Larry Loyie, 1933–2016


I learned today that my friend and co-author, Larry Loyie, is gone.

Larry’s Cree name was Young Man. It was fitting. He had a gentle, even light spirit, despite all he’d been through. Somehow he never lost touch with the character of childhood. I won’t say innocence: there was little of that for children like Larry. In residential school, he dreamed of being an author, but his education at St. Bernard Mission was cold and meagre. He was in his 50s when he went back to school to fulfill his life’s purpose. And fulfill it he did.

Larry developed a simple yet powerful voice. He had an ability to communicate with readers of all ages, but especially with the young. Along with his writing partner, Constance Brissenden, he published books about his youth before and during residential school, reaching thousands of readers across Canada and beyond.

His love for his culture was with him throughout his life, as was his love for writing and for teaching the young. Gentle and honest, compassionate and warm, Larry’s work reflects the respect that he had for his readers, whatever their age. He had a few guiding principles: always tell the truth, make sure the writing is interesting, and inform the reader.

Larry was soft-spoken. He could summon a mental picture with great economy. He felt no need to hit anyone over the head with his message, and so he never did. His prose is disarmingly open, and anyone who follows him in the work of writing about residential schools is well-advised to study his example. He’s given us a wealth of books, and if you haven’t read them I encourage you to do so.

He loved baseball, and we enjoyed going to the stadium together. Connie and I would talk shop, and he’d hush us. “I’m here to watch the game,” he’d say. He’d go from funny to serious in a beat, hitting just the right note in each register. A few times I got a glimpse of the darker stuff, when he’d talk about picking potatoes and chopping firewood. He wanted so badly to read and to learn, and the residential school system denied him. To the school he was a source of cheap, forced labour, nothing more. It could be hard to reconcile this with the gentle, funny guy sitting behind home plate. Why wasn’t he angry all the time? I know survivors who are. It’s a mystery to me, and I guess it always will be a mystery.

Larry left us peacefully. He has done what he came to do. I miss him, and I’m sad he’s gone, but I know if he were here he’d have none of that. Not for Larry, the long-drawn face and the dirge. “Cheer up, young man, and keep going,” he’d say. For you, Young Man, I will. For you.

11 thoughts on “Larry Loyie, 1933–2016”

  1. yes thats how i knew him he was a friend of mine for twenty some years i was one person that was lucky to have a friend like larry


  2. I too was touched by Larry’s character and genuine nature. He and Constance visited our museum for author talks with their books and as well when ever they were in the ‘neighborhood’ in northern Alberta. His sense of humour was a delight and a means of reaching people on topics not easily talked about. He will certainly be remembered.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I just heard about Larry passing tonight. I am deeply sad for the loss of this great writer and friend. I only knew Larry and Constance for a short time and I took one of their writing classes. They both taught me a lot in their class called “From self to story.” I bought two books from him and I truly enjoyed them. The last one was the Residential Schools book and he made history interesting despite what had happened there. It’s stories are informative in a very personal way that show us exactly the way it was for the children. I am so grateful for him writing this book to make people aware of the past and how it affects our future.
    One time I told him; “I’m trying to be a writer too.” Larry had a way with words that inspires me today. He gave me great advice and said;
    “If you want to be a writer, be a writer.” Now when people ask me what I do I tell them; “I’m a writer.” Even though I have not published my bilingual books I will keep trying. Thanks to Larry’s encouragement I won’t give up. I feel blessed for have knowing him and Constance.
    Let the Creator guide us!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This is a heartbreaking loss indeed! I only knew him for the last few years but he was one of the kindest and nicest people I’ve ever met. He will truly be missed. 😦

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thanks for writing this. I agree with all you say. Larry was a loving, gentle man and I was privileged to call him a friend.

    Liked by 1 person

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