into what life was like in Hantsport, as well as dates for various births, deaths and weddings.
Margaret begins her diary as a single woman, living with her family. She had a half-sister, Mary, who had a husband named Hibbart. Margaret spent her days doing tasks like the washing, milking, churning, and sewing. Her father was a shoemaker, so she also learnt to bind shoes. She was very sociable and always had many visitors. In the first few pages of the diary, Margaret mentions Mary and Hibbart naming their new baby after Hibbart’s brother, Simeon Michener. Often mentioned in her diary are accounts of the various ships coming and going, marriages, deaths, births, and meetings. There was a break in her diary and during this time, she married Simeon Michener who was a sailor.
It is apparent through her diary entries that the life of a sailor’s wife was not easy. She continued to engage with her community and was a member of many groups including a singing group, teaching school from her home, teaching Sunday school, a temperance group, and running a lending library from her home among other things. However, she often wrote about how she missed Simeon, and wished he was with her for many events. He would leave for long stretches of time, occasionally spanning 4 or 5 months, and even when he finally returned home, he would often be required to go for short day trips to Windsor and back. Margaret described how difficult it was not knowing how long he would be able to stay. As she states, “I think the seafaring life is a hard one for both husband and wife.”
Along with being an active member in several community groups, she was also willing to take care of community members. When others were sick, she would tend to them. When her mother-in-law (Mrs. Michener) was dying, she sat with her through the night and read her sections from the Bible. She also helped other mothers take care of their children and mended many of Simeon’s clothes. When Simeon had a toothache late at night, she ran around the house looking for various remedies until finally she found something that would help (powdered alum and salt). She would spend her days running her school, singing, knitting, reading, and writing. On one day, she decided to take her class on a picnic at the shore. All the children walked down with dinner and flowers, which she said the children enjoyed. In her diary, she would often express her loneliness and longing for Simeon. In one entry from October 12th, 1849, she wrote a poem that reads:
“I hear the cold breeze blowing
And I am snug at home,
But where is Simeon going,
This night where does he roam?
Across the Atlantic Ocean
I hope he’ll safely steer;
And now I have a notion
He’ll go no more this year.”
In 1850, families from Hantsport were enticed by the prospects of moving to Michigan to start a life of farming. Margaret and Simeon were one of these families. Simeon and Captain Curry left for a trip to scope out the land, and see what opportunities were there. “We women will be glad to have our husbands give up the seafaring life”, Margaret wrote. Simeon and Captain Curry left on April 26th of 1850. Sadly, this was the last time Margaret would see her husband alive. He died of fever on September 13th, 1850, while on their exploratory mission. Following are snippets of some of Margaret’s diary entries preceding and following his death. Since communications were made by mail at the time, she was not notified of his death until weeks later.
Sept. 9th, 1850. It rained and blew hard all night. After supper I went over to Maria’s. I read a while in the “Life of John Bunyan”, then sat and thought on by-gone days. Every scene with which Simeon was associated came to my mind. I could not refrain from tears, thinking “What if I never should see him again”. At last such a desolate feeling came over me, I had to start for home in the rain. Maria came with me.
Sept 10th, 1850. […] we looked forward to the evening, hoping to get letters from our loved ones. We sent over, but there were no letters for us. We felt sad and fear they are sick. We think maybe they are coming home or perhaps [the] letters have gone astray. Time will tell and we must wait patiently.
Sept. 15th, 1850. […] It is a beautiful moonlit night and I could but think of the pleasant moonlight walks I have taken with Simeon. I hope he may be here again before another moon shall wax and wane.
Sept. 20th, 1850. After school yesterday I went up to Lydia’s and had a delightful visit. How happy they are there; all the comforts of life around them, and all at home, without the anxiety of a seafaring life. I love to go there, such a beautiful prospect and so retired from noise.
