Tributes are pouring in from across Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and elsewhere in Canada for business leader Bill Lyall, who died on Dec. 28.

“His passion for the Co-op will be kind of hard to emulate,” said Charlie Lyall, Bill’s younger brother, who also reflected on Bill’s love of fishing and his eagerness to assist others.

“He helped out lots. For example, when somebody died in the community, he was the first one to bring food and such,” Charlie said.

Bill ran a seasonal fishing lodge, B and J Flyfishing Adventures, located about 80 kilometres west of Cambridge Bay.

“You couldn’t find a better man to operate it,” Charlie said, adding that his brother also enjoyed playing cribbage.

In 1975, Bill was elected as MLA for the Central Arctic, serving in the 8th NWT Legislative Assembly prior to Nunavut becoming a separate territory.

A few years later, having already served on the Co-op board of directors, he began his pivotal tenure as president of the Ikaluktutiak Co-op in Cambridge Bay. Shortly thereafter, he became founding president of Arctic Co-operatives Limited. He devoted more than 40 years of his life to the Co-op movement, retiring in 2019. During that period, the Co-op expanded, ultimately reaching 32 communities in Nunavut, the NWT and Yukon.

Bill published a book touting the benefits of the Co-op in 2014. It was titled Helping Ourselves by Helping Each Other: The Life Story of William Lyall.

In paying homage to the Co-op champion, Arctic Co-operatives described him as a “visionary leader and patriarch.”

“Through Bill’s work, dedication and vision the people of the North have developed, using the Co-operative model, the strongest and most diverse group of aboriginal-owned businesses in Canada. We will always be extremely grateful for the leadership that Bill provided Arctic Co-ops and the Co-op System,” Arctic Co-operatives stated.

The Kitikmeot Inuit Association (KIA) also eulogized Bill, offering condolences to his wife Jessie in the process.

“We will all miss his passion for the outdoors and fishing, and we know that he is now resting in peace as he had to deal with the sickness of cancer over the past while,” KIA President Stanley Anablak stated.

Charlie Lyall has long been a key role-player in economic development with the KIA. Like Bill and Charlie, brothers Dennis and Pat Lyall were also business-oriented.

“We like to see Inuit get ahead, and private enterprise is the way to do it,” Charlie said of the brothers’ drive to expand enterprise throughout the Kitikmeot and the North.

Duane Wilson, vice-president of stakeholder relations at Arctic Co-operatives Limited, said Bill’s words and approach left a lasting impression on him.

“I heard Bill speak on a number of occasions and he spoke about how co-operation was the way that Inuit survived for centuries on the land so there was a natural alignment between Inuit societal values and co-operative business,” said Wilson. “That sentiment, plus the obvious pride in the amount of assets and equity that Co-op members had retained in the North, always resonated with me.”

Among the numerous accolades that Bill earned over his lifetime were the Order of Nunavut in 2015, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, the Canadian Co-operative Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 and the Order of Canada in 2003.

Derek Neary

Derek Neary has been reporting on developments in the North for 18 years. When he's not writing for Nunavut News, he's working on Northern News Services' special publications such as Opportunities North,...

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