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Environmentalist and Writer Silver Donald Cameron dies at 82

‘He believed that he could and would and should make a difference,’ his niece says

Author and environmentalist Silver Donald Cameron, who lived in Cape Breton, has died at the age of 82.

His niece, Amy Cameron, said her uncle died in a Halifax hospital early Monday morning after recently being diagnosed with lung cancer.

“He was first and foremost a storyteller. He was a remarkably attentive listener who was so full of engagement and curiosity and interest,” she said.

“He was just a very engaged human being who loved people and loved stories and loved hearing people’s stories.”

Donald Cameron grew up in Vancouver, later adding the Silver to the beginning of his name to distinguish him from other Donald Camerons.

Cameron and his wife, Marjorie Simmins, lived in D’Escousse on Isle Madame in Cape Breton. Cameron has five children.

Author Margaret Atwood met Cameron in the 1970s through a writers union.

“He was very genial, he was smart, he was interested in many different things,” she said.

“He did not confine himself to his own generation, let’s put it that way. He was interested in a broad spectrum of things and a broad spectrum of people.”

Cameron was a former journalist, university teacher, playwright and documentary filmmaker. He had been a columnist for the Globe and Mail and wrote a weekly column for the Halifax Sunday Herald for 13 years.

He was the recipient of the Order of Canada and the Order of Nova Scotia in 2012, as well as awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal.

His latest book, Blood in the Water: A True Story of Revenge in the Maritimes, will be available in August.

“It’s his best, as far as I’m concerned,” said his youngest brother, Ken Cameron.

“It’s a love letter to Cape Breton Island.”

Cameron said the three brothers, each four years apart, were taught by their parents that they should contribute something in their lifetimes to help make the world a better place.

“It was up to us to decide what that would be. And Donald followed that objective through his whole life and in everything that he did,” he said

“He was a passionate liver of life, but in a way that was directed toward the future and a better future for everybody.”

Cameron has ‘left a legacy’: Atwood

Cameron both taught and was the writer-in-residence at several schools throughout Canada.

He began teaching English at the University of New Brunswick in the late 1960s, where he helped start an alternative news magazine, The Mysterious East, which ran for three years.

Last year, Cameron was appointed Cape Breton University’s first Farley Mowat Chair in Environment, something his niece said he took immense pride in, as he “loved this world and felt passionate about the environment.”

Atwood said through his role at the university, Cameron “has left a legacy to be passed on.”

She was interviewed by Cameron at the university last summer when her late partner, Graeme Gibson, was being awarded an honorary degree. She said Cameron was an excellent interviewer.

Cameron created an environmental website, The Green Interview, where he spoke to people like Jane Goodall, David Suzuki and Nova Scotia teenage scientist Stella Bowles about green issues and moving toward a more sustainable future.

Amy Cameron said she hopes her uncle’s environmental work will have a lasting impact.

“He cared deeply about our country and the people in it and the people who he met,” Amy Cameron said. “He believed that he could and would and should make a difference.”

‘It sparked such joy in him’

After leaving New Brunswick, Cameron moved to Isle Madame where he hoped to become a full-time writer.

“As a family we’re very grateful for the home that Cape Breton and Nova Scotia and Atlantic Canada have provided to him. That it was a place he could flourish and be himself,” Ken Cameron said.

Cameron’s niece said the community always felt like home for him and his brother said, “It was the way people cared for each other.”

“It sparked such joy in him,” Amy Cameron said. “I think it was because he met his tribe, he met other storytellers.”

She said she loved to hear his stories of Cape Breton and the people who lived there. She has only visited four or five times herself, but said she has an enormous affection for the area because of her uncle’s stories.

“My God, he loved to share stories of his life and the people that he’d met,” Amy Cameron said.

“He had such a great knack for catching a turn of phrase or describing. He would hang on to a sentence that someone said, the particular cadence and the way that they said it and the words that they used, and he could pull it back out again. And suddenly you were with him in the scene.”

Amy Cameron said her uncle was always deeply interested in others and the challenges they were facing.

“[He] was unafraid of hearing that or wading into those waters or talking about difficult subjects,” she said.

“And I find that to be one of the greatest gifts he gave to me, was listening and then sharing his own life experiences in a way that I felt heard.”

‘A pillar of strength’

Ken Cameron said his brother’s wife, Marjorie Simmins, was also from British Columbia.

Cameron said she uprooted herself to the opposite coast in order to be with the man she loved, something she documented in her own book, Coastal Lives.

He also said she is the only family member currently in Nova Scotia.

“She’s been a pillar of strength during this process and she’s had to cope with it all alone due to the restrictions on travel due to COVID,” he said.

“I don’t think we ever expected that she would have to cope with this alone.”