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Phoebe Gregg and Frances Milne wrote most of their diaries during their child-rearing years: during that time they concentrated on their homes, the care and education of their children, and the health of their  large families. As the oldest child, Marty Hastie often took care of her younger brothers.

Photo: Two little girls with large dog in front of a house, [between 1898 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image (227K)

Two little girls with large dog in front of a house, [between 1898 and 1920]
Marsden Kemp fonds
Reference Code: C 130-5-0-0-96
Archives of Ontario, I0013444

Watching the Children


These 19th century women recorded the same kinds of accomplishments or troublesome behaviours in the children of the family that we might talk about today.

“Looking after boys is no easy task allow me to remark.”

“Baby [Charles] got his 3rd tooth … He is fretty.”
“Baby cutting 4 upper teeth at once, pretty cross.”
“Baby 7 months old, weighing 22 lbs. & has 6 teeth.”
“Baby pretty good. He can creep a little, flat on his belly and backward.”
“Baby can push a chair round the room.”
“Baby shoves William  [husband] away when our heads are together.”
“Charles took one step today in the pantry.”
“Baby trying to walk more & doesn’t seem afraid of falling.”
“Baby can say ‘pretty’, ‘coboss’, ‘Good day’, ‘bye-bye’ very well.”
“Baby talks over a great prattle now & plays around real well.
“Began to wean poor Baby today.”
“Baby eats his food first rate.”

Milne, March to December, 1871



Photo: Two girls with doll carriage, [190-?]
Click to see a larger image (131K)

Two girls with doll carriage, [190-?]
George Irwin fonds
Reference Code: C 119-1-0-0-61
Archives of Ontario, I0014287

Portrait of a baby, [between 1900 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image (416K)

Portrait of a baby,[between 1900 and 1920]
Photographer unknown
Nell Maciborka fonds
Reference Code: C 163
Archives of Ontario, I0014250


“May 9th Got a fright about our little Willie.  … in the midst of housekeeping … he slipped away with an old hood on, & could not be found for some time – My servant & some of the neighbours children went to look for him – at last Cinthea Mott –(next door) found him near Grants store, front of. He had been gone two or three hours, & some one had given him some bread & molasses, which his face & hands showed plainly. He cannot speak plainly & perhaps no one could understand from him who he was, or where he lived. What a mercy he returned safely!”
Gregg, 1885

“I was very glad he [brother Willie] was going for that would be one less to look after & he will have such a good time there [on holidays with Papa]. (Looking after boys is no easy task) allow me to remark.”
Hastie, July 2, 1884



Photo: Playful scene of a boy training a turtle, [between 1875 and 1900]
Click to see a larger image (173K)

Playful scene of a boy training a turtle, [between 1875 and 1900]
Photographer unknown
Reference Code: Acc. 6287, S8235
Archives of Ontario, I0028058

Photo: Child on pull sleigh, [191-?]
Click to see a larger image (63K)

Child on pull sleigh, [191-?]
A. W. Barton fonds
Reference Code: C 121-1-0-8-6
Archives of Ontario, I0019333

To hear an audio clip from one of the diaries, click on one of the following audio files:
wav format (561K) | aif format (561K) | mp3 format (400K).

Page from Diary, 1862
Click to see a larger image (158K)
Page from Diary, 1862



Unpredictable Lives


The women made note of people who died in childbirth or of diseases (now preventable). Frances experienced depression after the birth of her third child and Phoebe sometimes referred to her stillborn child. Martha’s mother, a sister, and step-sister all died unexpectedly.

Photo: The Clows inside by their piano, [between 1898 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image (242K)

The Clows inside by their piano, [between 1898 and 1920]
Marsden Kemp fonds
Reference Code: C 130-5-0-0-20
Archives of Ontario, I0013338

“ … oh what sad sad changes a few weeks can bring.”

“March. Albert very ill. Widow Thompson helping me nurse him … The Burns family had been visiting us & my children had whooping cough  - babe seems to have taken cold – He died in convulsions on the 25 March five years after the death of our dear Robert - Husband returned before the funeral – Friends were very kind in this trouble.”
Gregg, 1867



“Baby a week old today … It feels most fearfully lonesome & I can’t get relief without a cry.”
“I am alone & baby cried some. I am feeling very sad sometimes.”

Milne, 21 August and 13 September, 1872

Photo: Mr. and Mrs. Vern Koivula with their deceased infant, Copper Cliff, [ca. 1910]
Click to see a larger image (167K)

Mr. and Mrs. Vern Koivula with their deceased infant,
Copper Cliff, [ca. 1910]
Photographer unknown
Multicultural History Society of Ontario fonds
Reference Code: F 1405-15-65, MSR7391-13
Archives of Ontario, I0005040

“Thursday 5th July 1855. Our fourth child, third living child was born this evening – a fine healthy boy - My husband’s birthday 38 yrs ago.” and
“Sabbath 13th July. My fifth child (4th living) born today - early in morning. … - have not been well for some time past.” and
“4th August 1859. Our sixth child born today 1 girl & four boys living. I boy still born, Babe baptized by Rev’d Charles Henry”

Gregg, 1855, 1857, and 1859



Portrait of young child beside a dog, [between 1900 and 1920]
Click to see a larger image (499K)

Portrait of young child beside a dog, [between 1900 and 1920]
Photographer unknown
Nell Maciborka fonds
Reference Code: C 163
Archives of Ontario, I0014214

“It seems ages since I last opened this book although not quite a month but oh what sad sad changes a few weeks can bring. My poor dear Mamma has gone to heaven, …On Monday night she came to Cornwall, the night before Christmas. And seemed as well as usual but had a very severe cough. On Wednesday night was Papa’s induction & I went to the church. Ma had gone to bed not feeling well and did not get up next morning. Our Dr, Alguire came to help Ma ...  She had a baby at noon. It was a little girl, born two months premature. …but it only lived 16 hours. Mamma … suffered very much for a few days …on Monday Morning at two o’clock she died …”

Hastie, January 12, 1884



To hear an audio clip from one of the diaries, click on one of the following audio files:
wav format (832K) | aif format (832K) | mp3 format (605K).

To hear an audio clip from one of the diaries, click on one of the following audio files:
wav format (855K) | aif format (855K) | mp3 format (622K).

Photo: Open Diary
Open Diary

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