This Day in Arctic Exploration and Discovery

Discovery and Exploration

Berton, Pierre 1988
The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the North West Passage and the North Pole 1818 - 1909. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario. 672 pages.
A book I though would be rather boring and heavy-going but turned out to be quite fascinating and well-written. An account of explorers in Canada's arctic. Dominated in the 19th century by the search for the NW passage and the doomed Franklin expedition and in the late 19th century and early 20th century by the race for the North Pole and the controversy surrounding Peary and Cook's claims - both of them later discredited. Fascinating and interesting. (17/Aug/1992)
Berton, Pierre 2004
Prisoners of the North. Doubleday, Canada. 328 pages.
Portraits and short biographies of five people who all have some connection with Canada's north. Joe Boyle - who industrialized dredging and gold extraction in the Klondike. Vilhjamur Stefansson - who spent time living with the Inuit and led a disastrous northern expedition on behalf of the Canadian government. Lady Jane Franklin - who spent years lobbying, especially, the British Government to mount expeditions to search for and rescue her husband and his crew. When that became obviously futile, she lobbied to have him recognized as the 'discoverer' of the Northwest Passage. John Hornby - an improvident and feckless Englishman who led two other young men, one barely a teenager, to death in the barren grounds along the Thelon River. And finally, Robert Service, the quintessential northern poet whose tinkling rhymes have become identified with the Yukon. What is apparent is that none of these people were born in the north or were really northerners. It is also clear that most spent very little time there or, in the case of Lady Franklin, no time there. Service was in Dawson City for nine years only. They all had ways of inventing themselves and in some cases (Hornby, Stefansson, Service) deliberately appear to have manufactured their own legends. All were restless people, constantly on the move and unable to carry through and maintain a sustained effort at a career. Even Lady Franklin's lobbying has a note of unhealthy hysteria rather than a logical plan. Nevertheless, this is an interesting read. (29/May/2006)
Bolles, Edmund Blair 1999
The Ice Finders: How a Poet, a Professor, and a Politician Discovered the Ice Age. Counterpoint, Washington DC. 257 pages.
Bolles concentrates on three people: Louis Agassiz, who promulgated the idea of glaciation and the Ice Age from evidence in the Swiss Alps; Charles Lyell who started out as a determined skeptic but who later became convinced and promoted the idea in his later writings; and Elisha Kent Kane, who travelled to the Arctic in search of the Franklin Expedition and a route to the open polar sea, found neither, but did discover the massive glaciers of the west Greenland coast. It was his evocative description of these ice masses, Bolles argues, that gave European and North American scholars the reality and imagery they needed to imagine the Ice Age. Kane provided them with a modern analogue. But Agassiz's concept of the Ice Age later became inflated, exposing him to ridicule, and delayed its acceptance, since his claims became so exaggerated and extreme. He wanted the inundation by ice to be a worldwide event, wiping out all life, after which life was created anew. Basically replacing the biblical flood with ice. To that end, Agassiz hunted for (and found, he thought) evidence for glaciers in the Amazon. Lyell was reluctant to accept the idea of inundation by ice for two reasons. First, it seems to posit a catastrophic event, something he was unwilling to admit to his interpretation of earth history. Second and perhaps more importantly, it adduced a mechanism for transport that breached Lyell's cardinal rule - that only presently observable processes could be used to explain events in the past. So he repeatedly advanced an alternate idea, that erratics (one of Agassiz's principal lines of evidence) were transported by rafting by icebergs and not transported directly by moving ice. Of course, ice berg rafting of debris does occur but this explanation was not sufficient to account for all occurrences and positions of mapped erratics. After Kane published his observations on Greenland glaciers, Lyell was forced to admit the reality of contemporary glacial transport processes on the large scale. From here, he was able to admit to their occurrence in the past. Agassiz eventually got tired of the adversarial situation in Europe and moved to the US, becoming a professor at Harvard. Here, as the sole geoscientist, surrounded by brilliant minds but in other non-science fields, he was able to be a "big fish in a small pond" for the rest of his career. Lyell's acceptance of glaciation was not entirely enthusiastic or wholehearted but he did have sufficient intellectual integrity to admit he was wrong and adopt the new ideas, incorporating them in later editions of Principles of Geology. The story is told in three parallel streams, which makes the narrative confusing in places, because events are not happening simultaneously. It cuts back and forth from Agassiz's work and pronouncements on the Ice Age in the 1820s and early 1840s, and his debates with Lyell and others, to Kane's voyage of exploration in the mid-1850s. This makes the tale difficult to follow. The lack of maps is also a challenge, especially for Kane's journey and the significance of his reports. Bolles uses this story to show how science is self-correcting. Showing how human intelligence differs from machine intelligence, where errors are perpetuated (garbage in, garbage out), barring a change in programming of course. The narrative is simple and straightforward and this makes for an interesting and quick read. It's interesting to read this right after Gould's Time's Arrow, Time's Cycle which deals with some of the same ideas, but with a very different treatment. (13/Jun/2010)
Fleming, Fergus 1998
Barrow's Boys: The Original Extreme Adventurers. Atlantic Monthly Press. 489 pages.
John Barrow (1764 - 1848) was Secretary to the Admiralty for most of the early 19th century and was responsible for promoting many of the exploring expeditions, including the ill-fated one of Franklin's, that have become so much a part of exploration history. Among the expeditions that Barrow promoted were Ross, Parry, and Franklin to the Arctic, Ross to the Antarctic, and several by other minor figures to West Africa in search of the source of the Niger River. A flamboyant group of people, often ill-prepared for the tasks they were sent to do. Barrow was often penny-pinching, trying to send them out insufficiently equipped and with not enough money. In spite of this, many did do well. Parry and the Rosses (uncle and nephew) are the central characters here and perhaps the greatest achievers. The book ends with the search for Franklin and the discovery of the bodies and the realization that the expedition had failed. Written with a good deal of verve and humour, this was an enjoyable read. (14/Sep/2003)
Guttridge, Leonard F. 1986 (reprinted 2001)
Icebound. Berkley Books, New York. 327 pages.
