Author and Labradorian matriarch born in Hamilton Inlet (Nunatsiavut, Labrador) in 1818 – died in Mulligan River (Nunatsiavut, Labrador) in 1905, first person from Nunatsiavut to publish a book.
Lydia Campbell, also known as Lydia Blake and Lydia Brooks was born in 1818 in Hamilton Inlet in central Labrador to Ambrose Brooks, an Englishman working for the Hudson Bay Company, and his Inuit wife, renamed Susan. She was a “livyere” or Labrador settler of mixed blood.
From her father, the son of a minister, she learned to read and write in English and studied the Scriptures and from her mother, she learned traditional Inuit life skills, hunting, fishing and the Inuktitut language. Lydia was married young, as she was only 16 years old, first to William (or Bill) Blake of Rigolet (in Inuktitut: Kikiaq) Labrador in 1834, and they had five children. In 1848, after the death of her first husband, Lydia Campbell married Daniel Campbell, and they raised six children and fostered two others ; they were settled in Groswater Bay (Kangerliorsoak in Inuktitut) in south-central Labrador. Lydia Campbell’s family has a strong historical presence in Labrador and she gave birth to a line of Labradorian authors: see her daughter Margaret Baikie, author or Labrador Memories (1918) ; her son Thomas L. Blake, author of The Diary of Thomas L. Blake (posthumously published in 2000) ; her great-niece Elizabeth Goudie, author of Woman of Labrador (1973) and her great-great-granddaughter, Doris Saunders. The latter is an author of several articles and essays concerning autobiographical writing in Labrador – see “Women in Labrador: A Personal Viewpoint”, published in the magazine Atlantis in 1982 – and she is also the founder and editor of Them Days, an popular oral history magazine publishing in Happy-Valley Goose Bay, Labrador.
Known to all as Aunt Lydia, this matriarch was the first Inuit Labradorian to write a memoir of her life at the suggestion of a Newfoundland clergyman, Reverend Arthur Charles Waghorne. In 1894, the St John’s Evening Herald published her autobiography as “Sketches of Labrador Life” appearing as thirteen instalments in the newspaper between December 1894 and May 1895. Portions of her first person narrative were selected by Elizabeth Goudie, and published as “A bit about my life” and “Excerpts from Lydia Campbell’s diary” in 1977 in Them Days. The full manuscript was published by Doris Saunders in book format as Sketches of Labrador Life in 1980 and then republished in 1984 and 2000. Lydia Campbell’s written memories of Labrador life are described as “witty, observant and poetic” and contain a good deal of Labrador folklore. Her writing provides a first-hand history of Labrador women, their hardships, daily life and concerns. Excerpts of her autobiography were also published in Them Days in the 1980s.
In 1985, the Lydia Campbell Award for Creative Writing was established by the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council. In 1987, young people from North West River, Labrador produced a play called All Lydia’s Children for the Labrador Arts Festival. In 2009, the Canadian government pronounced Lydia Campbell a person of national historic significance, a tribute to her enduring legacy.