He was visiting his friend, Peggy MacAdam, at her Sydney gift store, The Cape Breton Curiosity Shop, when a box of new books from Nimbus Publishing arrived. Inside was a note from Don Soucup, the head of Nimbus, asking MacAdam to recommend someone to write a book on the quirky side of Cape Breton history.
MacAdam, who knew Doyle had a love of the island’s history, handed him the note and said, “This is for you.”
Doyle sent Nimbus a proposal for the book in December of 2009, the proposal was accepted in January, 2010, and Doyle had just one year to research and write the book for his deadline of January 2011.
“I spent every week of 2010 working on the book,” he says, during an interview in the McConnell’s Nova Scotia Room, a room he knows well.
He spent his days going through the collections at the McConnell Branch of the Cape Breton Regional Library, at Cape Breton University in both the Beaton Institute archives and the university library, consulting works like Dr. Brian Tennyson’s massive bibliography of all things Cape Breton, and making phone calls to community historians across Cape Breton Island.
“I just barely made it,” he says now.
Doyle, who is familar to CBC audiences as a producer for the local station’s various news programs before his retirement, says his love of history, especially Cape Breton history, began when he was in Grade Six and the provincial history cirriculum focused on Nova Scotia history. “It was amazing to me,” he says.
Throughout his life, Doyle has pursued research in his family’s history, and, along the way to answering how his family made the trek from Ireland to Cape Breton (Ingonish, in particular), his search led him into side trips into non-Doyle related parts of the island’s history.
Doyle is amazed at how Cape Bretoners saw a lot of potential in their island, especially in the early days of the steel plant and coal mines, and were eager to invest in that potential and stories of this confidence comes through in many entries in his book.
There was the Maritime Motion Picture Company, that lasted from 1921 to 1924 at the corner of present day Inglis and High streets, which Doyle describes as “the center of Canada’s film industry”. The company made tourism shorts and three full length silent pictures, which were filmed at such island locations as Little Lorraine, Ingonish, Whycocomagh, and Sydney. Plagued by lawsuits, the Company eventually went out of business leaving no samples of its product.
Another entry lookes at the formation of the Sydney Millionaires hockey team, which investors thought would promote the city. They put together, not only a team, but entire league in less than six months. The team got their name because the investors, scrambling to get the best players, offered large salaries to recruits, prompting their fellow players to call them “millionaires”. The team eventually became a unsuccessful finalist for the Stanley Cup before it became the top prize for the National Hockey League.
Cape Breton Facts and Folklore in its short time on bookstore shelves has been selling briskly. Doyle, hunting for bargains at the McConnell book sale later on the day of the interview, had several people approach him telling him how much they are enjoying the book. No doubt, many Cape Bretoners, on island and away, will be getting it as a Christmas present.
Doyle is still researching the Irish settlement in Cape Breton. He’s writing short biographies of almost 1300 names of Irish settlers, when they left Ireland, when they arrived in Cape Breton. He jokes that in the end he might have enough material for a 15 page article.
Presently, his daughter, Mary Jean, has recruited him as the lighting operator for the Cape Breton Dramagroup production of The Tempest.
Asked if he has plans to write a second volume of Cape Breton Facts and Folklore, Doyle is able to say definitively, “No”.