Rosaleen Dickson was the third of four children born to Beth Moir, the daughter of prominent Halifax chocolate maker James Moir, and Kenneth Leslie, a political writer, social activist and poet. Born into a home where the debate of ideas at the intersection of contemporary issues, political philosophy, literature, music and theatre was a staple of daily life, she learned early the benefits of a sharp wit and a precise use of language.
After a childhood in Nova Scotia, France, Switzerland and New Jersey, Rosaleen finished high school at Columbia University’s pioneering Lincoln School in New York and, in 1940, graduated from Guilford, a Quaker university in North Carolina, with a B.A in Psychology.
Back in New York, she volunteered at the Hillel Settlement House on New York’s west side, sold housewares at Macy’s Department Store and was a psychiatric aide at the Neuro Psychiatric Institute in Hartford, Connecticut.
She met David Dickson of Montreal on a bicycle trip in Massachusetts in 1939, and they were married in 1942. While David was overseas as a navigator with the RAF during the war, Rosaleen lived with her mother in Manhattan where she taught high school and, by war’s end, had borne two children, Ross and Jennifer.
After the war they moved to Kingston, Ont., where David earned his Bachelor of Commerce at Queen’s University and recovered from pleurisy at the veteran’s hospital. Rosaleen typed and edited theses for university professors and students, and two more children, Elizabeth and Marjorie, were born.
The family moved to Ottawa, Ont., where David worked for the tax department and Rosaleen published The Family Gazette, a weekly community newspaper. Rosaleen chaired the Hospital Committee of the Ottawa Citizens’ Committee on Children and helped make the case for a children’s hospital, which led to the establishment of CHEO.
In 1953, she and David purchased THE EQUITY and moved the family to Shawville where three more children were born: Charles, John (who died in infancy) and Andrew.
In her more than three decades as editor of THE EQUITY, Rosaleen brought intelligence, creativity, humour and boundless energy to her work in support of community development. With a formidable command of the language and powers of persuasion, it was not words but action for which she had greatest respect. There was never a challenge that couldn’t be overcome if you put your mind to it and were willing to put in the effort. Whether driving a Pontiac hockey team through winter blizzards to games in Ontario, training children to square dance on horseback, arguing forcefully for the federalist cause in Quebec referenda or championing the restoration of a covered bridge, Rosaleen’s causes found artful expression through the pages of THE EQUITY and her own sleeves-rolled-up labours.
The first woman to sit on Shawville town council, Rosaleen lent her energies to such projects as the construction of a senior citizens’ home, revamping the town’s water system, and establishing the Mill Dam Park, among others. Endlessly striving to brighten the corner where she was, Rosaleen was a fearless force of nature with a hearty disdain for bureaucratic obfuscation, sustained by the sheer delight of simple pleasures such as reading newspapers, sailing with her family and playing tympani in the town band.
Rosaleen was also active in broadcasting, co-hosting, with Bill Luxton, Valley Weekly, the first live interview program produced at CJOH. She produced and hosted a TV interview program in Pembroke, was a founding member of CHIP, a bilingual community radio station in the Pontiac and of CFVO, a French cooperative television station in Hull, and was a regular contributor of stories about the Pontiac to both, as well as to CBC’s Radio Noon in Ottawa.
A child of the Depression, an adult during the Second World War, Rosaleen had no illusions about the tragic depths to which human stupidity could descend. Yet she maintained a firm belief in the human potential to create a better world and saw the opportunity to nudge things in that direction – whether raising children, writing a newspaper or working on a community project – by accentuating the positive and reflecting the best in people back to them.
After she and David passed their printing and publishing business on to their children, Rosaleen remained an active communicator, helping to launch Freenet, Ottawa’s first free email service provider, working with her son Ross in launching The Hill Times newspaper in Ottawa, helping to preserve the National Press Club, writing books and helping others bring their manuscripts into a publishable condition. She taught writing at Ryerson University in Toronto and earned a Master’s Degree in Journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa at the age of 81. Among her many honours for community service, she was awarded a Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal.
After 96 years, Rosaleen’s vigorously-lived and thoroughly-enjoyed life gradually ebbed to a peaceful end on January 23rd at her home with her daughter Elizabeth in Ottawa.
Her ashes will be interred in the family plot in Shawville, next to her husband David’s, marked by a stone carrying the words Cadil gu lo, a Gaelic phrase that means ‘sleep until dawn’, the refrain of her father’s song, “Cape Breton Lullaby”.
By Charles Dickson
Anyone wishing to share recollections of Rosaleen or David, is invited to write them in a book of tributes that has been opened at
THE EQUITY office in Shawville. You may also send them by mail to the Pontiac Printshop or email firstname.lastname@example.org. A celebration of their lives will take place at Coronation Hall in Bristol on July 8 and everyone is welcome.
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