'Mover and shaker' in the library and arts scene remembered

·3 min read

SAINT JOHN • Sylvie Nadeau, a strong advocate for libraries and the arts in New Brunswick, died on Dec. 12, according to her husband of 15 years, Werner Arnold. She was 63.

Nadeau was well known for her role as the executive director of New Brunswick Public Library Service for approximately 20 years. She also was the administrative secretary of the New Brunswick Arts Board in its early years.

Her husband is remembering her as a great companion.

"She was very calm and very just, and she was very thoughtful," said Arnold. "Before she answered a question, she thought about it."

Nadeau made an impact in New Brunswick, said her friends. She introduced the provincewide library card and exchange system.

Ian Wilson, a colleague at the New Brunswick Public Library Service, said she made it a point to visit every library and was dedicated to showing up and making it to library events.

He said she was instrumental in establishing innovative programs at the library, such as the provincial Talking Books program. She also established standard opening days across the province and pushed to provide more equal services in French and English at libraries.

"Under Sylvie's direction, I believe that New Brunswick public libraries emerged as second to none in the nation."

Even if you happened to have a disagreement with her, you were listened to be listened to, said Wilson.

"She was a visionary for a public library service and New Brunswick. She was insightful. She was supportive, supportive of staff and she was a woman of boundless energy."

When Kevin Cormier was hired as the executive director of New Brunswick Public Libraries in early 2020, she spoke her mind on his lack of the officially approved qualifications, and called the recruitment process “flawed and problematic.” Cormier resigned in July amid the controversy.

Nadeau was also president of the Théâtre populaire d'Acadie for a time, and later set up a translation service, Text in Context / Texte en context, in Saint John, which she later sold.

"She wanted to cross barriers," said her longtime friend Marion Macfarlane.

Macfarlane said Nadeau was good at connecting with everyone and making connections between groups whether it was English or French, bureaucrat or artist.

Originally from Quebec – she grew up in Drummondville – Nadeau came to New Brunswick, fell in love with the province and called it home, said David and Marion Macfarlane. She travelled and lived all over New Brunswick, from Campbellton to Saint John.

"There was never any time where she tried to leave or find a job elsewhere," said David.

Even when Marion met Nadeau in the mid-'80s as a young women at the Samuel-de-Champlain school and community centre, she said she was very impressive. Marion was the chair of the board at the time. She said she was impressed because Nadeau had worked at a penitentiary library.

"She had lots of ideas, she was tactful – and she was obviously a mover and a shaker."

Eventually, they said, she became part of the family. Personably, she was warm and modest with a great sense of humour.

Ilkay Silk, who knew Nadeau through the New Brunswick Arts Board in the '80s while Silk was co-chair. As administrative assistant though, Silk said Nadeau ran the show.

"She could have run the World Health Organization. She was that good."

Arnold said before Nadeau's cancer diagnosis this summer, she was planning to focus on gardening as a newly retired woman.

"We had lots of good moments."

The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada. L'initiative de journalisme local est financée par le gouvernement du Canada.

Caitlin Dutt, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Telegraph-Journal