John Colin Campbell: 1935-2022

My father died on Wednesday.

We’ve been trying to make the usual arrangements during a very unusual time and have finally realized we’ll simply have to wait and see how we weather this storm before announcing visitation and funeral plans.

I had decided not to publish next week even before Fiona made her intentions with regard to Cape Breton clear, but now I am thinking that publishing, dependent as it is on my internet connection, may not be an option anyway.

I hope we all come through this safely.

I will leave you with some words about my dad.


John Colin Campbell

John Colin CampbellJohn Colin Campbell (22 January 1935—21 September 2022) was the third of nine children born to Vincent and Viola (MacNeil) Campbell of Sydney, Nova Scotia. He worked a variety of jobs as a young man—loading flour onto schooners bound for Newfoundland at the Robin Hood Wharf, driving a tow truck, delivering building supplies—before an obituary written for a local boxer got him a job offer from the Cape Breton Post and launched his career as a newspaperman. He married Dolores Campbell on 26 December 1963 and had four children—Mary, Susan, Archie and Flora. He lived his entire life in Cape Breton. You now know everything that mattered to him—his family, his work and his island.

The immediate family grew to include six grandchildren—Juan Antonio and Alex (children of Susan and Manuel Rodriguez, Quebec City); Rebecca and Nolan (children of Flora and John Lively, Timberlea); and Iain and Ben (children of Archie and Katie Hawkins, Aylmer). But John’s extended family encompassed nieces and nephews and great nieces and great nephews and cousins of varying degrees of separation; relationships he could trace with ease, thanks to an encyclopedic knowledge of Campbell genealogy, which would invariably lead him to say, “You know, he’s a cousin of your own.”

He was smart and so funny that talk of him, even if it starts in tears, inevitably ends in laughter.

His career included 13 years as the editor of the Cape Breton Highlander, a weekly newspaper launched with a number of his siblings—and his soon-to-be wife—in 1963. (As our parents would explain, when asked why they got married on a snowy Boxing Day, it was the only day they had free.) Maclean’s Magazine said of the Highlander in 1966:

Some readers trust the paper so implicitly they won’t even buy a vacuum cleaner at the door without checking with the Highlander. (The Campbells’ advice: read the sales contract carefully.)

He was a reporter’s reporter, whose love of a good story was matched only by his ability to tell it. In 2000, just before he retired, almost 20 of his colleagues at the Post nominated him for an Atlantic Journalistic Achievement Award for his “well deserved reputation for accuracy and fairness in covering the multitude of issues affecting his favourite place on earth.” He won, and in his acceptance speech said the most positive development he’d witnessed over his time in the news business was the arrival of more women journalists, an acknowledgement appreciated deeply by his own journalist daughters.

His children all provided excuses for travel and after his retirement, he and Dolores travelled frequently either with them (to England and Scotland and the United States) or to see them (in PEI and Quebec and Aylmer and Timberlea and Prague). But his heart was always and forever in Cape Breton and not just anywhere in Cape Breton but on the Bras d’Or Lakes, in Irish Cove, where his father’s family had settled in 1817 and where his father—who spoke Gaelic, a language John later learned—was born.

John spent his summers in the Cove from the time he was a small child and passed his love for the place along to his children and grandchildren. Summers in Irish Cove were golden, even this last one, during which his health began to fail. His passing on the last day of the season was no coincidence; he spent almost all of his last summer where he truly wanted to be.

He is survived by his wife and children and grandchildren, as well as by his sister Helen and brothers Stan and Brian. He was predeceased by his brothers Peter and Sandy and Donald and his sisters Anne Marie and Lexena.

He will be missed terribly and remembered dearly by those of us who still can’t quite imagine a world without him.