Covers the years 1879 - 1882. Concerns the voyage of the Jeanette, an exploration vessel, nominally under US Navy command but actually funded mostly by James Gordon Bennett, the flamboyant publisher of the New York Herald. Having had one media triumph by funding Stanley's expedition to find Livingstone, he was anxious to score another coup. So he funded this expedition, which was planned to head north through the Bering Strait and explore the north coast of Siberia, especially the newly discovered Wrangel Island, and then head north to find the warm open water Polar Sea which some were convinced must be there. The expedition was commanded by George Francis DeLong, an ambitious Navy Officer wanting fame and glory. Although the crew was in theory under naval discipline, some members were civilians, which caused friction from the start. The Meteorological Officer, Jerome Collins, was an especially problem. Sarcastic and abrasive, he was resentful of DeLond's authority and things got very bad when several of his pieces of equipment failed to work, including the generator that was supposed to give light, and he wasn't able to take any photos because all the dark room chemicals had gotten left behind. Something he blamed DeLong for and accused him of deliberately sabotaging his work. The other problem was the navigation officer and second-in-command, John Danenhower, a political appointee who DeLong didn't know but who had been hospitalized for depression. Shortly after the start of their fist winter in the ice, the surgeon, James Ambler, found out that Danenhower had syphilis, a fact which he had concealed but which caused him acute eye problems. The ship never made it to Wrangel but got stuck fast in sea ice and drifted for two years before getting broken up by the ice. The crew made a dash for the Siberian coast, hoping to hit the (very confusing) Lena River delta and head upstream to Yakutsk. However, the crew got split up - one boat-load presumably perished. DeLong's party wandered around in the delta and eventually all died of starvation. The third party, which included Danenhower and the ship's engineer, Melville, eventually got help from some local hunting villages and made it back, ultimately to the US. Once there, a commission of enquiry was set up, but the Navy was most anxious to avoid scandal and preserve reputations, and so the infighting and problems were never fully examined. There was also some suggestion that the Jeanette was not suited for arctic work and the Navy wanted to avoid the public accusation of having sent an ill-designed ship in poor condition to the north. By this time too, Bennett's own reputation was none too savoury and an unpleasant scandal was not necessarily in his interest either. So the whole expedition was conveniently hushed up and the records buried in the files. Interesting account of an expedition that certainly is not well known in the annals of arctic exploration. (04/Apr/2005)
McGoogan, Ken 2008
Race to the Polar Sea: The Heroic Adventures and Romantic Obsessions of Elisha Kent Kane. Harper Collins, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 381 pages.
Elisha Kent Kane (1820-1857) was obsessed with being famous and leaving his mark on the world. After 1845, the way to do that was through Arctic exploration, especially the search for the Franklin Expedition. Kane participated in two such expeditions, the second one as leader. The two Grinnell expeditions were so named from the financier who supported them. The second expedition was a near disaster. Kane sailed his ship, the Advance, up the west coast of Greenland in search of the open polar sea he was convinced existed further north. However, his ship got stuck in the ice and he and his crew endured miserable conditions for two complete winters before he eventually led them on a harrowing journey by sled and boat to Uperrnarvik, the nearest substantial settlement on the west coat of Greenland. He lost several men during this adventure but did lead the majority to safety despite several near mutinies and greatly impaired health, mainly through scurvy. While trapped in the ice, Kane managed to establish a good relationship with the Inuit of the small community of Etah. This group, a few families, lived on the edge of privation themselves, but their hunting and survival skills and the meat they provided saved Kane and his crew on several occasions. Although the expedition was a failure in terms of its overall objectives, Kane did basically pioneer the route between Ellesmere Island and Greenland that many later expeditions used to get to the high Arctic, the polar region further north. What is remarkable about Kane is how tough he was despite the fact that he had severely impaired health due to a childhood bout of rheumatic fever. Complications from this caused later health problems and probably caused the stroke that eventually killed him at such a young age. Kane's later reputation was eclipsed by events of the Civil War which turned public attention elsewhere and by his unsuitable attachment to a young woman, Maggie Fox, who was part of a fraudulent spiritualist act and thereby unacceptable to Kane's patrician family. After his death, his family did their best to ignore her, despite the provisions of his will, which admittedly were not clear. She later published his letters to her, basically to try to extort money from them, but these letters did not show him in a good light either and further damaged his reputation. McGoogan thinks that history has unjustly downplayed Kane's achievements, both in terms of exploration and arctic literature. Kane wrote two books about his experiences that display high literary merit. An interesting read. (10/Jan/2009)
Mowat, Farley 1960 (reprinted 1977)
Ordeal by Ice: The Search for the North-West Passage. The Top of the World trilogy, Volume I. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario. 428 pages.
A survey of the voyages across the north of Canada to search for the Northwest passage. A tale of courage combined with utter stupidity. The inability to adapt to northern conditions or to learn from the Inuit. Who were regarded as savages and were often treated quite badly. Very irritating to hear about but inevitable, I suppose, given the 19th century in particular, attitudes towards other races. Well written, with maps, and generally well illustrated. The maps could have been annotated further, however, to show where the expeditions wintered, for instance. (01/Aug/1985)
Mowat, Farley 1967
The Polar Passion. The Top of the World trilogy, Volume II. Key Porter Books, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 365 pages.
The tale of many attempts to reach the north pole, beginning with the Viking voyages to Greenland, and the desperate attempts fuelled by nationalism, and in Peary's case megalomania, to reach a non-existent goal. (23/Feb/1987)
Mowat, Farley 1973
Tundra. The Top of the World trilogy, Volume III. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario. 415 pages.
A selection of writing from travel literature of the north. Generally tales of courage and hardship in the north and epic journeys, often on foot, across a harsh landscape. (17/Mar/1987)
Nansen, Fridtjof 1897 (reprinted 1975)
Farthest North: Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship Fram 1893 - 96, Volume I. Tandem. 320 pages.
An astonishing expedition. Nansen's idea was to take his ship north and deliberately became stuck in the pack ice and then drift across the northern sea towards the North Pole and Greenland with the ice. The main problem was combating boredom on the long winter's nights. Plenty of books, cards, music and scientific observations kept them busy. An amazingly courageous and farsighted enterprise. (06/Mar/1981)
Officer, Charles, and Jake Page 2001
A Fabulous Kingdom: The Exploration of the Arctic. Oxford University Press. 222 pages.
A compact survey of four centuries of arctic exploration, beginning with mythic travellers recorded by Ptolemy, then Vikings, then concentrating mainly on the Elizabethan era to present, including the race to the pole and the unseemly frauds of Peary and Cooke. Interesting if rather dry reading. (04/Aug/2003)

