Author, historian, genealogist, lady. Born on Oct. 16, 1927, in Dorchester, N.B.; on died Oct. 14, 2013, in Moncton, after a long illness, aged 85.
After Shirley Dobson passed away, a friend sent a message of condolence to her family, describing her as a “true Maritimer” who was “solidly good.” She would have been quietly thrilled by that practical, yet poetic, praise.
Shirley’s Maritime roots dated back more than 200 years in New Brunswick, and she lived her entire life in the region she loved. She was born to Thomas and Jean Oulton, the second of two daughters, in Dorchester. The town, established in 1786 where the Memramcook River flows into Shepody Bay, became important for lumbering and ship building, and its story provided early fuel for what would become Shirley’s lifelong love of history and genealogy.
A long-time member of the Westmorland Historical Society, she was directly involved in projects such as the restoration of Dorchester’s historic Keillor House and Bell Inn, as well as Moncton’s Free Meeting House. She would often be seen at a museum opening or fundraiser dressed in a period costume she had made herself.
Shirley also traced the history of both her family and that of her husband, Glenn Dobson; their ancestors arrived from England in the late 1700s to settle in the Jolicure and Chignecto areas of southeastern New Brunswick. She was almost encyclopedic in her knowledge of the early settlement of this beautiful marshland area between Dorchester and the Nova Scotia border.
During their trips to England and Scotland, Glenn would go off to people watch in a nearby café while Shirley visited museums and churches where she would pore through archives to meticulously research six or seven generations’ worth of marriage and death certificates, seeking links in their family trees. All her research was done without the Internet – she never owned a computer.
Shirley and Glenn, who married in 1948, raised their three daughters and son in Moncton; they attended Central United Church for more than 50 years and Shirley was a member of many committees and boards. While Glenn served as an officer with the Moncton police force, she balanced parenting with her own career, which included working as a secretary for Moncton law firms and ending as executive secretary for the New Brunswick Federation of Home and School Associations.
After retiring, and nearing age 60, she attended Mount Allison University to study her beloved subject, history, and take writing courses. She loved to read … and read … and read, particularly female Canadian authors as well as history and philosophy. She was often found sipping tea, book in hand.
In 1994 she published a book, The Word and the Music: The Story of Moncton’s Central United Church and its Methodist Roots. She also presented papers relating to Methodism in Westmorland County. A special highlight was a presentation she gave at Mount Allison University in Sackville as part of Yorkshire 2000, a gathering of descendants of Yorkshire settlers who came to the area in the 1770s.
One of Shirley’s favourite places was Buck’s Flats, a large area of intertidal mud flats on the Fundy coast just outside Dorchester, where she had spent many summer afternoons as a girl. She always loved to return there, and no doubt that is the spot where her spirit will linger.
Barbara Dobson is Shirley’s daughter.