Lyall Campbell - Sable Island's Historian
Historian and author Lyall Campbell is one of the few authorities on the history of Sable Island - he is probably the world's expert on Sable Island of the 16th through 19th centuries.
Lyall was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
and Chebucto schools in Halifax, and then Queen Elizabeth High School
After completing high school, Lyall was not ready to attend university - he wanted to travel across Canada. So after working for a year at Simpsons-Sears, Lyall hitchhiked to Toronto where he worked in a warehouse for two months.
hitched a ride to Edmonton and took a job with Alberta Government Telephones.
In April he
moved on to British Columbia where he
worked in the Forest Service.
On turning twenty-one, Lyall
decided to go to university.
He hitched back to Halifax to begin a general BA at Dalhousie University.
had no specific goal in mind, but he
wanted to learn.
majored in English, philosophy and history - the last choice was partly pragmatic, as backup for a role as teacher.
During his three years of study, Lyall worked in the Dalhousie Library.
Upon graduating, he
earned funds for a trip to Europe by working on a survey crew in Newfoundland.
In February 1959, he
travelled by freighter to England.
spent two months hitching through France, Italy, England, and Scotland, and toured art galleries, museums, historic sites, and cathedrals.
In May he
returned to Halifax and married.
wife Sheila moved to Fredericton, New Brunswick, to take summer courses in education.
In the autumn, both accepted teaching positions in the town of Dalhousie, New Brunswick.
There they saved enough money to return to Halifax to resume studies at Dalhousie University
began a masters degree in history.
thesis had to be based on original documents, which meant using the provincial archives then housed on the Dalhousie campus.
So it was necessary to find a topic in Nova Scotia's history.
was not particularly interested in Nova Scotian history.
At that time, it seemed to be merely a lesser version of Canadian history, concerned chiefly with politics and economics, punctuated with wars and battles, all of which had little to do with real people. (The situation today is quite different.) Also, Lyall
had a strong interest in European history, a result of both his travels in Europe, and his exposure to the subject as taught by George Wilson, "a professor with a romantic turn of mind," who provided rich and lengthy reading lists for his students.
Also, because of his
experience in Europe, Lyall
tended to view history with a bias toward "culture."
In 1961, in search of a thesis topic, Lyall approached Bruce Fergusson (Charles Bruce Fergusson, Archivist of Nova Scotia 1956-1977) for suggestions.
spent much time at the archives avoiding Fergusson, who was "a little crusty," but eventually Lyall embraced the subject, and got down to work.
In 1962 he
completed a 250 page thesis titled History of Sable Island
With the MA completed, Lyall
was ready to leave Nova Scotia again.
He and Sheila moved to Charlottetown, to teach at Prince of Wales College.
Sheila taught English; Lyall history.
had a conflict with the administration about his
marking - his
standards were considered too high.
Lyall loved teaching but disliked the system, so he decided to become a librarian and went to the University of Toronto for a degree in library science.
He was eager to be a reference librarian because he felt it would provide opportunities to teach young people.
Lyall 'revisited' Sable Island while working as a reference librarian in the Sigmund Samuel Library at the University of Toronto.
used the Island as a subject to learn and practise methods in library science.
He found so much interesting information that he began researching the subject for himself whenever he had the opportunity.
gathered plenty of material, and began to make the history of Sable Island
a lifelong study.
quit the University of Toronto
, and he
and Sheila moved to England.
There he worked for a year as a librarian in charge of the reading room and reference services in the University of London Institute of Education Library.
When health problems began to trouble his
wife, they returned to Canada. Lyall
found a job as History Librarian in the London Public Library
was there, the Audubon Society
sponsored a slide show on the birds of Sable Island
From London, Lyall made a visit to Boston to do research at the State Archives and the Massachusetts Historical Society.
Part of Lyall's job at the library was to review books for purchase.
area of expertise was history, he
had access to all reviews and came to appreciate "popular" materials.
While at the LPL
applied for a Canada Council grant
was awarded the grant in 1969, and, after having worked in the library for two and a half years, he
left to start on his
first book about Sable Island
Sheila wanted to live in Montreal, so they moved.
During the next few years, Lyall researched his subject at McGill University, using old newspapers, journals, and "rare" books, and also travelled to Ottawa to do a week's research at the National Archives.
was not concerned with the high-profile conflicts between the federal and provincial governments at the time, but he
saw that Sable Island
had become relevant in the media, and that many reports distorted Sable history.
wanted to reveal the truth about the Island's past, to show how much effect this obscure location had had on the wider world.
envisaged a public library audience for his
was told by a history professor friend that his
writing "fell between two stools" - not scholarly enough for academics, but too high-toned for the general public.
Publishers in Toronto seemed to agree.
After more than a year of rejections, Lyall
contacted Lancelot Press
in Hantsport, Nova Scotia.
did this on the advice of Phyllis Blakeley, described by Lyall
as "the most helpful person I ever knew at the archives.
said the publisher would keep the book in print.
However, the editor insisted that Lyall
reduce the book to half its length and remove the footnotes.
In six weeks Lyall prepared a new version in as popular a style as he
The book is a slim version of his
original manuscript, and Lyall
feels that the process resulted in a few errors.
At the time, Lyall
had little awareness of the realities of the publishing world.
As a writer, he
world view entirely on Sable Island
In 1977, Lyall
and Sheila moved to Vancouver.
Sheila again had health problems, and Lyall
began looking for employment.
was limited in the library work he
could find because he
had not upgraded his
managed to find a position as a writer and editor with a small publisher.
The company had a large grant from the Province of British Columbia for an educational project on Captain Cook and the Nootka.
was put in charge of the project, and his
team completed the work before the deadline.
Lyall was promoted to senior editor, however, within a year the company was bankrupt.
Lyall then found a job with the Open Learning Institute in Richmond, BC.
It was a new distance education facility (which preceded Alberta's Athabaska University).
Lyall was hired as a copy editor and wrote a style guide for all courses produced at OLI.
In his first year, became a course designer.
In the summer of 1984, after about five years at OLI
quit and moved to Halifax.
focused on Sable Island
To organize his
collected material, and to practice the discipline of writing, Lyall
wrote a number of manuscripts.
These drafts, which were not intended for publication, included "Coastguard work at Sable Island
1801-1830," "The loss and gain of the Hannah and Eliza, " "Sable Island
as a penal colony," "The Sable Island
Establishment and the loss of the Martha," "Economics of the Sable Establishment," "American Shipwrecks at Sable Island
," and "Fishermen at Sable.
Some of this material was later used in his