People of the North

Brody, Hugh 1987
Living Arctic: Hunters of the Canadian North. Douglas and McIntyre, Vancouver. 254 pages.
Illustrated with many photographs and comments by native people, this book is a survey of modern life in the Canadian arctic, and how it came to be that way. Basically, an apologia for hunting as a way of life that has sustained the people of the north for many thousands of years. Examines many aspects of northern way of life and attitudes, concentrating mainly on the Inuit of the eastern arctic, including attitudes towards the land, and towards their own language and cultures. A very sympathetic portrait, pointing out the lack of understanding of the north in the south of Canada. (26/Apr/1991)
James, William C. 1985
A Fur Trader's Photographs: A. A. Chesterfield in the District of Ungava, 1901-4. McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal and Kingston. xiii + 113 pages.
Chesterfield (1877-1959) was born in Tunbridge Wells, England, but was orphaned as a child (both parents died of TB). He came to Canada as a young man and spent his late teen-age years and twenties working for the Hudson's Bay Company as a clerk in various posts around James Bay and the eastern part of Hudson Bay. He spent 1901 at Moose Factory (southern James Bay) before being sent north to take charge of the post at Great Whale River (named for the belugas). He was based here until he left the Company's service in 1904. He returned to the south, settling for 30 years in Montreal and working as a professional photographer before marrying, very late in life, buying a farm at Rednersville (Prince Edward County, south shore of Lake Ontario, not far from Trenton), where he lived a more-or-less self-sufficient life for the next 20 years (an early back-to-the-lander). He kept the photos he took at the Moose Factory, Fort George and Great Whale River posts. These eventually ended up in the archives at Queen's University, where James came across them. James describes the detective work he did to discover the photographer and the circumstances in which the photos were taken. Eventually he tracked down Mrs Chesterfield (who was 20 years younger than her husband) and managed to fill in some of the gaps in the story, though it still remains incomplete. He also travelled to communities around James Bay and Hudson Bay to talk to Inuit and Cree descendants of the people who traded at the posts to see if he could recover the identity of the people in the photos. Chesterfield rarely recorded the names of his subjects. James was able to find out a few names. The photos are quite sharp and clear, all black-and-white of course. Great Whale River was visited by both Inuit (especially from the Belcher Islands) and Cree people and images of both appear in this series. The photos mainly show people visiting the post, camping near the post, or doing tasks, such as skinning seals or repairing canoes. Some are close-up, head-and-shoulders portraits and some of these are very powerful evocations of character. The Inuit are mostly wearing skin clothing and these images are quite remarkable for the details of the clothing and different styles and decorative elements. The Cree are mostly wearing European-style clothing. Some images show the transport - kamatik and kayak for the Inuit, birchbark canoes for the Cree. This is clearly a time of transition in the lives of these people, with increased use of trade goods. Chesterfield was clearly a talented photographer but seems to have been a rather strange person. There are no photos of his European colleagues at the northern posts, for instance, and he doesn't seem to have made friends or kept in touch with his family. A valuable record, despite some limitations, of a particular time and place. (01/Jul/2010)
Malurie, Jean 1982
The Last Kings of Thule: With the Polar Eskimos, As They Face Their Destiny. E.P. Dutton, New York, U.S.A. 489 pages.
Set off in 1950 to Thule as a geomorphologist and then spent almost a year living with the Eskimo, becoming fascinated by them and learning their way of life. Includes much detail about way of life, diet, hunting local legends etc. Including the story of his sled trip along the North coast of Greenland and across to Canada, to uninhabited Ellesmere Island. Really doing field work the hard way! At this time the Eskimo way of life was relatively untouched and unaffected by the west under the Danish administration. However, arrived back in Thule to find an invasion underway as the Americans established a gigantic airbase there, under impetus from the Korean War. This had an immediate and detrimental impact on the Eskimo, e.g., increased use of alcohol dependence on welfare etc. On his return in 1967, as a Danish government advisor, was horrified by the changes that he saw about him, changes which were exacerbated in early 1970s by the increasing importance of the Arctic in oil exploration. Several international conferences focussed attention on the plight of the indigenous people who were gradually developing a sense of cohesion and nationalism and a feeling of political will. However, the most active spokesmen were Eskimo living and trained in Denmark, many of whom could not speak their native language and most of whom were almost as foreign to their homeland as the Europeans. However, Malurie ends on an optimistic note, looking forward to a successful revival of the Eskimo people. Powerful and moving writing and compelling description of a unique culture. (27/Apr/1983)
Wohlforth, Charles 2004
The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change. Farrar Straus Giroux, New York. 322 pages.
A discussion of climate change and climate change research, focussed on the community of Barrow, northern Alaska, Examines the way climate change has affected the lives of the Inuit, in particular the changes in sea ice and the impact on whaling (for bowhead whales). The Inuit hunt from the edge of the sea ice, so the sea ice characteristics, thickness, and stability have changed and the sea ice edge is disappearing earlier. Gives a shorter whaling season, Whales are caught in spring (usually) and sometimes in fall as they migrate along the coastline. Barrow is also the home for long term arctic and climate research, with scientists from various US government agencies working on sea ice and on snow accumulation along the north slope of the Brooks Range. Their research shows definite changes over time. But they feel that they don't really understand the snow and ice, especially sea ice behaviour in the same way as the Inuit who have to know about these things in order to hunt and survive. The Inuit note that shrubs are increasing in this far northern landscape. Scientists note this too but cannot agree on the mechanism causing this, One group suggests that the shrubs trap snow more effectively and this extra moisture in the summer allows more luxuriant growth, while another group sees this as simply a result of higher summer temperatures. I thought the most interesting aspect, and one I'd like to have had explored more fully, was the difference in perspective between the Barrow-based scientists (on the coast, concerned with snow and ice, often there in winter), and those based at Toolik (on the north slope of the Brooks Range, on the Dalton Highway, inland, looking at terrestrial ecology, only there in summer, concerned mainly with plants). The first group sees winter as the more important driving force, the second sees change mainly reflected through summer conditions. A nice example of the way in which personal experience of the landscape influences the scientific interpretation though both groups claim to be objective. The Alaskan Inuit call themselves Inupiaq. Their interest in these matters is driven by a close-to-the-land pragmatism. (21/Feb/2005)

Archaeology of the North

Beattie, Owen, and John Geiger 1987
Frozen in Time: Unlocking the Secrets of the Franklin Expedition. Western Producer Prairie Books, Saskatoon. xii + 180 pages.
This begins with an account of the Franklin Expedition, which set out from England in 1845 to look for the Northwest Passage and disappeared into the Arctic. This account sets the context for the archaeological and forensic work undertaken in the north in 1981-1986. This culminated in the excavation of three known graves and the autopsy of the three crew-members from the Franklin Expedition interred on Beechy Island. The permafrost had ensure remarkable preservation, even of soft tissue and internal organs. Subsequent analyses showed that the men had extremely high levels of lead in their bodies. most likely as a result of eating tinned food. At the time, this was a relatively new method of food preservation, but the lead-based solder used to seal the tins provided a massive source of lead in the food. At the same time. the supplier, Stephan Goldner, was known to be supplying an inferior and substandard product, as later investigations and enquiries in the 19th century showed. Spoilage of food was a likely result as well. The book concludes that the led ingestion would have severely compromised the health including the cognitive abilities, of the crew. This may explain some of the peculiarities found by the various rescue parties, showing that some of the crew trekked south towards Kind William Island hauling useless articles with them, which probably increased their exhaustion and led to starvation and eventual death. This poor judgment may have been a result of the toxic effects of the lead ingestion. This is an interesting account, written in accessible language, (28/May/2006)
Geiger, John, and Owen Beattie 1993
Dead Silence. Viking, Canada. 219 pages.
An account of the expedition of James Knight in 1719 to search for a northwest passage out of Hudson Bay, but more particularly in search of gold and copper. The expedition sailed off into silence. Historical records are scanty but it seems clear that the Governor in the Bay at the time, Henry Kelsey, did not, either from malice or negligence, send a search or rescue expedition. He and Knight had been at odds for years. The account of the fate of the expedition given by Samuel Hearne, supposedly taken from an account given to him by Inuit elders, may also be considerably embellished to add a poignant counterpoint to the tale of his own successful journey. However, the archaeological investigations turned up only sparse evidence of human remains (one vertebra and a few teeth) leaving the fate of the almost 40 expedition members unknown. Also, they found the remains of both ships in the "harbour" and could see no reason for their sinking. Both had been extensively cannibalized for wood, suggesting that they did not shipwreck. The mainland is not far distant and Churchill only 4 day's sail to the south. It's not clear why they didn't leave Marble Island and return south. Or maybe they did and foundered on the way, leading to a lack of remains on the island. Still remains an intriguing mystery. (20/Aug/1994)
MacInnis, Joe 1982
The Breadalbane Adventure. Optimum Pubs., Toronto. 171 pages.
Describes the search for the Breadalbane, a supply ship for the Belcher expedition, that sank off Beechy Island, near Devon Island, in 1853. The ship had been sent out with supplies for teams who were searching for the Franklin Expedition. MacInnis took several years (1978 and 1979) to search for the wreck before finally finding it in late 1980. In 1981, he went back with a film crew and got some footage. Remarkably, despite the many ice scours on the sea floor, the vessel was virtually undamaged (apart from the hole that sank her). The masts (2 of 3) were still standing upright and draped in the shrouds (ropes). MacInnis concentrates on the difficulties of getting research funds etc. but the account is light as regards the actual ship record. Presumably much research remains to be done, or is waiting for another book. (22/Nov/1983, 28/Nov/2007)
Woods, Allan 2012
"Saga of the Northwest Passage: Discovering Evidence of an Ill-fated Mission in the Frigid Waters of the Arctic". Archaeology 65(2):24-31.
Describes the work of Parks Canada archaeologists in the summer of 2011 on the Investigator. This was Robert McClure's ship that was abandonned ice-locked in Mercy Bay off the north coast of Banks Island in 1853, after the crew had spent about 18 months unable to leave the Bay because of ice. The Investigator was part of the search for Franklin. The ship later sank in the Bay. The Parks Canada team found the ship in 2010 using sonar techniques, and then went back in 2011 to do more work. The summer's fieldwork involved surveying and mapping the wreck and recovering some artifacts, including a piece of felt sheeting used to insulate the hull. The ship was basically upright on the seafloor, with the hull more or less intact. The research included a land survey, which focussed on McClure's cache and the scatter of artifacts in the area that had been taken from the abandonned ship by the Inuit. Metal was particularly valued and was repurposed. The team will be continuing the search for Franklin's two ships, Erebus and Terror. The article contains some good images of the ship and of the fieldwork. (20/Feb/2012)

