Retired Cape Breton librarian remembered as a champion of the system

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Ian MacIntosh, retired head librarian at the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Library, died recently and is being remembered as a friendly but passionate advocate for the library system. (Submitted by Kathy MacIntosh - image credit)
Ian MacIntosh, retired head librarian at the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Library, died recently and is being remembered as a friendly but passionate advocate for the library system. (Submitted by Kathy MacIntosh - image credit)

Cape Bretoners are remembering Ian MacIntosh, the recently retired head of the Cape Breton-Victoria Regional Library, who died May 22 after being hit by a vehicle while walking on George Street in Sydney a week earlier.

Police say the driver has been charged with failing to yield to a pedestrian in a crosswalk.

MacIntosh, 66, was well known as one of the biggest champions of the library system and was also a much-loved community figure.

Faye MacDougall, who worked with MacIntosh for 37 years until they both retired in 2019, said he was known for his intelligence and his sense of humour.

She said he also made it a priority to improve all of the library branches in Cape Breton Regional Municipality and Victoria County.

"That was always at the top of Ian's mind," MacDougall said. "It wasn't about any one library. It was about all of them and how they work together as a system."

Retired regional librarian Faye MacDougall says MacIntosh made the James McConnell Memorial Library's collection one of the primary resources on Nova Scotia history in the province.
Retired regional librarian Faye MacDougall says MacIntosh made the James McConnell Memorial Library's collection one of the primary resources on Nova Scotia history in the province.(David Burke/CBC)

MacIntosh was instrumental in getting a new branch opened in Ingonish and expanded the hours of operation at all branches whenever possible, she said.

He also oversaw the transition of the paper-based card system to computers, and modernized and grew the materials available to patrons.

"He really grew the Nova Scotia collection and the collection that is held at the McConnell library is a special collection and I would say it is one of the primary print resources on Nova Scotia history in the province," MacDougall said.

MacIntosh also had a smile for everyone and could make a recommendation for a good read to anyone of any age, she said.

Despite his devotion to the library system, MacIntosh also found time to be active in his church and after retiring, volunteered with several local organizations.

"His presence is going to be greatly missed across the community for sure and he certainly made a difference through his work and his volunteer work," MacDougall said.

CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall, who was chair of the library board and worked with MacIntosh until his retirement, said his loss is tragic.

CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall says MacIntosh was passionate about the library system and was able to instill that in all of the region's employees.
CBRM Mayor Amanda McDougall says MacIntosh was passionate about the library system and was able to instill that in all of the region's employees.(Cape Breton Regional Municipality/Zoom)

"It was so recently that he retired and wasn't given the time to really enjoy retirement," she said. "That makes my heart superheavy.

"It was people like Ian who instilled the knowledge and the passion in all of the new people who would come in to work for the library. He was a creator of passion for this library."

McDougall also said it was a shock that would be felt for a long time, because the COVID-19 pandemic has made funeral services difficult.

She said Cape Bretoners love to get together and eat sandwiches and tell stories.

"Not being able to do that and have that kind of ritual aspect to say our farewells and our thank-yous to a wonderful human like Ian, it makes a hard situation harder."

'It was quite a feat'

MacIntosh married his high school sweetheart Kathy Jackson. They both attended Thompson High School in North Sydney.

Kathy MacIntosh said one of her husband's proudest accomplishments was getting invited to nominate books for the world-famous Dublin Literary Award, which comes with the richest prize in the book industry.

"It was quite a feat, he felt, for our little library region here to be able to be part of that," she said.

Four or five of his nominations made the short list, including one by Margaret Atwood.

It didn't win, but MacIntosh said her husband was pleasantly surprised when the author reached out to thank him for the nomination.

MacIntosh said her husband earned a master of library science from Dalhousie University, but it was not always a given that he would become a librarian.

"He wasn't really entranced with the program," she said with a laugh.

"In fact, after his first year, he was going to quit and his father really convinced him to stick it out."

However, MacIntosh said, her husband enjoyed helping people at the circulation desk and became a firm believer in equal and free access to information.

MacIntosh was well known for walking to and from work at the James McConnell Memorial Library in Sydney, including going home for lunch.
MacIntosh was well known for walking to and from work at the James McConnell Memorial Library in Sydney, including going home for lunch.(Wendy Martin/CBC)

The former head librarian was well known for walking to and from work every day — twice a day, because he went home for lunch — so many people were shocked when he was struck down in a crosswalk.

MacIntosh said the couple drew a circle on a map of Sydney and intentionally sought a home within about two kilometres of the downtown library just so her husband could get some exercise.

"For him, it was the physical activity," she said.

"It was all the health benefits of walking — you know, keeping the weight down and good cardiovascular activity, but it was also how he cleared his mind."

Service delayed by pandemic

MacIntosh said the family will hold a celebration of her husband's life sometime in the fall.

"It's too bad that it's just such a strange time with the pandemic," she said.

"We've been having some good driveway visits with close friends and neighbours."

In addition to his wife, MacIntosh leaves behind three children and two grandchildren.

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