Oct. 2nd, 1850. How changed are all my prospects. What shall I write? I know not what to do or say or think. My beloved Simeon is no more! Can it be possible I will not see him again, or hear his sweet voice? I went to Mary’s last night to wait till the mail would come in. Ezra went over and returned with three letters. I got a light and saw two letters were for Maria. It was with fear and trembling I read my letter from Simeon; he was in quite good spirits when he wrote, although he was not very well. I found Curry had received Maria’s letter but Simeon did not get mine. I read my letter to Mary and Ann, and then in haste went up to Marcia’s where Maria was. The road never seemed so long before; I could not go fast enough. At last I gave her the letters, wishing yet dreading to know the contents. I told her to read the latest one first. I arose ready to start at the news she looked; I saw her drop the letter and I went to the bedroom as I wished to hear no more. I knew Simeon was dead yet dared not ask.
Oct. 3rd,1850. Simeon wrote to me on Sept. 10th and died on the 13th at 5 o’clock in the morning. Capt. Curry attended him until his last moments; he died easily as if going to sleep. If only I could have been with him it would have been a mournful pleasure. I walked the floor nearly all night. I cannot realize he is gone never to return. This forenoon I felt as if I wished to see my parents and glad I was to see my father coming in. Emily Ann and Mr. James were in a while this morning and mother came this afternoon. I am glad to have their sympathy. Aunt Sally came to see me. She well knows the bitterness of losing a friend in a foreign port, but all the sympathy in the world cannot heal the wound. How many pleasant scenes I have to look back upon. How kind and good Simeon was! I was unworthy of such a good and loving companion. Oh, could I but see him once more, but the cruel grave has torn him from me. How can I bear it!
Oct. 28th, 1850. Monday Morning. Well, my house looks as lonesome as ever when I enter it. I came home early this morning after having been away nearly a week. How sad and altered all things appear to what they did when Simeon was here or I had hopes of his coming. While at father’s I took a walk daily down the glen below the house and to the bridge to gaze at the flowing waters. It reminds me of the stream of time, thinking our lives are going as fast. Saturday afternoon I had a great ramble around the most rugged and steep banks I could find, and up to the spot where Simeon and I sat so [happily] a little over a year ago. The melancholy winds and wild rambles suit my spirit better than anything I find. During the past fortnight I have been unable to put my mind on any reading except the Bible. I find daily comfort in the many precious promises for mourning afflicted souls. The past week has been uncommonly fine for the season. Old Father Harris came to father’s yesterday and stopped a while; his words were comforting to me, he too knows the loss of a partner. He preached in the morning and Rev. Vaughan preached in the afternoon. As I was going into Hibbart’s this forenoon he said, “There has more trouble come to our family”. I asked, “What?” He said, “James Holmes has been brought home dead”. I felt my grief afresh then, as I thought of poor dear Abigail. I came home, and then Hibbart came for me to go to tell Abigail; he said he could not do it. She had gone to Ann Barker’s with her boys to spend the day. I went over, but could not go in the room where she was. “Oh,” I thought, “if she only knew it, I could see her.” After a while I went in and talked of what had happened saying we knew not who would be afflicted next; then I spoke of James and said Hibbart had heard from him, and I went out of the room. Abigail followed me and demanded to know what I meant. I told her to be prepared for the worst. She began to scream, “You tell me he is dead”, and she shook me. After she knew, we thought she would lose her mind. Emily Ann came in and we talked to her about her children and tried to calm her. Capt. Michener and Mrs. Kendal came in, and after a while she prepared to go home; her father, Mr. Kendal and I went with her, Emily Ann and some others following after. A short time afterward the body was brought home; the Manchester had brought him, having been put on board from the Sterling yesterday afternoon; and he died about eleven o’clock last night. He prayed about half an hour and then asked to be laid down; breathed a few times more and was gone. There he was in his sailor clothes, looking so natural. I feel great sympathy for Abigail. She has her three little boys to be with her in her widowhood; they look like their father, only gone a week last Saturday from his home, and now returned a corpse. “Be ye also ready” is the call to us. God grant we may.
Jan. 4th, 1851. Two years ago tonight I sat as a bride [beside] my husband. I know not then what time we would spend together, but now I know, for it has fled. Dear Simeon, how happy we were. I trust through Jesus thine is increased, although it causes me to mourn, yet not as one without hope. I have taught school a week now and like it. I am going up to mother’s as Ann has just called in for me to go. She is going to stay with Mary.
