BROAD COVE, N.S. — A funeral mass for writer Alistair MacLeod on Saturday resembled one of his meticulously crafted stories, blending well-chosen words, Celtic lament and insights into a life.
© The Canadian Press
Alistair MacLeod toasts the crowd that came out to honour him at the Premiere Dance Theatre in Toronto on Oct. 23, 2002. MacLeod died Sunday.
About 300 people filled the 167-year-old St. Margaret of Scotland Roman Catholic Church in Broad Cove, N.S., near his summer home in Dunvegan, for the ceremony and burial in the neighbouring graveyard.
MacLeod died in Windsor, Ont., last Sunday at the age of 77 from complications arising from a stroke he suffered in January.
Rev. Duncan MacIsaac quoted from the first chapter of Genesis, saying the writer had spiritually inspired creative gifts that sensitively portrayed ordinary people.
He also spoke about the hard reality of a Cape Breton community losing one its most beloved figures.
“It hurt... and I’m sure that’s true for all those who knew him personally, this quiet, humble, kind, peaceful, loving, compassionate man who took in all aspects of life at a deep level,” said MacIsaac.
He said he had picked up MacLeod’s sole novel, “No Great Mischief,” the day before and had wept with sadness and joy, feeling he could hear his friend’s voice speaking from its pages.
“He made room in his heart for what really matters: family, community, people, a sense of being.”
Born in North Battleford, Sask., MacLeod moved with his family to Cape Breton Island when he was 10 and worked as a logger, a miner and a fisherman to make money for his education.
After achieving his doctorate in literature, he evolved into an acclaimed short story writer who in 2001 also won the prestigious International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for “No Great Mischief,” published in 1999.
His other published works include the 1976 short story collection “The Lost Salt Gift of Blood” as well as 1986’s “As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories.”
MacLeod lived in Windsor but spent his summers in Inverness County on Cape Breton, where he set many of his stories.
Douglas Gibson, MacLeod’s editor and publisher at McClelland and Stewart, has described the author as “the stone carver,” because his words were slow to emerge but were so well crafted they seemed destined to endure.
The stories were also steeped in the scenes and characters of Cape Breton, as was MacLeod’s funeral mass.
“He had to come back to Cape Breton for his final resting place,” said Gibson in an interview. “There, he will be among his own people.”
As the service began, a lone piper played and when the door opened its higher notes blended with fiddlers and a pianist on the second floor.
Afterwards, over half of the mourners accompanied the family to the graveyard where generations of MacLeod’s forebears are buried.
It was a reminder of a moment from “No Great Mischief,” when MacLeod described “the piper and the violinist and the singers waiting for their time of contribution. ... The interior of the church was packed with people.”
An April mist rested on the coastal highlands Saturday, and cold rain from the night before darkened the spruce trees.
MacLeod’s wife, Anita, was gently supported by their six children and grandchildren, one just 10 days old. Some of the sons and relatives wore yellow-and-black tartan ties — the colour of their clan.
Frank Macdonald, a friend and an honorary pallbearer, said he is indebted to MacLeod for faithfully reflecting his community and its Gaelic roots to the world.
During the mass, the Lord’s prayer was read in Gaelic by a priest wearing a tartan sash.
Macdonald, who became a novelist in part due to MacLeod’s encouragement, says his friend showed how the happiness and despair, wisdom and folly of the Cape Bretoners could provide inspiration and lead to superb fiction.
“His writing is filled with respect for people. ... They are portraits of people you know, whether you are from Cape Breton or elsewhere,” he said.
“He had great respect for the courage to live.”
Macdonald said the community of Dunvegan returned MacLeod’s devotion by building the writer a small, isolated cabin near his home where he went to write with a scribbler and ballpoint pen.
During his homily, MacIsaac also said MacLeod took regular times of spiritual retreat, came to St. Margaret of Scotland each summer Sunday, and was a profoundly religious man.
“The finger of God touched him in the bits and pieces of everyday life that give richness and meaning to life lived on God’s earth filled with awe and wonder,” he said.
He said that MacLeod’s life and literature were examples of how communities and families are formed and bonded through acts of patience and kindness.
The final line on the back of the funeral program is also the last line of the final scene of “No Great Mischief.”
“All of us are better when we’re loved.”