Lydia Campbell | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Lydia Campbell

Lydia Campbell (née Brooks, formerly Lydia Blake, known commonly as “Aunt Lydia”), matriarch, writer (born 1 November 1818 at Hamilton Inlet, Newfoundland Colony; died 29 April 1905 in Mulligan, Newfoundland Colony). Campbell was an Anglo-Inuit matriarch in Labrador. She was the first person from Nunatsiavut to publish her writing. Her “Sketches of Labrador Life,” first published in 1894-95, is a rare autobiography detailing life in 19th-century Labrador. Campbell’s writing recounted the role of women in the period of early European colonization of the area.

Early Life

Lydia Campbell was born in 1818 to Ambrose Brooks, an English trapper for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and an Inuit mother known only by her English name, Susan. Susan and Ambrose were among one of the earliest documented cases of intermarriage between Indigenous Peoples and European settlers in southern Labrador. Campbell was the youngest of three daughters.

Her family’s way of life followed a seasonal pattern, moving within the region from season to season as needed. As part of an Anglo-Inuit family, Campbell’s Inuit way of life was blended with European customs and traditions. From her mother, Campbell learned Inuttitut (see also Inuktitut) and the skills to live off the land. She learned how to trap, fish and hunt. Additionally, she learned how to prepare food and clothing and gained medical knowledge. From her father, she learned to read and write English. It was rare for women in Labrador to be able to read and write at that time.

Family Life

At 16, Lydia Campbell was forced into marriage to William Blake Jr., a man of Anglo-Inuit descent. The couple had five children before William died in 1845. Campbell’s second marriage was to Daniel Campbell, a Scotsman who went to Labrador to work for the Hudson’s Bay Company. By Campbell’s account, this marriage was a happy one, and the couple had eight children.


When Lydia Campbell was 75, a clergyman from Newfoundland (see Newfoundland and Labrador) persuaded her to pen her life story. “Sketches of Labrador Life by a Labrador Woman” was originally published in 13 installments in the St. John’s Evening Herald between December 1894 and May 1895. In 1980, the installments were published as a book.

Sketches of Labrador Life contains stories about Campbell, her family and members of the community. It also recounts Inuit and Innu stories and traditions. Her account provides valuable insight into 19th-century Labrador and the changes her community underwent during early European colonization of the region. In particular, it is a rare first-person glimpse into gender relations and the lives of Indigenous women in this era.

Campbell was the first person from Nunatsiavut to have their writing published. People continue to study her writing.


Lydia Campbell was a well-known matriarch in Labrador, known to many as “Aunt Lydia.” She taught her children and grandchildren to read and write. A number of her descendants also became literary figures in Labrador.

In 1985, the Newfoundland and Labrador Arts Council established the Lydia Campbell Award for Creative Writing in her honour. A play, All Lydia’s Children, was produced for the Labrador Creative Arts Festival in 1987. In 2009, Campbell was designated as a National Historic Person for her significance in Labrador’s history.