Travel and Memoir

Aspen, Jean 1988
Arctic Daughter: A Wilderness Journey. Bergamot Books, Minneapolis. 205 pages.
In 1972 at the age of 21, Jean set out for Alaska with her boyfriend Phil, one year older, planning to travel up the Chandalar River, a tributary of the Yukon Rover, into the Brooks Range, build a cabin and over-winter there. She was not inexperienced at this, her mother, Connie Helmericks and her father, had done this in the 1940s - 1960s and written about her experiences and Jean had spent much of her childhood in the bush with her mother, although her home base was Tucson. This book recounts the experiences of the first winter, of the four years that they eventually spent at their cabin. Recounts the difficulties of building the cabin, the fortunes of hunting, getting enough moose meat to last them through the winter. Companionship was essential, this sounds like it would have been really grim alone. But she powerfully conveys the beauty and appeal of the landscape, together with the fear it can inspire. (11/Aug/1991)
Jason, Victoria 1995
Kabloona in the Yellow Kayak: One Woman's Journey Through the Northwest Passage. Turnstone Press, Winnipeg, Manitoba. 298 pages.
This book is in some ways a companion to that by Don Starkell. But it is written in a much more low key tone with much less fuss and fanfare and far less about the dangers of the journey and more about the landscape and the people she met along the way. She actually kayaked a lot further than Starkell as well, including a journey from Fort Providence down the Mackenzie River to Tuktoyaktuk. " Kabloona" is apparently an Inuit word meaning "stranger" and usually referring to Europeans. She describes the 1991 trip from Churchill to Repulse Bay, including several days paddling in the wrong direction (south) along the western shore of Southampton Island. It is clear that there was conflict between them almost from the beginning and that Don was an overbearing and difficult person to get along with, having a hair-trigger temper. She joined him again in 1992 to continue the journey from Repulse Bay to Gjoa Haven, at which point she abandonned the journey because she was desperately ill with edema from the overstrain of pulling the loaded kayak on a sled. Her account of this journey is more interesting becaues she is much more observant about her travelling companions, especially the Inuit who helped tow their sleds with the skidoos. The interesting question is why she decided to go on another trip with Starkell, given that the first year had been such a horror-show. However, she does make it clear that the north had cast a spell over her and she repeatedly emphasizes how appealing she found the landscape. Following this expedition, it took her a long time to recover her health but by the following year she was eager to return to the north. She was looking for something slightly less strenuous, so as to evaluate her health and stamina and ability to withstand hard physical exercise. So she and a friend drove from Winnipeg to Fort Providence and she kayaked alone down the Mackenzie to Tuktoyaktuk, the target end point of the expedition she'd been on with Starkell the previous year, in summer 1993. She reached her destination without much difficulty. The banks of the Mackenzie have more small communities and isolated camps and are more inhabited than the arctic coast, so she met many people on her way downstream. She also encountered many other canoists and kayakers, many from overseas, who were also travelling down the river that summer. Arriving at Tuktoyaktuk and feeling good, she determined to continue her journey, heading east along the arctic coast. She reached Paulatuk in mid-August, but the season was changing, making it too risky to continue. In 1994 she went back, collected her kayak in Paulatuk and continued the 1500 miles eastwards to Gjoa Haven. The trip was comparartively uneventful. She coped with some severe weather conditions and occasional bad seas. But, unlike Starkell, she des not harp on the dangers or continually muse about how close to death she is. Altogether her account is far calmer and sunnier. She made it to Gjoa Haven on August 22 but was unable to continue to Spence Bay becase of poor weather conditions. However, she had made the connection and kayaked all the way along the arctic coast. Jason died in 2000 but from this book it sounds as if she had a rich and fulfilling life. (03/Apr/2010)
Jones, Tristan 1978
Ice! Sheed Andrews and McNeel Inc., Kansas City. 281 pages.
Invalided out of the Royal Navy, after an injury in Aden, Jones learned small boat sailing and determined to take a boat into the arctic ice and try to drift northwards farther than Nansen and the Fram. This he did over 1959-1961, spending a year and a day moored to a large floe, which turned over and almost sank his boat at one point. A story of endurance and courage. He didn't beat Nansen, but he did survive the experience and write about it. (03/Aug/1992)
Lopez, Barry 1986
Arctic Dreams: Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape. Bantam Books, New York. xxix + 417 pages.
A survey of arctic regions and attitudes towards it through time. Beginning with its biology and continuing with its exploration and exploration history. Written interweaving discussion of the background and his own personal experiences of the north. Makes an interesting contrast to Mowat's view on the same subject. (06/Apr/1987)
Lyall, Ernie 1979
An Arctic Man: Sixty-Five Years in Canada's North. Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 239 pages.
Autobiography of a full and busy life in the North. Born and brought up in Port Burwell, Labrador, Lyall went to work for the Hudson's Bay Company in 1920s and from then on worked all over the far north, helping to found Spence Bay in NWT in 1940s and living mostly there ever since. Apart from being a HBC clerk, he has been a government employee, interpreter and Justice of the Peace. He married an Inuit woman and is the only EuroCanadian man to have been given an official Eskimo number (ES-1) by the Canadian government. In his time he has seen many changes in the north. The disappearance of the traditional Inuit life, without replacement by anything else except government handouts. He cruises over the problems of theft and alcoholism. He has a distinctly pessimistic outlook, believing that the Inuit language will disappear. He sees the main hope for the north as being in developments such as the northern pipeline that will provide jobs for the people in the north so they don't have to leave to find work. He is disapproving of the federal government which he feels has disrupted the Inuit's traditional way of life without, he feels, inculcating a work ethic to replace it so that they become simply welfare layabouts. He also takes issue with southern "experts" who write about the north, in particular Farley Mowat's book Snow Walker, which he claims has many facts and figures wrong and is totally misleading. The book is transcribed from tape- recordings and thus the authentic voice of the man reaches us. (24/Dec/1981)
Marsh, Donald B. 1987
Echoes from a Frozen Land. Hurtig Publishers, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. 187 pages.
