MacLeod's former publisher, Doug Gibson, confirmed the death on Sunday. He said MacLeod had been in a Windsor, Ontario, hospital ever since suffering a stroke in January.
"Alistair was that rare combination of a great writer and a great man," said Gibson, who worked with the writer during his time at the McClelland & Stewart publishing house. "Whenever Alistair appeared in public, at readings or other literary events, people recognize that they were in the presence of a greatness that was very humble."
"No Great Mischief," MacLeod's only novel, won the prestigious 2001 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, then worth $172,000.
The novel, published in 1999, became an immediate critical success, also winning Ontario's Trillium Prize. The novel's narrator, Alexander MacDonald, tells the story of a family's life beginning in 18th-century Scotland and ending in 20th-century Nova Scotia.
It was recognized as Atlantic Canada's best book in the 2009 survey "Atlantic Canada's 100 Greatest Books."
Born in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, on July 20, 1936, MacLeod moved with his family to a farm on Cape Breton Island in eastern Canada at the age of 10. It was there that the images and themes that informed his work took hold.
"When I sit down to write, the images and the details and the issues that come to my mind are those of Cape Breton," he said in May 2009 in a conversation with fellow writer Nino Ricci at the University of Toronto.
"I think (for) some writers, associations with their material and maybe their place is something like maybe love."
In "Alistair MacLeod, Essays on his Works," Irene Guilford notes that while intense in his devotion to his Atlantic Canada locale, the author's treatment of human questions was universal.
"Alistair MacLeod's birthplace is Canadian, his emotional heartland is Cape Breton, his heritage Scottish, but his writing is of the world," she wrote in her introduction.
MacLeod taught English and creative writing at the University of Windsor, where he also edited the University of Windsor Review. He and his wife, Anita, raised six children in Windsor.
But each summer, he returned to Cape Breton and the cliff-top cabin where he did much of his writing.
He was the subject of a National Film Board documentary in 2005, "Reading Alistair MacLeod," and in 2008 was made an officer of the Order of Canada.
MacLeod, who had a Ph.D. from the University of Notre Dame, wrote his first short story, "The Boat," in 1968.
He gained recognition with the publication in 1976 of the short story collection, "The Lost Salt Gift of Blood," about life in his Cape Breton home.
His other published works include the short story collections "As Birds Bring Forth the Sun and Other Stories" (1986) and "Island" (2000), which combined his first two collections with other stories.