Author donated manuscript and book sales to museum
A new book traces the Macneils of Bay Saint Lawrence
Bernardine Macneil-campbell had no intention of ever publishing a book. With a wee nudge from the North Highlands Community Museum, however, that’s just what she did.
For the past 40 years, Bernardine has been researching ancestors on her father’s side who emigrated from Barra, Scotland, eventually settling in Bay St. Lawrence. In December 2016, Bernardine and her son Scott Campbell decided to donate the manuscript to the North Highlands Community Museum & Culture Centre to help future visitors researching their family history in the area. The centre had been one of Bernardine’s early “go-to” places for genealogical research.
“All that work and all those records that I have kept. If somebody else could use them, I would hate to see them go in the garbage,” said Bernardine in an Oct. 31 telephone interview from her home in Richmond Hill, ON.
She mailed it to the museum, no strings attached. Months later, she received a call from the centre’s board director Ken Murray asking permission to publish it. On Sept. 16 of this year, the centre launched Bernardine’s book, “The Macneil Settlers and their Kin at Bay St. Lawrence.” Seventy copies have been sold so far. Bernardine donates all profits to the museum.
Bernardine was born in Glace Bay and raised in Dominion before the family moved to Toronto. Her paternal grandfather died before she was born and growing up, she always assumed her great grandfather, Donald Macneil, came from nearby Dominion or Glace Bay. It wasn’t until the early 1960s, during an unexpected visit to Cape North that she began to dig deeper. There she met long lost cousins, learned that her ancestors were deep sea fishermen from the Hebrides and that Donald Macneil was, in fact, born in Bay St. Lawrence.
In the following decades, she learned that her ancestors emigrated to Cape Breton from the Hebrides in 1824, landing in Sydney and first settling in Beaver Cove near Iona. They fished in Aspy Bay, Ingonish and Bay St. Lawrence and eventually settled down north in the mid-1830s.
Bernardine says tracing a family tree takes “curiosity and stick-to-it-ness” and the process can be “addictive.”
“The family genealogy and the history of the 'Bay' and areas you might say became an obsession of mine and every time I visited Cape Breton, which was often, I was on the hunt, in museums, court houses, churches and cemeteries and any place that had records I could peruse.”
Scott says he is “extremely proud” of his mom. For most of the 40 years of researching the book, she cared for her late husband suffering from chronic, disabling disease.
Both Bernardine and Scott are grateful to the Board of Directors of North Highlands Community Museum for hosting and publishing the book and the hospitality shown to them during the launch by members of the community.
“Bay St. Lawrence, where my grandfather was born, is close to my heart. Scott and I would like to return someday in the future for another visit and hopefully meet more of our kin.”
To purchase a copy, please call the North Highlands Community Museum and Culture Centre at 902-383-2579 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Bernardine Macneil Campbell (sitting) signs a copy of her book “The Macneil Settlers and their Kin at Bay St. Lawrence.” at the North Highland Community Museum & Culture Centre. Submitted photo.