Marsh (1903 - 1974) went to Eskimo Point to establish a Christian mission among the Palimiut or Caribou Eskimos in 1926. He spent most of his working life in the Arctic, winding up as a bishop of the north. He arrived just as the old ways of life were breaking down but was there to record things before the changes were complete and take many pictures. These notes and pictures have been edited and assembled by his wife. The pictures are often very interesting, as are the descriptions of Eskimo life - harsh, uncompromising and fierce. (30/May/1988)
Mowat, Farley 1963
Never Cry Wolf. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto. 164 pages.
Set sometime in the late 1940s/early 1950s, purports to be the story of Mowat's sojourn for a year in the sub-arctic, somewhere west of Churchill, Manitoba, to study wolves. Sent because the wolves are thought to be a problem predator, killing off the caribou herds. Written with a good deal of sarcasm, rather heavy-handed in places, at the expense of the bureaucrats in Ottawa that sent him to do this work. Portrays them as incompetent buffoons. He debunks the myth of the ravening predator, and shows that wolves live mostly on small rodents (mice, lemmings, and ground squirrels) and only occasionally take caribou. Portrays their complex social life too. Funny in places. However, this book has been highly criticized by several reviewers (see Banfield, A. W. F. (1964) in The Canadian Field- Naturalist, 78:52-54, and Pimlott, D. H. (1966) in The Journal of Wildlife Management 30(1):236. See also discussion of the controversy in an article by Steve Burgess, ). Basically, the reviewers suggest that most of the book is made up (i.e., fiction not reportage) and the portrayal of wolf biology and behaviour is flawed. Reviewers take issue with his anthropomorphisation of the wolves. Not surprisingly, they also dislike his characterization of the Ottawa-based Wildlife Service officers as incompetent. They all agree that it is a good read, but object to it being presented as nonfiction. (22/Nov/2007)
Rainey, Froelich 1992
Reflections of Digger. University Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, University of Pennsylvania. 309 pages.
Brought up in Montana and educated as an archaeologist and anthropologist, Rainey spent 30 years as Director of the University Museum of Anthropology and Archaeology. During that time, he supported and fund raised for more than 400 archaeological excavations/expeditions around the world, including such famous sites as Tikal. Despite the title, much of his career was spent as an administrator and fund raiser rather than in fieldwork and research. However, his efforts did enable many others to carry out important work and he also founded MASCA to focus specifically on the application of technology to archaeology. He certainly had an adventurous life with much travel and did work in Caribbean, Arctic, Italy, and the Near East, Far East, including Thailand, and Central America. An interesting and highly readable memoir. (28/Jun/1998)
Starkell, Don 1995
Paddle to the Arctic. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 313 pages.
Don Starkell is a kayaker from Winnipeg. After completing a kayak journey from Winnipeg to Belém at the mouth of the Amazon between 1980 and 1982, he was looking for a new challenge. And so he determined to kayak the Northwest Passage from Churchill to Tuktoyaktuk, about 3000 miles along the Canadian arctic coast. He started this in 1990 and thought that he could complete the trip in one arctic summer (June to September). In the event, it took him three summers to do because the ice and sea conditions were much harsher than he expected and travel conditions were far more hazardous and challenging. He completed the last leg of the journey from Gjoa Haven on his own, eventually having to be rescued when only 38 miles from Tuktoyaktuk because of winter storms and freeze- up which left him unable to continue. He was running out of food and had inadequate cold weather clothing and his tent had been severely damaged in a vicious and prolonged storm. In addition, his hands were badly damaged by cold salt water, to the extent that he later lost parts of his fingers on both hands. The search was initiated by his son Dana in Winnipeg who was worried when his father was several days overdue at his destination. (Dana is a classical guitarist and professional musician). Starkell was fortunate to be found since it appears unlikely that he would have survived for much longer, suffering from exhaustion, hunger and exposure. The book is compiled from his diary entries, though it is unclear how much later editing they received. The account does seem forthright and honest, largely because it often does not portray Starkell in a good light. Hence it is a day-by-day account, which gives it a good deal of immediacy although it also becomes somewhat repetitive, especially in places where he is berating himself for carelessness or bad decisions, something that seems to happen often. He comes across as stubborn, focussed and immensely driven, though not particularly likable or self-aware. One particular disturbing trait is his habit of searching archaeological sites for "souvenirs" or artifacts to take away, apparently completely unaware of the inappropriateness of his actions or the heritage value of the materials if left in place. For part of the way in 1992, he had a travelling companion, Victoria Jason, aged 45 in 1991 when she first joined his journey (Starkell was then 58). She abandoned the journey in Gjoa Haven largely due to health problems from the physical demands of the travel. She later completed her own kayak journey in the arctic and wrote a book about her experiences, called Kabloona in the Yellow Kayak in which she is apparently critical of Starkell. (Jason died in 2000). It is clear from Starkell's account that they had many quarrels and differences of opinion about the way to proceed on the journey. Starkell does not appear an easy person to get along with. His diary entries show him to be confident to the point of arrogance and highly controlling. Also, reading between the lines, it appears that some of his difficulties may have been due to poor planning, such as not having good clothing and forgetting some of his maps. Nevertheless, his sheer physical endurance is remarkable and it is hard to imagine his persistence. Even allowing for some exaggeration in the telling, completing this journey took great courage and tremendous strength, both physical and mental. (20/Mar/2010)
Watt, Frederick B. 1980
Great Bear: A Journey Remembered. Outcrop Ltd. Yellowknife, NWT. 231 pages.
The story of the mineral rush to the Northwest Territories in 1930s. In 1930, Gilbert LaBine discovered pitchblende along the shores of Great Bear Lake. He named the place Eldorado (subsequently the name of a mining company). At the end of the Depression, the rush was on to stake claims and prospect in hard and rugged country. Ted Watt went to Great Bear as a claim-staker for a syndicate and also as a journalist. He recorded the founding and burgeoning of the settlement at Echo Bay and the early days of Yellowknife. This is an autobiographical account of a man coming to terms with himself. Ted was struggling to turn away from depression and alcoholism and the challenge of living and working under such hard conditions really made him grow up. In particular, the conflict with his partner, Eric Beck, the syndicate's prospector, brings him sharply to terms with his experience of living in the bush and surviving, Thus he returns to civilization better equipped to deal with life. Also incidental portraits and anecdotes of the early bush-pilots, particularly Wop May (of Mad Trapper fame). (07/Jun/1982)