After Simeon’s death, Margaret continued to seek further education at Miss Kidston’s academy at Horton. Throughout the diary, her passion for knowledge is apparent, constantly reading and seeking “more useful knowledge”. She also mentions that she would like to learn more languages other than English. She continued to teach school from her home, even letting some students stay overnight if the weather was bad. She also continued to care for others in her community. She spent time with Abigail after Abigail’s husband died and spent time with those who were sick. At one point she even had a baby die in her arms from illness while she was taking care of it. Other acts of kindness included inviting a man in for breakfast after she had seen that he spent the night sleeping outside, and taking care of her friend who had tuberculosis. At this point Margaret was also taking lessons in drawing, geography, phonography (phonetic shorthand) and was learning French.
The experiences that Margaret went through are a testament to what women of Hantsport had to endure. It was hard being the wife of a sailor who was away for long periods of time, without knowing if they were alive or not. Many women were left to take care of their children and house alone while their husbands were at sea, or if their husband died at sea. Even after Simeon passed away, Margaret continued to contribute positively to her community and help those around her.
The first diary ends in August of 1852, and the next entry isn’t until 15 years later, July 11th, 1867. During this time period, she married Robert McCulloch in 1856 and had two daughters, Nettie and May. In July of 1867, Margaret and her family moved to Delaware, along with Margaret’s brother Robert and his family. They were to work on a peach farm. She described the feeling of leaving her friends and family, and wrote, “I thought I never saw Hantsport look prettier than it did as we drove through.” After they moved, Margaret continued to teach school from her home (although she stopped a few months later due to lack of students). Many of her daily tasks included ironing and sewing (she still got up to sew clothing for other people even when she was very sick), whitewashing, taking care of other sick people by giving them baths and comforting them, taking care of the children who were often sick, and picking and preparing peaches, apples and pears. She was also still a member of the local church, and she participated in debate club. In the fall of 1868, the McCullochs returned to Hantsport, however they were forced to move again not long after due to economic uncertainty. Though this portion of her life isn’t detailed in her diaries, Robert first found work at the Lake Huron shipyards in Bay City, Michigan with Nettie, and then Margaret and May followed. The family bought a farm near Tuscola and Margaret began working on the farm. She also rejoined the Baptist church and participated in Sunday School and Ladies’ Aid as well as being the school inspector for two terms. Margaret gradually stopped participating in public groups as she grew older, but she was still willing to contribute by knitting double mittens for the woolen factory. Robert died in 1901 and Margaret died in 1908 only weeks after her 81st birthday. They are buried together with their daughters in the Tuscola Township Cemetery.
Throughout Margaret’s life, she had to go through many hardships. She experienced the death of two husbands, a daughter, friends and family members, and had to adjust to moving to a new country. But through all of those experiences she always made sure to take care of those around her and put others first. She gave back to her community in countless ways and valued her education and the education of others. She is a great representation of what the women of Hantsport had to put up with at that time, and how they persevered through it all, even when they weren’t credited for their hard work.
- “The Diary of Margaret Dickie of Hantsport, Nova Scotia 1827-1908”, transcribed by Carolyn K. McGrath, June 2001. [Note: The original diaries were lost. A 1920s era transcription was provided by Margaret Dickie’s daughter Nettie to the “Acadian” newspaper (Wolfville N.S.) where it was serialized between 1924 and 1930. This transcription was created using copies of the newspaper available on microfilm at the Nova Scotia Archives.]
- Conrad, Margaret, “DICKIE, MARGARET,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 13, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 21, 2021, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/dickie_margaret_13E.html
- “Vital Statistics from the Diary of Margaret Dickie of Hantsport 1847-1868”
- “No place like home : diaries and letters of Nova Scotia women, 1771-1938”, Halifax, N.S. 1998. Margaret Conrad; Donna E. Smyth; Toni Suzuki Laidlaw.