Montreal

'People looked up to him': Byron Clark, pillar of Magdalen Islands, dies

The tight-knit, predominantly anglophone community of Grosse-Île mourns Clark, a retired fishery officer, historian and self-taught organist and notary, who died Saturday at the age of 86.

Tight-knit community of Grosse-Île mourns fishery officer, historian and notary, who died Saturday at 86

Byron Clark, a great storyteller, self-taught organist and notary, and retired fisheries officer, died Saturday of lung cancer at the age of 86. ( Maison Funéraire Leblanc/Radio-Canada)

Kerry Dickson remembers his uncle and godfather, the late Byron Clark, regaling relatives with tales culled from the history of the Magdalen Islands.

Clark, a fishery officer, volunteer notary and renowned community-builder, died of lung cancer July 20 at his home in Grosse-Île, one of three predominantly anglophone communities on the Magdalen Islands. He was 86.

"It's going to be a major hole in our family," Dickson told Quebec AM. "He's arrived 7:30 every Saturday night for as long as I can remember."

"You still look at that clock, waiting for him to arrive."

Dickson said Clark could be counted on to do anything for anyone.

"People looked up to him," he said.

Self-taught scholar

Dickson said Clark was taught himself many skills, from notarizing to organ-playing.

"When he wanted to do something, he researched it enough to be able to do it," Clark's nephew said.

Clark learned to play the organ by practising at the local church every day, and he carried the skill into adulthood; he was warden of Holy Trinity Anglican Church and played the organ there for more than four decades.

He started his working life driving a dump truck and weighing lobster at the wharf before becoming a provincial fishery officer, a job he held for 26 years.

After he retired, Clark founded the Cap Dauphin Fishermen's Co-operative in an effort to get fishermen better prices for their catch.

The co-op started with 28 members and has grown to more than 100, becoming a driving economic force on the Islands.

Clark recognized for his archival research

Clark was a lover of history and wrote eight books, many of which were true stories from the Magdalen Islands, including the growth of the Anglican Church on the archipelago.

Dickson said Clark had a keen interest in genealogy and would spend hours reading archives.

He amassed an impressive collection of photographs and historical documents covering events in the Magdalen Islands from 1793­ to 1900. As an authority on the islands, he earned an award from the Quebec Anglophone Heritage Network in 2006.

"He always used to tell me that you never put anything down in a book that is not fact and that has not been researched properly," Dickson said. "He said that's how untrue stories are told around and become false legends down the road."

"It made me think to be very careful when you're speaking."

Friends, family and neighbours of Byron Clark are remembering the legacy the 86-year-old left for the Anglophone community on the Magdalen Islands. A long-time fisheries officer, Clark volunteered in community organizations and wrote books about the history of the Magdalen Islands. The CBC's Marika Wheeler spoke with his godson and nephew, Kerry Dickson. 9:40

Clark also served as mayor of Grosse-Île for a term, and he opened the first movie theatre on the archipelago.  

"Byron was seen around the community as the cornerstone, not only of our family lives, but of the community," Dickson said.

Clark is survived by his sister Irene, his daughter Kim, two granddaughters, one great-granddaughter, several nieces and nephews, and countless friends. 

A funeral is planned for July 24 at Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Grosse-Île.

 

With files from Quebec AM

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