Natural History

Theberge, John B. 1975
Wolves and Wilderness. J. M. Dent and Sons (Canada) Ltd, Toronto, Ontario, Canada. 159 pages.
Studied under Pimlott, this book recounts fieldwork in wolf studies, mainly in Algonquin Park but also in Yukon and the Arctic, specifically Baffin Island. Mainly fieldwork anecdotes, wolf howls and encounters interspersed with wolf biology and spiced with conservationist ecology, preserving environment and wildlife etc. Interesting and enjoyable. (03/Jul/1983)

Northern Fiction

Barrett, Andrea 1998
The Voyage of the Narwhal. W. W. Norton and Co., New York. 397 pages.
The story takes place between the years 1855 - 1858, the height of interest in Arctic exploration. The Franklin Expedition has disappeared and various rival groups are heading north in the search, each anxious to claim fame and glory, either by rescuing Franklin and his crew or by finding out what happened to them. Dr Rae has just returned from exploring the Arctic coast with tantalizing news of the expedition, gleaned from the Inuit. The new suggests that they have perished but, worse than that, there are elusive hints that in their extremity. some of the last survivors may have resorted to cannibalism. Immediate shock and denial is the reaction. Nevertheless, expeditions continue to head north, and fashionable New Englanders are agog to hear the fate of Elisha Kent Kane and his crew, who also seem to have disappeared into silence in the Arctic. And so Zeke (Zechariah) Voorhees, son of a ship-owning family, sets sail on a small ship with 11 crew and officers, to head to Lancaster Sound and search for Kane and Franklin. His home base is Philadelphia, cultured and cultivated and a centre of commerce. Zeke is determined to do something to make himself famous, preferably discover the remains of Franklin, rescue Kane or, better yet, get far enough north to get to the open arctic ocean that current wisdom says should occur at the Pole. He insists that Erasmus Darwin Wells comes with him, Erasmus is about 15 years older and a veteran of one previous expedition to the Antarctic areas, led by Lieutenant Charles Wilkes. This expedition left him traumatized and bitter because Wilkes confiscated all the naturalists' notes and forbade them to publish and used their journals to put together a book, a pastiche, which he published under his own name. Thus he destroyed their work and careers. Although only a junior crew member, this devastated Erasmus. He now sees Zeke's expedition as a way of redeeming his career and justifying his own training. His father was passionate about science and natural history and hoped for great things from his four sons. Erasmus has another motive because Zeke is engaged to his young sister, Lavinia, of whom he is very protective. Erasmus feels that he should go along to keep Zeke safe. But Zeke is immature and driven. He wants to get his great discovery in and his insistence on heading north when the season turns means that the ship gets iced in for the winter on northeast Ellesmere Island. The next spring, Zeke wants to head north on foot but the crew rebel. They just want to go home, and Erasmus does too. So Zeke sets off on his own. When he doesn't return, and the ice doesn't release the ship, Erasmus and the remaining men take the ship's boat and drag it over the ice towards open water, hoping to head south and encounter some of the whaling fleet and get home. After a terrible journey. in which Erasmus loses his toes to frostbite, they do eventually meet up with the whaling fleet and Erasmus and some of the crew return to the eastern US. But there Erasmus finds their voyage has been upstaged by the dramatic rescue of Kane. Kane's subsequent fame, book and lecture tour, and then early death and huge state funeral consolidate his reputation. Erasmus's exploits are ignored and, worse, he has again lost most of his notes and specimens. Months of illness and depression follow. He is just starting to recover when Zeke suddenly reappears, with an Inuit woman and son in tow, and filled with stories about spending a winter with the Inuit. Zeke is feted and a hero again. Handsome and energetic, he marries Lavinia and domineers over Erasmus, eventually driving him from his home. Zeke determines to go on a lecture tour, exhibiting the Inuit, which Erasmus finds distasteful. But both the Inuit fall sick and the woman dies. Zeke gives her skeleton to the Smithsonian for display. Lavinia is glad the woman is gone, since she is very suspicious of Zeke's relationship to her. Erasmus eventually is able to get the boy away from Zeke and returns him to his family in the Arctic, as a form of absolution before he can continue his own life. Richly textured, this is based on many writings about Arctic exploration and contains echoes of these other stories. It is a great read. (16/May/2006)
Brown, Dan 2001
Deception Point. Pocket Books, New York. 558 pages.
Bought in the field when I was desperate for something to read! NASA, on the verge of being eliminated, has found a huge meteorite buried in the arctic, which appears to contain fossils and thus evidence of life elsewhere and the Panspermia hypothesis. But is this really what it might appear? Rachel Exton, government analyst, thinks there is something fishy about the story and is sent to investigate. Much mayhem ensues until the story is solved. Lightweight but readable. (22/Feb/2004)

