The Lyalls of Taloyoak
Northern family name into fourth generation

by Jeff Colbourne
Northern News Services

NNSL (Dec 08/97) - It began as a little family in Fort Ross, a trading Post on the Boothia Peninsula.

Now the Lyalls are a dynasty scattered throughout the North.

Today, the 10 descendants of the first Canadian Lyalls have etched themselves into the Arctic landscape, creating jobs and contributing to a healthy future for Inuit and non-Inuit alike.

Bill Lyall, one of the eldest Lyall boys, is president of NWT Arctic Co-operative Ltd. in Cambridge Bay. He attended school in Yellowknife and later enrolled in the Alberta technology colleges.

In 1968, Bill came back to Taloyoak to visit his family. Unfortunately, he didn't have enough money to buy a return ticket to the south.

"I only had enough money to make it Cambridge Bay," he says. "Then I went broke. And I'm broke still."

In the early 1970s, Bill became involved in local and territorial politics.

He served as a member of the legislative assembly from 1975 to 1979, representing the North's largest riding, the Central Arctic which included Kugluktuk, Holman, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, Pelly Bay, Bathurst Inlet and Bay Chimo.

He ran for a second term but was defeated. His brother ran against him and split the vote.

"If you want to serve your people, your community you don't have to be a MLA," Bill says now. "Your hands are tied with cabinet. We (ordinary MLAs) are from the outside looking in. We see the corruption but politicians have a good cloak. It's a legal cloak and you can't do anything about it."

Bill, 56, says he would like to take a break for a while and let his wife keep working.

They have six children who are grown. They have an adopted daughter who's seven and they're thinking about adopting a second child.

"Personally, I want to go fishing, golfing or chase young girls in Hawaii," he says. "That's what all guys my age do, isn't it?"

The youngest of the Lyall boys is Bob, who has lived in Taloyoak most of his life.

For the past nine years, Bob has been heavily involved in the Nunavut Planning Commission.

Previously, he had the honor of being the first man to run a women's shelter in Canada.

He's also been an alcohol and drug councillor and a CBC announcer-operator. He's never been interested in politics though, unlike many of his brothers.

"All my brothers are involved in Nunavut organizations, one or the other," says Bob. "It confuses the front desk at the Yellowknife Inn when we're there for meetings."

The Lyalls are what Bob calls the "exiles of the Hudson's Bay Company."

Their father, Ernie Lyall, a Labradorian who passed away 11 years ago, had moved to an island in Lancaster Sound with Hudson's Bay.

There, he met his wife, Nipisha, of Cape Dorset.

They both migrated to Fort Ross, where he set up a post.

In 1949 the Lyall family moved with the Company to Taloyoak, where many of the Lyalls were born, grew up and settled.

Not only did Bob make Taloyoak his home, Pat settled there.

In recent years Pat has become head of Nunasi Corp., a member of the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation and the Kitikmeot Inuit Association.

Pat also runs an outfitting company called Boothia Tours.

Then there is Charlie Lyall, over in Taloyoak. He is president of the Kitikmeot Corp. Brother Dennis is Mayor of Taloyoak.

Betty Lyall-Brewster also lives in the tiny Kitikmeot community. She is an interpreter-translator.

Across the region in Cambridge Bay there's Bella Wilcox, another sister. She is a cook at Cambridge Bay's Co-op Hotel.

And don't forget Kathy Lyall-Meyer, a long-time Yellowknife resident. She moved to Yellowknife in 1976 to attend school at Sir John Franklin.

After completing her studies, Kathy went back to Taloyoak but returned to Yellowknife in 1985 to be with her husband, Dean Meyer. She's now a partner in Back Bay Welding, a Yellowknife company.

"I try to keep in touch with my family," says Kathy. "I see someone almost every other week."

The last time the whole family was together was at their father's funeral. These days there are occasions when five or six of the brothers and sisters get together.

Kathy remembers fun times the family shared in Taloyoak, especially around Christmas.

"My dad used to go out of his way to get us real Christmas trees," says Kathy. "My mother would make new mitts, kamiks and parkas."

Like all families, Kathy says they had their ups and downs, but a sense of humor kept them close.

Of all the brothers and sisters, Kathy says -- hoping not to instigate a family feud -- it was the two younger brothers that kept spirits up from time to time.

"I'd like to think that Bill and Dennis gave a lot of moral support," she says.

The only Lyall who didn't stay in the North is Sylvia Ritchie, who resides in Drayton Valley, Alta.

Nipisha Lyall, the mother, recently moved there to be with her daughter over the winter.