Tributes are pouring in from across Nunavut, the Northwest Territories and elsewhere in Canada for business leader Bill Lyall, who died on Dec. 28.

“His passion for the Co-op will be kind of hard to emulate,” said Charlie Lyall, Bill’s younger brother, who also reflected on Bill’s love of fishing and his eagerness to assist others.

“He helped out lots. For example, when somebody died in the community, he was the first one to bring food and such,” Charlie said.

Bill ran a seasonal fishing lodge, B and J Flyfishing Adventures, located about 80 kilometres west of Cambridge Bay.

“You couldn’t find a better man to operate it,” Charlie said, adding that his brother also enjoyed playing cribbage.

In 1975, Bill was elected as MLA for the Central Arctic, serving in the 8th NWT Legislative Assembly prior to Nunavut becoming a separate territory.

A few years later, having already served on the Co-op board of directors, he began his pivotal tenure as president of the Ikaluktutiak Co-op in Cambridge Bay. Shortly thereafter, he became founding president of Arctic Co-operatives Limited. He devoted more than 40 years of his life to the Co-op movement, retiring in 2019. During that period, the Co-op expanded, ultimately reaching 32 communities in Nunavut, the NWT and Yukon.

Bill published a book touting the benefits of the Co-op in 2014. It was titled Helping Ourselves by Helping Each Other: The Life Story of William Lyall.

In paying homage to the Co-op champion, Arctic Co-operatives described him as a “visionary leader and patriarch.”

“Through Bill’s work, dedication and vision the people of the North have developed, using the Co-operative model, the strongest and most diverse group of aboriginal-owned businesses in Canada. We will always be extremely grateful for the leadership that Bill provided Arctic Co-ops and the Co-op System,” Arctic Co-operatives stated.

The Kitikmeot Inuit Association (KIA) also eulogized Bill, offering condolences to his wife Jessie in the process.

“We will all miss his passion for the outdoors and fishing, and we know that he is now resting in peace as he had to deal with the sickness of cancer over the past while,” KIA President Stanley Anablak stated.

Charlie Lyall has long been a key role-player in economic development with the KIA. Like Bill and Charlie, brothers Dennis and Pat Lyall were also business-oriented.

“We like to see Inuit get ahead, and private enterprise is the way to do it,” Charlie said of the brothers’ drive to expand enterprise throughout the Kitikmeot and the North.

Duane Wilson, vice-president of stakeholder relations at Arctic Co-operatives Limited, said Bill’s words and approach left a lasting impression on him.

“I heard Bill speak on a number of occasions and he spoke about how co-operation was the way that Inuit survived for centuries on the land so there was a natural alignment between Inuit societal values and co-operative business,” said Wilson. “That sentiment, plus the obvious pride in the amount of assets and equity that Co-op members had retained in the North, always resonated with me.”

Among the numerous accolades that Bill earned over his lifetime were the Order of Nunavut in 2015, the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal in 2012, the Canadian Co-operative Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011 and the Order of Canada in 2003.

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  1. I met Bill and his wife Jesse while visiting my sister Alice Isnor in Cambridge Bay. Always a smile and pleasant hello. Nice man.

  2. I knew Billy Lyall back in the 70’s and 80’s.He was a great person to be around.Loved to joke and always had a smile.He was always welcome at my home in Rankin Inlet. My condoiances to his family God Bless Bill, may he rest in peace⚘

  3. A tireless worker who rarely slept during the summer season when the co-op fish plant was open. Bill, along with the late Winston Fillatre from Stephenville Crossing, Newfoundland, were the other members of the management team who opened the co-op’s grocery store in 1981. Bill’s wife Jessie managed the Dry Goods department and Winston’s wife, Louise, was the Nurse-in-Charge. Tremendous people to work with. Sincere condolences to Jessie and family. Bill will be remembered as another legend of the north like his father Ernie.
    Colin Webster, Prince George, B.C.

  4. Bill was one of a kind, a true leader with incredible presence. When he spoke you listened. He will be missed in Nunavut. Condolences to his family.

  5. I met Bill soon after I joined Arctic Co-operatives in the mid 90’s and he was really helpful to me as a newcomer to the Inuit and their way of life. His knowledge of how the Arctic Co-op system was developed and the traditions of the Inuit culture really helped me understand how to better serve the communities. I had no idea of the many well deserved accolades he has received over the years and he never once mentioned any one of them to me. Rest in Peace Bill and my condolances to your family. They will miss you.

  6. I met Billy the first time in summer 1984 when I helped at the float base unloading my Uncle’s Beaver arriving with Arctic Char from various places near Cambridge Bay. Billy was in charge of the local fish plant / COOP. A born leader with a big heart, always willing to help and going the extra mile for anybody in need. The last time I met him was in September 2021 when I visited Cambridge Bay. We run into each other at the Westarm. He took a drive out there with his lovely wife Jessie and we had a chat about the ” good old days “! The North has lost another great human being ! Sincere condolences to Jessie and family. Rainer Stiller, Los Alamitos, CA USA

  7. I met Bill and Jessie through my refrigeration work with the fish plant and Coop in the early 90’s. Being a avid fisherman myself we instantly became close primarily due to Bill and Jessie’s generosity to many who came to Cam Bay. I was welcomed to many meals at there home and cabin and enjoyed exchanging stories of life and times in our dynamic world. Always open minded and clever enough to suggest a solution to a problem with a humorous antidote. My life is absolutely enriched from knowing Bill and think of him fondly, ‘We lost a good’ one he would say when we were fishing. My deepest condolences to Jessie and family, thinking of you.
    Tight lines Bill, You can fish Gods spot and make him jealous.

  8. I Met Bill and Jesse back in 2007, on a Fishing trip. After that we became very Close friends . Not knowing of his Passing . Here is my Condolences To the Family . . I must say Bill was the Nicest Person I ever met . RIP , He will be missed . Ken morrow , Sparwood bc

  9. An honour to have known Bill and fished with him on the Ekaluk several times , still miss Jessie’s fry bread.

  10. I worked for the Cambridge Bay co op back in 1992 when I met Bill ,He was a good person always with a smile R.I.P Bill 🙏

  11. I met Bill in 1973 when I came to Cam Bay to work for a Cambridge Utilities , delivering water and pumping out a sewage from the houses , great friend and the leader , wisited him many times afterwards on fishing trips , including twice with the President of General Motors of Canada , we will always have great memories for him and Jessie and the rest of his great familie . Thanks for everything my best friend …. Tony Vane Yellowknife ….

  12. My father and brother..Max and Reg Merkley worked for the Co-op fishing plant in the late 60s and early 1970s! I ran the transit ctr motel (for folks going farther north),one winter and met my husband Dale there..he delivered water,and removed sewer from all the homes there! We now live in S.Alberta and just celebrated 50 years together! RIP, Billy..hugs for all of his family and friends! 😉

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