Hay, Elizabeth 2007
Late Nights on Air. Emblem, McClelland and Stewart, Toronto. 364 pages.
June 17 1976. Four people leave Yellowknife for a six week canoe trip through the barren lands down the Thelon River to visit John Hornby's cabin, the place where he and two companions starved to death in the winter of 1927. They are all strangers to this landscape. They all work for small radio station, CFYK, in Yellowknife. Harry Boyd is the station manager. He got his start at the station and then went south for a unsuccessful stint in television and has returned as a failure. He's talented but his career is not helped by his drinking. Eleanor Dew, also in her 40s, is the station's receptionist and came to Yellowknife in 1970 after a failed marriage. Ralph Cody, the oldest at 61, is a freelance book reviewer but his real passion and talent is for photography. He photographs the landscape in close-up: grass stalks against winter snow, pondweeds swirling in water currents. The youngest participant is Gwen Symon, in her mid-20s. She's driven north from southern Ontario, because she wants to work as a script editor in radio and has been told that it'll be easier to get work and experience in the north. But Harry has hired her to be on air, and she does the late-night shift, closing down the broadcasting at 1 am. She's come to the north in part because of her fascination with the Hornby story, having heard a radio play about it when a child. As their journey proceeds, there is an invisible fifth to the group: Dido Paris, daughter of Dutch immigrants, and the newsreader at the station. Harry heard her voice on radio and fell in love with her. But Dido is more interested in a perverse and vaguely unhealthy relationship with Eddy Fitzgerald, the radio tech. The pair have left Yellowknife for California, but Harry can't get over her and really can't engage with the people or places around him. Which is a shame, because they are moving through a land of great beauty. And they are all uncomfortably aware that this fragile land is under threat. For months, Yellowknife has been the setting for the Berger Enquiry. They have all sat in the hearings and heard the testimony about the Aboriginal people's relationship to the land of the north, about the great caribou herds and other wildlife. Development, if it comes, when it comes, will bring immense changes. So their journey also has something of the flavour of a dream, an air of enchantment, underlain by violence. Woven throughout this tale are references to other northern writers and writings. This is a wonderfully engaging book and repays several readings. (11/Jun/2010)
Houston, James 1980
Spirit Wrestler. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario. 306 pages.
The story of Shoona, an Inuit boy on Baffin Island. He is traded to another family by his mother when young to prevent him starving to death, There he begins to have fits in which he apparently becomes an animal. Frightened, his adoptive family give him to Kowlee, a female shaman, who trains him in the old ways. By stealing some amulets from an old camp, however, Shoona, loses all his healing power and becomes capable only of harm. All disasters in Trader's Bay are attributed to him, eventually, in desperation, he sets out to return the amulets, only to be overtaken by the spirits in revenge. A parallel story is that of Victor Morgan, a Yale student who comes to study the Inuit kayaks. Shoona's wife goes to live with "Kayaker", who becomes obsessed with the idea of rolling an old Eskimo kayak, just like the Greenland Inuit. Shoona hates him for taking away his wife and Kayaker's attempt to roll lead to the most awesome demonstration of the unwitting use of his destructive power and the beginning of his journey to replace the amulets. This is a very magical book, filled also with details of Inuit way of life and beliefs. One moral of the story is the power of people to do harm without realizing it. Also the impact of EuroCanadian culture on the Inuit way of life is subtly shown up, as witness the Inuit anxiously waiting in Trader's Bay for the ship to arrive with the New Year's supplies. (14/Apr/1981)
Houston, James 1990
Running West. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario. 320 pages.
1715 at York Factory on Hudson Bay. William Stewart, a young Scot sent from his homeland as a result of a clan quarrel becomes a bonded servant to the Hudson Bay Company. Because he can read and write and has a gift for languages, he becomes a secretary to the Governor of the Fort. The Governor is keen to explore the lands to the north and west of the fort, feeling that they will be rich in furs, useful for the company and perhaps gold which he can keep for himself. When some of his Cree hunters capture a Copper Indian woman (Na Dene) from the north, who has become separated from her people as a result of raids by another tribe. Thana, as he calls her, is a woman of great humour and independent spirit. She and William set off on a journey that takes almost a year, to find her people and learn what they can of gold. The account this journey forms the main part of the book. Back at the fort, William and Thana are able to set up house together, but Thana dies, from causes that are not clear, before their first child is born, and William shortly after walks out into a snowstorm and dies also. According to the blurb, this is based on a true incident recorded in Hudson Bay Archives and it is believed that William did come back with some gold traded from the Copper Indians. Shortly after, the Governor of the Fort set off on an exploration voyage up the west shore of Hudson Bay and was shipwrecked and killed. It is believed that he was searching for the mouth of a river flowing from the west that had gold in its gravels, as described to William by the Copper Indians. The writing style is rather artificial in places but the story is interesting. (23/Jan/1991)
Kingsmill, Suzanne F. 2010
Innocent Murderer. Dundurn Press, Toronto, Ontario. 345 pages.
Cordi O'Callaghan is an entomologist at a university in Ottawa. She is inveigled by her research tech, Martha Ballantyne, into going on an arctic cruise as a lecturer with a creative writing group. Amongst other topics, she is asked to talk about forensic entomology - many of the aspiring writers are trying to write crime novels - mainly because she had been involved in a well- publicized murder investigation in Quebec the previous year. As Terry Spence, the writing group instructor tells her, she's also asked because they couldn't get Kathy Reichs. Such remarks are typical of Terry, who is rude and bitchy to all around her. She has a couple of successful books under her belt, including a memoir of her own experience eight years' ago of being accused and tried for murder for killing a man supposedly while she was sleepwalking. She was acquitted. But when she is found dead on board ship, Cordi finds out that there are a lot of potential suspects because several of the crew and writing group participants seem to have some connection to that earlier murder. Moreover, almost everyone who met Terry, hated her. The cruise is a disaster - poor weather, bad ice conditions precluding most of the onshore stops, and squabbling among the passengers. Relieved to be back in Ottawa, Cordi feels she is being stalked, a feeling that is reinforced when her cabin is set on fire and her brother almost killed trying to rescue her. The murderer is found in the end and the tale winds up. It's rather clunkily written. Cordi is a prof so we learn about her research and teaching life, and departmental politics. The Ottawa locale is central to the story though we do hear something about Arctic exploration as the cruise travels along the coast of Baffin Island from Iqaluit in the south to Nanisivik in the north. (17/Apr/2010)
Lane, Christopher 2001
Silent as the Hunter. Avon Books, New York. 343 pages.
A mystery story set in Barrow, Alaska. An elderly Inupiat woman is found killed in her house at the beginning of the Nalukataq festival that celebrates the whale-hunting season. Officer Raymond Attla is called to the crime scene by his nephew, Justin. The situation is complicated because so many visitors and tourists are in town for the festival but will be gone in a few days. At first, Ray thinks the killer must be an outsider. Then the evidence seems to point to Ronnie Pilchuck, a local drunk and ne'er-do- well. But the crime doesn't seem to fit his style, especially when the only thing that has been taken is the old lady's carved whale-bone wedding ring. But when the ring turns up in a museum exhibit dealing with northern whaling traditions, the motive seems much darker and more complex. As usual in crime, money is found to be the real motive, that and greed. Lightweight but readable. (22/May/2006)
Nichols, Peter 1999
Voyage to the North Star. Carol and Graf, New York. 342 pages.
Story begins in east coast US in 1930s. Carl Schenk is a wealthy man, shrewd and rapacious, but coarse and uncultured. Now he is rich, he wants to be accepted in society. He wants to be like Roosevelt (to whom he has a superficial resemblance) and become famous as a big game hunter. When an African trip doesn't give him that satisfaction he determines to go to the Arctic, to Frobisher Bay, and hunt polar bear and walrus. So he bullheadedly goes ahead. Buying the Lodestar, a luxury yacht completely unsuitable for the arctic. He hires Will Boden, an ex-captain needing work to help with the ship. The expedition lurches from disaster to disaster, with Schenk blindly oblivious to anything except his own needs, and Boden's marine skills stretched to the limit. Eventually, the ship is run aground and the remaining passengers and crew barely make it to Lake Harbour, a HBC port. There Schenk gets a sea plane to pick him up and take him back to the comforts of New York, where he parlays his trip into social success and election to the Explorer's Club. Meanwhile, all the other's lives are affected, most are dead, including Boden, and Schenk never has to face the responsibility for any of it. Only one man is happy, Clement Shred, an east coast boat builder who finds his true life with the Inuit and stays in the arctic for the rest of his life. (01/Jul/2003)
Nicol, C. W. 1993
The Raven's Tale. Harbour Publishing, Madeira Park, B.C. 195 pages.
A children's book. Purports to be the tale of a fox and a wolf wandering around on the north arctic coast, encountering the various animals of the region, such as caribou, muskoxen, a polar bear, a snowy owl, etc. The tale is introduced and occasionally embellished with sardonic comments by Gon, an ancient raven, who occasionally intervenes to influence events. Each character has its own line drawing illustration, almost like an icon. (23/Jun/2006)

