Songwriter behind iconic Cape Breton anthem passes away

It's a song that for years has been the unofficial anthem of Cape Breton Island.

Now, Kenzie MacNeil – who wrote and sang The Island back in the 1970s – has passed away.

"I was quite shocked," said Maynard Morrison, an actor and performer who worked with MacNeil on The Rise and Follies of Cape Breton Island – a successful and satirical comedic sketch in the late 1970s and early 1980s. The show was a precursor to the Cape Breton Summertime Revue.

"If it hadn't been for Kenzie, the Rise and Follies never would have happened … Kenzie really did bring it together into the Revue format that we still use today," Morrison told CTV Atlantic.

MacNeil's death was confirmed by one of his four daughters.The family says he died unexpectedly Saturday night.

Retired Liberal Member of Parliament Rodger Cuzner best knew MacNeil from his days in politics. "He was a natural orator. He had that deep, booming voice," Cuzner said.

MacNeil ran against Cuzner as a Conservative candidate in the Sydney-Victoria riding in the 2004 and 2006 federal elections, and ran again as an Independent in 2019.

"He believed in economic development, and really tried to push those areas there," Cuzner said. "But he was gracious in defeat too, and that's not something you always see in politics."

MacNeil was also editor and publisher of The Cape Bretoner news magazine for many years. He also worked as a development officer with the Nova Scotia Department of Economic Development, but he was best known for his song The Island.  Those who knew him say his passion for Cape Breton shone through. "He loved the place and he had a working man's perspective," Morrison said.

There is no word yet on a cause of death. For now, many are remembering MacNeil for his influence on Cape Breton music, comedy and culture.

"He'll leave an impression. And he left us with a piece of music that Cape Bretoners embrace, and will continue for many years to come, said Cuzner.

Kenzie MacNeil was 68.