BOYLE, DOUGALD ROBERT, diarist, schoolteacher, fisherman, farmer, jp, and fishery officer; b. 10 Sept. 1847 in Glenora Falls, N.S., youngest son of Angus Boyle and Isabelle McDonell; m. 1878 Mary Ann Tyrrell in Arichat, N.S., and they had 12 children; d. 10 June 1914, apparently in West Arichat, N.S.

Dougald Boyle’s parents, Roman Catholics from Fort William, Scotland, emigrated to Mabou on Cape Breton Island about 1821 and later married. Although Dougald’s father was a tailor by trade, he took up lands at Glenora Falls. The tenth of eleven children, Boyle had little hope of inheriting family land, and with no good land left for settlement in Cape Breton he decided to become a schoolteacher. He opened his first school near Port Hood in 1864, earning $20 from the government and $3 in fees from the pupils. Over the next two years he taught at several schools in the Port Hood area and then in 1866 he left for St Francis Xavier College in Antigonish, where he “succeeded no better than I should have.” After further teaching posts in Inverness County, he decided in 1872 to leave for Boston. There Boyle moved from job to job with little satisfaction, all the time boarding and visiting with other Roman Catholic Scots from Inverness County. Fearing a smallpox epidemic, which took a close friend “without the consolation of a priest,” and having “met with no success” in Boston, Boyle returned in the fall of 1872 to Cape Breton. After more teaching jobs in Inverness County he moved to West Arichat, Richmond County, in 1875 and took charge of the Acadiaville parish school.

Boyle was remarkably proficient as a teacher. He was able to read, write, and speak English, French, Gaelic, Latin, and Greek as well as teach calculus. Such was his interest in calculus that he corresponded with professors of mathematics at St Francis Xavier College. Besides teaching the regular curriculum, Boyle gave classes in navigation, a subject of great importance in a seafaring community, and telegraphy. He was a regular contributor of articles and letters to local English and Gaelic newspapers.

After his marriage in 1878, Boyle had to provide for a wife and growing family. He supplemented his small teaching salary by fishing, farming, and stipends from government posts. The daily struggle to make ends meet is recorded in his diary. While most entries are brief and matter-of-fact, they give great insight into the life of someone who was well educated but made a living from hard manual labour. During the fishing season, Boyle regularly got up at 3:00 a.m. to row three or four miles to his nets and lines and returned to salt and barrel his catch before opening school at 9:00 a.m. Even for a strong man (Boyle was six feet tall and weighed 220 pounds) the work was tiring, and he frequently complained of swollen hands, aching limbs, and seasickness.

Apart from inshore fishing, Boyle maintained a small farm. This holding was pieced together from small plots purchased over the years. In 1885 it consisted of four parcels totalling five acres; by the early 1890s it comprised at least 40 acres. The land was worked intensively, with considerable applications of fertilizer and labour. It provided pasture and hay for cows and sheep as well as arable land for growing oats, barley, potatoes, corn, and vegetables. Boyle also kept pigs and hens. Farm produce was supplemented by flour, meal, molasses, beef, and apples purchased at the local store.

Further income came from the fees and perquisites of minor government positions. In 1878 Boyle was appointed a justice of the peace as well as inspector overseeing the construction of a government breakwater in West Arichat; in 1896 he became a commissioner for taking affidavits. He also served as the local fishery inspection officer, deputy returning officer, and surveyor.

In his youth, Boyle was, as Inverness County historian John L. MacDougall noted, “specially happy minded and cheerful and as good hearted as they make them.” But his diary reveals that in later life the constant need to provide for his family bore heavily on him. Living close to the margin, Boyle was frequently worried by his debts and the vagaries of fishing and farming. A devout Catholic, he measured his life as much by the religious calendar as by the seasonal round of work.

Boyle’s life reveals the major dilemma facing many rural Maritimers in the late 19th century. A younger child of first-generation immigrants, he had little chance of acquiring land and thus faced the choice of emigrating to the “Boston States” to find work or staying in Nova Scotia and piecing together a livelihood. Although Boyle followed many of his compatriots to the United States, he was one of the few who returned, and he spent his life trying to establish himself and provide a patrimony for his children. Like many other Maritimers, he cobbled a living from several jobs. In his early forties, Boyle reflected on his trip to Boston and noted in his diary that “many of the friends of those days are dead – the rest all scattered – and I alone away from them all, with no prospects of reunion this side of the grave. Perhaps I have no reason to complain as matters might have been a great deal worse.”

Stephen J. Hornsby

Beaton Institute, Univ. College of Cape Breton (Sydney, N.S.), MG 12, Boyle diaries, 1847–1964. PANS, RG 7, 219, Richmond County reg. S. J. Hornsby, Nineteenth-century Cape Breton: a historical geography (Montreal and Kingston, Ont., 1992). J. L. MacDougall, History of Inverness County, Nova Scotia ([Truro, N.S., 1922]; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1976).

Cite This Article

Stephen J. Hornsby, “BOYLE, DOUGALD ROBERT,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed July 25, 2024,

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Author of Article:   Stephen J. Hornsby
Title of Article:   BOYLE, DOUGALD ROBERT
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 14
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1998
Year of revision:   1998
Access Date:   July 25, 2024