Sewell, Kitty 2007
Ice Trap. Pocket Books, London, UK. 455 pages.
A sordid tale of then and now. Now is 2006, in Cardiff, Wales. Then is 1992 in Moose Creek, north of Yellowknife and about 70 km south of treeline in the Northwest Territories. Young newly-qualified surgeon Dafydd Woodruff has taken up a 10-month fill-in position as a physician in this remote community. He is fleeing from a mistake, a careless surgery that compromised the health of a sick child. He wants to see if he can regain his nerve and expiate his mistake in a hardship post for a while. Moose Creek is, to his eyes, squalid and coarse and the people he meets are mostly losers, including his medical colleagues, most fleeing failure somewhere else. Gradually Dafydd learns about the community and grows interested in the people and the landscape, especially in winter which is like nothing he has ever experienced. His life at the small hospital is made fraught by the hostility of the head nurse, Sheila Hailey, who virtually runs the place and has all the staff terrorized. The town is small, about 4,000 people, about half of them are Dene or Métis. There's a gas plant, and many people are moving in anticipating an oil and gas boom, some logging, the rest is trapping and fishing. Dafydd meets an elderly man, Sleeping Bear, who turns out to be another ex-pat Welshman, and with him travels further north, beyond Great Bear Lake, west of the Coppermine, to a small Inuit village called Black River. Switch back to 2006. Dafydd is now moderately successful, married to Isobel, an interior designer who is desperate for a child. Then Dafydd receives a letter from Sheila telling him that he is the father of her teenage twins and demanding child support. Dafydd is shattered. He knows this cannot be true, but when the DNA test he demands comes back with apparently a conclusive result, he starts to doubt his own memories. And so he returns to Moose Creek to try to sort out the truth and find out why Sheila appears to hate him so much yet has waited so long to demand money. The resolution of the tale is squalid, predictable, and unpleasant. The most interesting aspect is Dafydd's, an outsider, reaction to the north and his exploration of, to him, a completely alien cultural milieu and way of life. He is not an attractive character though and it is difficult to care what happens to him or most of the other characters in this lightweight novel. (04/Sept/2010)
Schulman, Audrey 1994
The Cage. Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA. 228 pages.
Beryl Findham is a wildlife photographer and has been hired by the prestigious magazine, Natural Photography, to go to Churchill, Manitoba, to photograph polar bears. She has been chosen mainly because she isn't very tall and her size means that she will be able to sit inside the cage that has been made to set out on the tundra. The plan is that she will sit in the cage and photograph the bears up close. The irony is that for most of her career she has been photographing animals in zoos, animals in cages, shooting through the bars to get "natural" shots. Now she will be the one in the cage, and nature will be all too real. Her companions are three men, a video photographer, a naturalist, and their guide, a local man, Jean-Claude. They are heading out onto the tundra at the start of winter, when the bears are hungriest and are gathering along the coastline, waiting for the sea- ice to thicken up so they can go offshore and hunt seals. But things go wrong when their camper-bus is damaged by the bears and their fuel is lost. Led by their guide, the three start on a 40-mile walk back to town, with winter weather a hazard and hungry bears about. No Inuit in this story; even the person who drives the night bear-patrol car is, most improbably, a black woman from Atlanta. (16/Jul/2006)
Shelley, Mary 1999
Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. Wordsworth Editions. xxv + 175 pages. Reprint of 1831 edition.
A classic tale. Victor Frankenstein is the name of the young scientist who creates the monster, who is never named, and then recoils in horror from his creation. The monster wants friendship and a companion but he is so repulsive that people flee from him and cast him out. He blames Frankenstein for his situation and, when rejection continues and Frankenstein refuses to help him, his yearning for friendship turns to a desire for revenge and he pursues Frankenstein, killing his new-married wife and his friend, Clerval. Frankenstein determines to hunt down the monster and slay him. So begins a chase across Europe and Russia and into the Arctic where Frankenstein is picked up from an ice floe by an arctic explorer, Robert Walton. Frankenstein dies after telling Walton his story and the monster flees to the heart of the Arctic, there to commit suicide alone. The Arctic bookends this tale, which opens with the start of Walton's voyage and ends with Walton and his crew heading home from the Arctic, while the monster flees across the northern ocean. (15/Nov/2008)
Thériault, Yves 1963
Agaguk. Translated by Miriam Chapin. McGraw Hill Ryerson, Toronto. 229 pages.
The tale of an Inuit group in the barren grounds in the 1930s-1940s. Describes the harsh landscape and lifestyle and the somewhat complex relationships between the various members of the band. Very readable. (21/Apr/1987)
Thériault, Yves 1979
Agoak. McGraw Hill Ryerson, Toronto. 160 pages.
Very powerful and thought-provoking story about an Inuit who nearly has it made when his world is destroyed by the intrusion of Americans who try to rape his wife. He returns to a previous way of life in an effort to survive and escape punishment. Discussion of the savage in everyone and the clash of cultures. The language seems rather awkward in places but that may be due to the translation rather than the original. A disturbing book. (25/Apr/1980)
Wiebe, Rudy 1980
The Mad Trapper. McClelland and Stewart, Toronto, Ontario. 189 pages.
In the Yukon in early 1930s, a man walks into a trading post to buy stores and sets up home in the bush. He refuses to speak to anyone or to communicate in any way. Because of a trap-line dispute, two mounties go out to talk to him and are met by silence followed by a hail of bullets. Thus begins a chase lasting fifty days across the Yukon and into Alaska before bringing him to bay in a shoot-out. But the mystery remains unsolved since it was never discovered who the stranger was or why he acted so strangely. An excellent account, well-written and strongly evocative of the chill northern night and harsh conditions. (20/Apr/1981)
Wiebe, Rudy 1994
A Discovery of Strangers. A.A. Knopf, Canada. 317 pages.
Set in Canada's North in 1820-21, this is a fictionalized account of the first Franklin Expedition which set out to try to explore the Arctic Ocean. Most of the story concerns the interaction between the explorers and the Yellowknife Indians who ultimately rescue the party from destruction and starvation. (05/Apr/1996)
York, Thomas 1981
Trapper. Doubleday, Canada. 417 pages.
An evocation of the chase and hunt of Albert Johnson, otherwise known as the Mad Trapper of Rat River, in 1932. The story is similar to Rudy Weibe's, based on the accounts given in RCMP reports of the time and newspapers etc. A more plausible explanation though. York thinks that Johnson was an ex-WWI soldier who was so brutalized by his experiences in trenches that he had to get away, at least that is implied. Very surrealistic and impressionistic at times, particularly the thoughts of Johnson as the struggles across the snow and of the folks hunting him. Good feel for the harshness and difficulty of the landscape. (13/Apr/1982)
Young, Scott 1988
Murder in a Cold Climate. Fawcett Crest, Toronto. 238 pages.
A routine plot in an exotic locale, the Mackenzie Valley, mainly centred on Inuvik and Normal Wells and featuring Inuit RCMP Inspector Matthew "Matteesie" Kitsologitak, on the trail of a hired gunman and a plane load of drug smugglers attempting to escape with their loot. Much rushing around in the bush on snowmobiles before the villains are rounded up. (31/Mar/1990)
Young, Scott 1993
The Shaman's Knife. Macmillan of Canada. 276 pages.
Matteesie Kitsologitak, Inuk member of the RCMP, is sent to a small community to solve a brutal murder. In a truly improbable coincidence, the old lady injured during the killings turns out to be his elderly mother, visiting relatives in the community. It soon becomes clear that the local bad boy did it, but proving it turns out to be difficult because the man has the community terrorized and people refuse to talk to the police. (06/Mar/1994)

The remarks in black are my comments. Number of citations: 49
This presentation has been compiled and is © 1998-2013 by
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