As if there hasn’t been enough loss recently, the Strait area received yet another blow via the sudden, unexpected death of Silver Donald Cameron.
An award-winning author, environmental activist and long-time local volunteer, Cameron passed away on June 1 at the age of 82 in Halifax three weeks after being diagnosed with lung cancer.
Order of Canada, Queen’s Jubilee Medal and Order of Nova Scotia recipient, Cameron was also a former journalist, university teacher, playwright and documentary filmmaker. He was a columnist for provincial and national newspapers, including The Reporter.
Cameron is survived by his partner award-winning author and freelance journalist Marjorie Simmins, who is a contributor to The Reporter.
Born in Toronto, Cameron both taught and was the writer-in-residence at several schools in Canada. He was the first Dean of the School of Community Studies at Cape Breton University. He held a Ph.D. from the University of London, as well as honorary doctorates from the University of Kings College and Cape Breton University.
He taught English at the University of New Brunswick in the 1960s, where he helped start an alternative news magazine, The Mysterious East, which ran for three years.
Cameron came to the Strait area in 1970 as a journalist covering a strike by trawlermen at fish plants in Canso, Mulgrave and Petit de Grat which later culminated in his novel The Education of Everett Richardson. Because of its continued popularity and significance, this book was recently republished four decades after its original appearance.
Celebrated author and award-winning journalist Linden MacIntyre first met Cameron while both were covering the strike 50 years ago. He marveled at Cameron’s ability to come to a unique community like Isle Madame, from a big city, and not just survive but thrive.
In 1971, Cameron purchased a home in Isle Madame, and a couple of years later, another along the waterfront in D’Escousse, which became his residence for decades with his wife, the late Lulu Terrio-Cameron and his son Mark.
It was from his home on Isle Madame’s north side where Cameron wrote some of his most memorable novels including Wind, Whales and Whisky, which detailed a voyage on his yacht the Silversark from D’Escousse to Florida. As in the case with almost all of his writing, the communities, characters and stories of Isle Madame were a frequent part of the novel.
Not just willing to rest on the laurels of his celebrated literary career, Cameron became deeply involved in the effort to overcome the collapse of the groundfishery in the early 1990s, which resulted in the closure of the Richmond Fisheries plant in Boudreauville, and the loss of hundreds of jobs from Isle Madame.
Cameron was an original board member of Development Isle Madame Association, and in 1994 was one of the founders of Telile: Isle Madame Community Television, an entity which continues to this day.
Even after Isle Madame was able to contain the economic and social damage from the loss of its main employer, Cameron stayed involved in the community, remaining on the board of Telile until the community television station moved to its current location.
In recent years, Cameron was the host and executive director of The Green Interview.com, a series of more than 100 interviews with people like Margaret Atwood, Jane Goodall, David Suzuki, and Nova Scotia teenage scientist Stella Bowles about green issues and moving toward a more sustainable future. Cameron assembled his conversations over a period of 10 years of global travel and research.
Telile’s former general manager, Gloria Hill noted that his passion and energy naturally evolved from the connected worlds of community economic development to environmental issues.
Cameron’s 20th and final book, Blood in the Water: A True Story of Revenge in the Maritimes, will be available in August. The book details the death of Philip Boudreau in June, 2013 in waters off Petit de Grat.
In the book, Cameron argues that the Boudreau killing was a direct reaction to credible and dire threats that the authorities were powerless to neutralize. According to the book’s publisher Penguin Random House, this is a story not about lobster, but about the grand themes of power and law, security, and self-respect.
After learning Cameron was writing a book on the incident, MacIntyre was asked to read the manuscript and provide a blurb for the cover.
Like others who’ve read Cameron’s final book, MacIntyre called it perhaps his greatest literary achievement; the perfect summary of a distinguished career.
“… It’s a summation of everything that he could’ve been talking about and thinking about over the last 50 years,” MacIntyre told The Reporter.
At the time of his death, Cameron was Cape Breton University’s first Farley Mowat Chair in Environment, yet another testament to his commitment to environmental concerns.
Although it is widely agreed that Cameron left this world far too soon, since there were more articles, more interviews, more projects, and yes, more books in him, he has left an impressive legacy.
Cameron, who unnecessarily added “Silver” to his name so as not to be confused with the many other Donald Camerons calling Nova Scotia home, did not require a moniker to stand out. He was inherently unique; a city boy, journalist, author and professor who fell in love with an island, off an island and did not just fit in, but helped lead the community from one of its darkest periods.
Rather than bask in the satisfaction of a job well done in community economic development, Cameron then set out to make environmentalism the centrepiece of his life. Specifically, he was a staunch opponent of open pen fish farming, he sounded the alarm about the rate of coastal erosion, he expressed his concerns over the depletion of fish stocks, and he warned about the far reaching effects from global warming.
His love for his adopted home, Isle Madame, is all over to his 20th and final book which weaves an intricate story about a place and its people, in a way that only someone who was born and raised elsewhere but lived there for five decades could pull off.
As is the case with his life, the reviews for Cameron’s final piece are nothing but raves. Although it is a premature ending, no more fitting a death could have been planned.
Rest in peace Silver Donald Cameron, what you have done for this area, its communities and its people is immeasurable, is felt every day, and will to be for many, many years to come.