KENTVILLE - Historian Julian Gwyn believes diaries are important windows into the past.
Speaking to the Kings Historical Society, Gwyn said there is a growing interest in diaries, particularly those of middle class women.
The 1901–1910 diary of a young woman, Jessie MacCallum, he said, is one of the few that survived “and they deserve our attention a century later.”
MacCallum, who died in Windsor in 1956, was born in St. George, N.B. in 1885. Her father was the town surveyor after a third of Windsor was destroyed by fire in 1897.
In 1901, when her diary began, Windsor had 3,400 inhabitants and a cultural gloss, Gwyn noted, due to the presence of a university and two private schools.
MacCallum’s diary indicates her deep attachment to her family. She was interested in outdoor sports, such as skating, rowing and tennis.
Although she dropped out of school in Grade 11, MacCallum was an avid reader and a keen letter writer, as often as every second day.
Her travels taking her to places like Yarmouth, Shelburne, Toronto and New York were “lengthy and frequent,” Gwyn said, adding she was something of a spoiled child.
Married in 1910, MacCallum raised two sons and was never employed.
Granddaughter Ruth Sherman of Yarmouth called Gwyn’s assessment of the diaries “the answer to a dream” if others were to enjoy the notations.
It was Sherman who took the time to transcribe the 300,000 word diaries, which revealed to her a grandmother with “quite a personality. It’s like she’s sitting right in the room with us.”
She called the diaries a slice of history. Her mother and several great grandchildren were on hand for the talk. Gwyn suggested he’d like to see MacCallum’s writing get into print.
“I’d like to see teachers have access to them because I think teens could relate.”
Gwyn’s last book about the Nova Scotia apple growers was called Comfort Me with Apples: Nova Scotia Fruit Growers’ Association, 1863-2013.
Gwyn has also been working on a book about farming in Kings County up to the 1960s.
Did you know:
Mary Ann Norris of Port Williams wrote a diary between 1818–1839 and a typewritten copy is available through the Annapolis Valley library system. Her father was the rector of St. John’s parish and she was a niece of Charles Ramage Prescott, who built Acacia Grove at Starr’s Point.