top of page

Cape Ray Museum finds lost Gilliat diary

Anne Osmond holds the Rosemary Gilliat Eaton diary, while Wayne Osmond holds a letter and postcard sent to Gilliat from her father. – Submitted photo

By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter CAPE RAY — Rosemary Gilliat Eaton, born in 1919 in Hove, England, was a renowned photojournalist whose photographs were published in some of the most influential journals of her time, including Maclean’s, Weekend Magazine, and the Hudson’s Bay Company magazine, The Beaver. She also worked on assignment for numerous government agencies such as the Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources and the National Film Board of Canada’s Still Photography Division from 1941 to 1984. Even though she lived her early life in England, by the fall of 1952 she made the decision to immigrate to Canada by herself, settling in Ottawa, but traveling extensively across Canada, searching for assignments that would expose her to the diverse geography and cultures of her new home. In 1963, Gilliat married British hydrographer Michael Eaton, and less than two years later the couple moved to Nova Scotia to follow Eaton’s career. The couple purchased a property overlooking the salt marsh in Cole Harbour, and Gilliat fell in love with the wildlife in the area, documenting it with her camera, consulting environmentalists, and publishing her work in local journals. Gilliat also helped form a committee that successfully put a halt on government plans to build a sewage treatment plant in the area. It was this committee that eventually became the Cole Harbour Rural Heritage Society and formed the Cole Harbour Heritage Farm Museum which, among many other exhibits, houses Gilliat’s archive after 1965. The archive includes thousands of photographs and recordings of her many interviews with community members. Today, a popular walking trail through the Cole Harbour Salt Marsh contains a path called Rosemary’s Way, dedicated to Gilliat and the work she did to fight for the preservation of the area. The importance of Gilliat’s contributions is something the Cape Ray Museum stumbled upon after they received a donation of books containing a most unique find, a personal diary from Gilliat herself. “It was in a pile of books that was donated to the fire department for their annual flea market,” said Anne Osmond with the Cape Ray Museum. “We were putting out the books and we came across this one. So I said, ‘well that’s cool’, and I just put it on the counter to wait for later on, because that’d be a good piece for the museum, where it was so old, written back in 1931. We agreed that it would be a great conversation piece for our local museum, and when I started to read it, I noticed the penmanship was second to none. Once we started reading, we couldn’t put the book down. All the pictures and the penmanship in it are awesome, and her drawings, she even has drawings in the book. You’ve got to see the book to appreciate it.” “When Anne brought it to me, I immediately Googled her (Gilliat) and the information that came up was amazing. We never heard of her before. She was quite a famous Canadian. After research I found out she’s from England, born in 1919 and emigrated to Canada in ‘52. Before that she went to boarding schools in Switzerland,” said Wayne Osmond, who is also with the museum. “She just went from boarding school to boarding school. She made friends, she kept a daily diary, and she got a small camera and she started taking pictures. She immigrated to Canada in ’52, and then she started going on the road, started writing for newspapers like McLean’s and Toronto Star. She worked for lots of companies and did pictures for the magazine The Beaver. We actually asked a few people, tourists into our museum, about her and they said one lady described her as one of the first hippies she met. She was a bit different. Nowadays she would be called an environmentalist.” Once they realized they had Gilliat’s diary, the museum staff knew interest would pour in. “We took some pictures of it to see if anybody wanted it. It’s the type of thing that would fit into any museum in Canada,” said Wayne. “We’re trying to look for help and we want it displayed at our museum. We asked our MHA (Andrew Parsons) for some advice and some other departments, but we’re kind of scared that it could be seized from us. I don’t think they can, but you never know.” The contents of the diary are more than just writings. “There is a lot of writing, but there’s photos of her in boarding schools, pictures and postcards, a daily diary basically. It’s over 100 pages and there’s actually a letter from her father written in there, marks that she had gotten from school,” said Wayne. “It’s from her earlier years, right up to when she went to Germany in 1940.” The diary could trigger a significant uptick in museum visitors. “We had people come from Switzerland this year to look at a piping plover on our beach, so you can only imagine that we’re going to get a bit of traffic from people interested in her. She had quite a following. She’d done over 100,000 photos in her life, and her photos are even on the Canada $50 bill,” said Osmond. “There will be a lot of interest, and I’m sure we’ll have visitors come to our museum just for to look at this diary. One lady at the museum in Cole Harbour — they have a lot of information on her there because she’s settled there — said the National Archives should have it, and we don’t mind giving to the National Archives to transcribe further online, but we want this back.” Even though the diary could undoubtedly be worth money, that’s not what the museum cares about. “We’re not asking for any money. We want this in place to improve the tourism in the area,” said Anne. The plan is to make professional copies of the diary to be on display for the public to leaf through, so that the original can be properly preserved in a case and won’t incur any damage or deterioration due to environmental factors. “We would have photos done. There’s quite a bit of information online, and we would ask permission from the National Archives to use some of their photos of her also,” said Wayne. “That way we could have a little display area, because we wouldn’t want people to have their hands all over it, with any destructive oils, because it is an artifact. It would be nice if we had a professional take it and scan it, like the National Archives, and give us back the pictures. We’ve got no skills for that. We can scan it, and we wouldn’t have the skills to preserve things like they would.” “We want it all to be in the showcase but have a copy that people can look at,” said Anne. Aside from contacting the Cole Harbour Museum, they will also be contacting The Rooms and the National Archives, though that plan makes them a bit nervous. “It brings it back to us, the fear that we could lose it,” said Wayne. “Wayne Mushrow, the guy who found the astrolabes, he had ten years of trouble. They tried to seize them from him. He dropped by earlier in the year and gave us his book, so we see the trouble when you find something everybody wants, and there could be some law or something saying that we can’t have it.” They just want to be able to help their community by adding this historical piece to their museum. “This can help our community this year. We had roughly over 1,000 visitors at our museum and we fundraise, and we have little displays. This will help us greatly.”

1 view0 comments
bottom of page