“This diary has been… transcribed to the best of our ability,” write Jean Calkin and Ruth Lloyd, the granddaughters of Shubael B. Burgher. When she gave me a copy to read, Ruth Lloyd said that as well as transcribing the diary faithfully, she and her sister preserved the spelling and grammar of Shubael Burgher. Thus the diary was copied exactly as Shubael wrote it over a period of almost 60 years.
Shubael Burgher began his diary in 1852 when he was 21; his last entry was made in 1910, the year before he died. For the most part, he only wrote a few lines each year. And for the most part, the entries are about farm crops and his work. Like most of his peers, he had little time for school. In fact, it is startling to read in his first diary entry that Shubael received his first schooling when he was age 21.
For most of his life, Shubael Burgher worked on the land. Shubael grew up in a time when the population of Nova Scotia was mainly rural, but he was more than a farmer. Ruth Lloyd told me that Shubael worked at shipbuilding and we find references to this throughout the early part of his diary. Shubael notes that he worked with some of the big names in shipbuilding, the Churchills, Burgesses and Creightons, and in shipyards at Walton, Noel and Kingsport.
Life in the 19th century was one long struggle to survive and everything revolved around the weather and the harvesting of crops. Typical entries in Shubael’s diary refers to the success or failure of vegetable and fruit crops, haying, cutting wood and when there were lulls, working for neighbours in their hayfields and woodlots. Even when he was in his 70s, for example, Shubael was “sawing (wood) for a number of people in Kingsport (and) Canning.” In this quote from a 1903 entry, Shubael adds that he “chop(p)ed some (wood) for George Pineo” and he expected to be chopping as well that winter for William Ells.
Tragic events in Shubael’s life – sickness, death, accidents – are mentioned in a few terse lines along with the good things that happened. In 1868, for example, Shubael’s second son, Joseph, was born, his father died and his house was destroyed in a fire. Shubael records these events along with mention of whom he worked for that year: “Joseph B born 2nd Feb(r)uary. Worked for Jos Dimack Sr. half time and half with Jos. Dimack Jr. My father died. The house burnt we live in.”
During Shubael’s lifetime work began on the wharf that was to make Kingsport a major shipping port in this region. Shubael tells us that he worked on the Kingsport wharf in 1886 and on various dykes in Kings and Hants County, some of which are still standing.
The railroad came to this area in Shubael’s lifetime, the line being completed through the Valley when he was in his 30s. But Shubael doesn’t mention this momentous event, which changed completely the way Valley people worked and lived. However, Shubael worked on the little Cornwallis Valley Railway (CVR) which linked the port of Kingsport with Kentville. The history books (Woodworth’s Dominion Atlantic Railway history) say that work began on the CVR in 1889 but Shubael’s diary has references to railroad work in the autumn of 1888.
Shubael’s diary offers us brief but telling glimpses of 19th-century life and we are fortunate that his family has preserved it. The original of his diary is in the Kings County Museum.