SYDNEY — A craftsman of the written word, Alistair MacLeod's legacy will be as much about his humanity as his storytelling ability, according to a fellow island author.
© 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.
"He could have been quite famous for telling stories but I think the thing that most people appreciated about Alistair was the fundamental decency of the man. He was a good person to be around," said Cape Breton native Linden MacIntyre, a Giller Prize-winning author and co-host of CBC's "Fifth Estate."
The day after MacLeod's death Sunday in Windsor, Ont., at age 78, the news was still sinking in for people who have long-marvelled at his work.
When reached in Toronto on Monday, MacIntyre said writing was never about money or acclaim for MacLeod.
"He did it because it was important to him and doing it that way, he created an incredible example of modesty and decency and patience — things that are in very short supply in the increasingly celebrity-driven world of the arts and culture," said MacIntyre. "He was consistently committed to writing about the hard lives of ordinary people without sentimentality. He would get close sometimes but by and large it was with kind of an unflinching appreciation of the hardship of the lives that he admired and that he remembered so well."
MacIntyre said MacLeod also stood up for and supported people from Cape Breton, particularly fellow writers. He noted that MacLeod was on the Giller jury the year that he won for "The Bishop's Man," and he also wrote a glowing blurb for the jacket of his 2006 book "Causeway."
Sheldon Currie, a native of Reserve Mines, an award-winning author, and a retired professor of English at St. Francis Xavier University, said MacLeod will go down as one of the world's best.
"He's one of the best writers in the history of literature, I'd say," he said. "It was Alistair who demonstrated that Canadian writing was world-class and could be published anywhere."
Of particular significance, according to Currie, was when MacLeod's first short story "The Boat" got published in a Massachusetts periodical in 1968.
"This was a time when it was extremely difficult to get anything published in Canada. There were no outlets and nobody was publishing very much, particularly short stories, so what that did was demonstrate that it was possible," said Currie, who has penned several classic novels, including "The Glace Bay Miners' Museum," and "Down the Coaltown Road."
In his work as a professor, Currie said MacLeod's work was required reading for many of his students.
"I taught a class in modern literature and I always had a story of Alistair's," he said. "He was a really superb short story writer and I think his short stories are taught pretty well everywhere."
MacLeod is survived by his wife Anita, six children Alexander, Lewis, Kenneth, Marion, Daniel and Andrew, and nine grandchildren.
Visitation was held Monday in Windsor, Ont., and will take place there again today. A funeral mass will be held Saturday at Saint Margaret of Scotland Church in Broad Cove, Cape Breton.
Tributes to Alistair MacLeod continued Monday:
• "Our thoughts are with Mr. MacLeod's friends and family during this difficult time. Alistair MacLeod brought the island and people of Cape Breton to the rest of the world through his stories. His novels and writings will continue to be read for generations to come." — Nova Scotia Premier Stephen MacNeil
• "Very sorry to hear about Alistair MacLeod, a wonderful writer and a fine person. It's a great loss for Canadians, and for Alistair's many readers and many friends." — Margaret Atwood
• "Alistair MacLeod was a truly great writer, and human being. He was also a gifted and revered teacher of English literature. His magnificently crafted stories and his only novel contain a compassion and beauty of language, and a deep wisdom and universal truth that are rare. His passing is a tremendous loss to Canada and to literature, but his work will endure." — Ellen Seligman, publisher, McClelland and Stewart, and vice-president of Random House of Canada.
Thousands have also taken to Twitter to pay tribute. Here's a small sample of what people across the country are saying:
• Lynn Coady (@Lynn_Coady): For would-be writers growing up far from any major culture centre, role models are essential. Alistair was my first Great Cape Breton Writer
• Cape Breton University (@cbuniversity): Honourary degree recipient and friend of CBU, Alistair MacLeod has passed away. Our thoughts are with his family at this time.
• The Giller Prize (@GillerPrize): We grieve the loss to Canada and #canlit of legendary author Alistair MacLeod. Remembering this fine man
• Shelagh Rogers (@RogersShelagh): "All of us are better when we're loved." He lived that quote. Writer and beloved friend #AlistairMacLeod has died. #RIP dear man.
• Elizabeth May MP (@ElizabethMay): A loss to Cdn literature; a loss to Cape Breton; a loss to all who knew him. RIP Alistair MacLeod. So very sad to lose him....#canlit