A 'man of community': Remembering Cambridge Bay's Bill Lyall

Bill Lyall of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut held many roles in the community, including MLA and co-op leader. (ARUC Leadership and Governance in Nunavut and Nunavik - image credit)
Bill Lyall of Cambridge Bay, Nunavut held many roles in the community, including MLA and co-op leader. (ARUC Leadership and Governance in Nunavut and Nunavik - image credit)

Bill Lyall, a fisher, hunter, former MLA and co-op leader in Cambridge Bay, Nunavut is being remembered by his eldest grandson as a confidant, a hard worker and a "man of community."

"He was always very supportive … and very ready to help people," said Qulluyak (Kull) Lyall. "I knew him as dada. My dada was a very slow-speaking individual. He spoke slowly out of habit. I think he put a lot of weight into his words."

Bill Lyall died on Tuesday, and is survived by his wife, Jessie Lyall.

Kull said he was someone you could confide in without judgment. He was also the first person to offer a helping hand, if someone needed snow cleared or if airline travel got complicated and someone was stuck in Cambridge Bay.

Before his health declined, Lyall would put on a fireworks show for New Year's Eve.

"He would put on fireworks every year in Cambridge Bay. It was always something to look forward to," said his grandson.

Leader in co-operative movement

In the days since Lyall passed, Kull has found solace in being able to hear his grandfather's voice again in an interview he did with CBC seven years ago.

In the interview, Lyall spoke about being the long-time leader of Arctic Co-operatives Limited, and how co-ops gave people in communities something they could own and be proud of while helping one another.

He also saw it as a way for Nunavummiut to do what they want and remain free of southern influence.

"They really owned it and they were benefiting from it," he said in the interview.

Arctic Co-operatives Limited coordinates 32 community co-ops across all three territories, 31 of which are in Nunavut and the N.W.T. Lyall saw it as a way to help each other survive in a harsh environment and wrote about it in his book, Helping Ourselves by Helping Each Other: The Life Story of William Lyall.

In the archival interview, Kull said his grandfather was asked about how hardships formed him as a person.

"It's almost like he spoke to me through that question and his answer. He said, 'The hard times, I look back at them and I say I've been there and now I'm here and I'm going to move forward.'"

Kull hopes people who knew his grandfather will take those words with them to remember their own strength.

Submitted by Kull Lyall
Submitted by Kull Lyall

Memories, good and bad

Kull said that his grandfather was a residential school survivor, and had opened up to him about some of the things he'd witnessed.

"That was not a good experience, and I hold those stories closely … as a reminder of how bad things could have been and how you can still come out as a healthy person afterwards."

His fondest and earliest memories, however, are of his grandfather teaching him how to catch a fish and fillet it on the spot.

While they were out fishing, Kull said, "there was always a quiet understanding, between the two of us. We didn't have to have long, deep conversations."

People would come from places as close as Calgary and as far away as Japan or Arizona to go on fly fishing trips with Lyall at his camp. When he had his first major heart attack, Kull said "his biggest concern was making sure … these people got to experience Nunavut and the things that it had to offer, and much to the chagrin of the family, because we all wanted him to rest."

When the doctor insisted he stop working, Lyall would still go to the co-op to have coffee with his friends.

"You just couldn't keep him away," said Kull.

"When I said my goodbyes, I remember telling him that it felt like the world was going to be less bright without him," said Kull.

"The morning that he passed, Yellowknife had beautiful clear skies and the sun was shining bright, and I felt like he was trying to prove me wrong. Just know that if you're sad that William passed away, he would want us to be happy and he would want us to not worry about him. That's just the kind of person he was."

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