DICKIE, ALFRED, lumberman, politician, and office holder; b. 28 March 1860 in Upper Stewiacke, N.S., son of James Edward Dickie, a merchant, and Harriet Tupper; m. 1886 Alice Amelia Dickie of Cornwallis, N.S., and they had three sons and two daughters; d. 6 Sept. 1929 in Halifax.
Alfred Dickie was educated in the public schools of Upper Stewiacke and at Dalhousie University in Halifax (ba 1879, ma 1883). He started his lumbering career in Stewiacke in 1890 in partnership with Avard Black, whom he bought out after six months, forming the Alfred Dickie Lumber Company. In 1896 he acquired a property and sawmill at Tusket in Yarmouth County, where T. N. McGrath, his assistant at Stewiacke, moved as manager and half owner. The following year he purchased properties at Ship Harbour and Liscomb, and in 1904 an area on the Sherbrooke River. By 1897 his firms constituted the leading lumber exporter in Nova Scotia next to the operations of Thomas Gotobed McMullen of Truro; Dickie and McGrath held 18,000 acres in the western part of the province and Alfred Dickie Lumber had 65,000 in Colchester, Pictou, Halifax, and Guysborough counties. The produce of Dickie’s Stewiacke mill was transported on the Intercolonial Railway to Halifax; lumber from the Tusket mill was sent by steamship – he owned several – and later by the Halifax and South Western Railway. In 1900 Dickie formed, and became president of, the Grand River Pulp and Lumber Company, which cut pulpwood in Labrador and held 500 square miles of timber limits around Hamilton Inlet. It was these lands that sparked the ownership dispute over Labrador between Quebec and Newfoundland, with Quebec officials intervening by stamping Dickie’s pulpwood as crown wood belonging to their province.
Beneath the veneer of prosperity, however, Dickie’s business ventures suffered from the natural calamities that often struck forest and sawmilling operations and from the uncertain and volatile business cycles that plagued the lumber industry. His steam mills were seriously affected by fires; by 1897 Dickie had endured at least four that destroyed or damaged his facilities. Forest operations were heavily dependent on manpower, horses, and water and snow conditions. A dearth of water or an over-abundance or lack of snow could prove disastrous. With the rapid expansion of his business, these problems clearly contributed to Dickie overextending himself. By 1904 the manager of the Royal Bank of Canada in Nova Scotia, who financed his operations, was “taken severely to task” by his superior in Montreal for allowing Dickie’s loans to reach the “enormous” figure of $634,040.39 without security. Dickie himself was criticized for not having incorporated his business and for carrying too little insurance on his stationary mills and none on his lumber shipments. Two years later all Dickie’s assets were transferred to the Royal Bank, though he did retain one share to qualify as a director. He was appointed manager at a salary of $833 per month.
From 1904 Dickie continued to act as a prominent Nova Scotian lumber baron. He posed as an owner, continued to manage his old properties, and was the frontman in seeking to sell them. In the prospectus of sale, it was stated that, according to conservative estimates, his properties were capable of producing and exporting 50–60 million board feet per year, and that the extent of his forest lands in Nova Scotia was between 350,000 and 400,000 acres. In 1904 Dickie was instrumental, with other Nova Scotian lumbermen and the provincial government, in sponsoring a report on Nova Scotia’s pulpwood lands by Robert Mason of New York and Joseph Bureau of Quebec. Two years later his Nova Scotia and Labrador properties were offered for sale by the Forest Exploration and Lumber Company of Montreal, the latter at the price of $1,000,000. On 30–31 May 1907 Dickie and McGrath played a leading role in the annual meeting in Yarmouth of the Lumbermen’s Association of Western Nova Scotia; the whole group was photographed during a visit to their mill in Tusket. In 1908 there were prospects of selling the Nova Scotia properties to the Traubridge Syndicate of London, England, and Dickie requested that the Royal Bank underwrite the bonds or stocks of the syndicate to the extent of $100,000. In the end, however, the effort failed.
In October 1911 Dickie and McGrath Limited had to cancel orders because their logs had been stranded all summer as a result of drought and the cold season was about to set in. The following year Dickie lost an entire winter’s output of logs in Labrador. Then, in 1913, he and the Royal Bank finally managed to dispose of most of his forest lands. An American firm, the S. D. Warren Company, purchased the Tusket lands. Archibald Fraser*, of the Fraser Pulp and Lumber Company Limited in Plaster Rock, N.B., bought 247,815 acres of Dickie’s remaining lands.
Dickie nonetheless managed to reconstitute Dickie Lumber as the Canadian Lumber Company Limited in Stewiacke. Although he retired and moved to Halifax in 1912, he continued to serve as president of this company and have an interest in it until his death. His son Rufus Edward, a one-time president of the Canadian Lumbermen’s Association, was its general manager. Despite his crash, Alfred Dickie succeeded in building up his holdings once more. He certainly thought highly of his part in Nova Scotia’s lumber industry. In testimony in Halifax before the federal royal commission on pulpwood in 1923, he confidently stated that “my operations and experience, I think, are larger . . . than any other individual ever has had in Canada.” At the time, he held 25,000 acres of forest lands in Nova Scotia and considerable lands in Labrador, and both tracts were for sale. In 1914 he negotiated with Walker Brothers in Boston and William Whitmer and Sons in Philadelphia for the sale of his Nova Scotia holdings but the deliberations came to naught. In the 1920s he continued to pay $160 to Newfoundland’s minister of agriculture and mines for the lease of 80 square miles of timber limits in Labrador.
Throughout his career Dickie was heavily involved in public affairs. In the provincial elections of 1894 and 1897 he unsuccessfully contested the riding of Colchester, in which Stewiacke was located. He was a school commissioner for Colchester, the first mayor of the town of Stewiacke from 1906 to 1911, the president of the local branch of the Canadian Manufacturers’ Association, and an elder in his Presbyterian church. In Halifax he served as school commissioner in 1921–23, and president of the North British Society. He was involved there as well in the Halifax Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor, and was an elder of Fort Massey Presbyterian (United) Church.
After being confined by ill health to his home on South Park Street for two months, he passed away on 6 Sept. 1929 and was buried in the family plot at Stewiacke. Despite the ups and downs of his ventures, he died a wealthy man, with an estate valued at $315,000 plus life insurance.
Dalhousie Univ. Arch. (Halifax), MS 4-64 (Alfred Dickie fonds, 1860–1929); MS 4-123 (Forest Exploration Lumber Company). LAC, RG 39, 593. Halifax Herald, 7, 9 Sept. 1929. “Alfred Dickie joins great majority,” Canada Lumberman (Toronto), 49 (1929), no.19: 40. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). A. W. H. Eaton, History of King’s County . . . (Salem, Mass., 1910; repr. Belleville, Ont., 1972). R. S. Johnson, Forests of Nova Scotia: a history (Halifax, 1986). Mike Parker, Woodchips and beans: life in the early lumber woods of Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1992). B. R. Robertson, Sawpower: making lumber in the sawmills of Nova Scotia (Halifax, 1986). Trouble in the woods: forest policy and social conflict in Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, ed. L. A. Sandberg (Fredericton, 1992).