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Bookends: Tales from Along the Highways February 18, 2017

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Bookends: Tales from Along the Highways

By Dan Davidson

December 19, 2016

– 684 words –alaska-or-bust


Alaska or Bust & Other Stories

By Erma Odrach

Crimson Cloak Publishing

379 pages

$25.50 in hardcover

also available in paperback and e-book formats


It’s almost a truism that anyone with even a smattering of literary DNA in t

heir genes will probably end up writing about the Yukon if they’ve lived here for a while and then moved away. That’s why there are so many memoirs about the Gold Rush. That’s why Service and London and Berton all wrote about the place throughout their entire careers even when they were in other places, even, as in the case of the first two writers, when they never came back.

So we come to Erma Odrach, who is mining her memories of a three or four year residence in the north. She sent me this book some months back and we struck up a little bit of a correspondence as a result. She was here from 1979-82, living in Whitehorse and a few places along the Alaska Highway, travelling in the territory and in Alaska, living part of the time in a Squatter’s Row cabin, and ending her stay while holding down a job, fittingly enough, at Mac’s Fireweed.

There’s a generational angle as well, sine her daughter apparently lived in Dawson in the summer of 2015 (if have that right) and volunteered at the Dawson City Music Festival.

The thing about Yukon memories, after 30 years or so, is they suffer a little bit of factual drift. Just how much it’s never easy to say, but all those people who met Jack Lon
on here after he was gone, and all those who travelled over the Chilkoot with Robert Service in 1898 are proof of the type of drift I mean.

So there may be things in the 25 stories that make up this collection that don’t sound quite right, but most of them feel pretty good as far as I can tell. Oh, you can’t drive from Skagway to Haines without doubling back through Haines Junction, (see “Chuck Goes to Haines, Alaska, on the Fourth of July”) but that’s a small problem, a
nd one that won’t exist in subsequent printings of the book, or in the email editions.

The stories range all over the areas that can be reached by the major highways in the territory and the state. Some of them overlap a bit in terms of characters, or refer to events in other unconnected stories. There’s an amusing trilogy about the Three French Guys, and “The Runaways” (about kids in a foster home) has a sort of sequel in “Bush Baby Gets Married”. Quite a few of the stories are quite humorous, but there are also a number that deal with abuse, creeping insanity and hard times.

I’ve been reading this book on and off since October. The stories were good for when I just had a short time to sit and I found them quite satisfactory.



trainCreated by Mike Vago
Illustrated Matt Rockefeller


14 pages



This is an interesting concept book. It is constructed so that the attached small train can be driven around the landscape o each double page spread (seacoast, d
esert, prairie, mountains, small town, large city, and station). The edge of each segment allows you to drive the train around the edge and into the next landscape until you reach the spot at the back of the book that allows you to shut it again. Or, you can drive the train through the tunnel that take you back to the front of the book to do it all again

Should the train slip out of the grooves that are its track, it’s easy to put it back and carry on.

The book seems sturdy enough, It’s hardcover with a cloth backing inside the spine holding the double page signatures in place. There are directions for proper use on the back cover. Even so, it looks like something that you would to keep an eye on while young reader were playing with/reading it.






Bookends: Desperate People Hide out in the Yukon January 31, 2017

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Bookends: Desperate People Hide out in the Yukon

By Dan Davidson

August 29, 2016

city-of-thr-lost– 767 words –


City of the Lost

By Kelly Armstrong

Random House of Canada




Every so often a writer will reach back into Charles Dickens’ bag of tricks and issue a novel in serial format. Stephen King did it with The Green Mile back in 1996, bringing it out in six thin paperbacks that were eventually republished in collected form about a year later.

It’s become easier to do this now that there’s a market for e-books. Canada’s Kelly Armstrong is best known for her novels featuring werewolves and witches, books with strong female characters. Even though there’s no supernatural element to this book, the latter description remains true.

Our narrator is Casey Duncan, a veteran detective with the special victims unit in a city that remains unnamed. Casey has a deep secret. 12 years earlier she was attacked while out walking with her boyfriend. He fled and she was both raped and badly injured. When she comes to, several weeks later, she seeks out Blaine, wanting an explanation for why he had abandoned her. She questions him at gunpoint, and at some point in the argument she kills him.

She gets away with it, but does penance by joining the police force.

During the ensuing twelve years she has become the protector of a young woman named Diana, who seems to have terminally bad judgement when it comes to men. Di is the only person who knows what Casey did, but Di has her own problems in the person of an abusive ex-husband who keeps coming back for more, and has nearly killed her at least once. Casey tried to scare him off, but it seems she only made him become more devious.

Recently Casey has been stepping out with a bartender named Kurt and one evening they are attacked and he is shot. The gunman gets away but his parting words tell her he was sent by Blaine’s father, a known gangster. Casey has been playing a weird sort of psychological Russian Roulette for some years, going to various therapists and confessing her murder to them, counting on the patient/doctor relationship to protect her. Apparently one of them finally talked.

That’s the set up for what follows. Di has learned of a place where people can go when they need to hide, and at this point they both need to. The interview to go to the City of the Lost doesn’t go well to begin with, but it emerges that this bush town, somewhere north of Dawson City, has need of a detective. It has a sheriff, Eric Dalton, but he’s no expert on murder, and there has been one. So despite his reservations about Casey, (he seems to know her secret) he agrees to take them both.

The town of Rockton is a full service bush community with an indeterminate number of residents. It is accessible only by air, from the Dawson airport. It is controlled by something called the Council, and the set-up is somewhat mysterious, but it is a hideaway for people who need to disappear, some for good reasons, some for bad.

The first murder, the one Casey was brought in to solve, was weird. There were body parts, and whole thing looks like it was done by an intelligent animal. Having read some of Armstrong’s other books that was sort of where I expected this to go, and subsequent murders have a touch of ritualism to them that increased this misleading impression.

The eventual solutions and motives are much more mundane than that, but there are more than enough twists and turns in the plot to keep up the interest and the suspense.

I picked up this series last year while travelling, mainly because the promotional material mentioned Dawson and the Yukon. There are a few scenes in the town itself, with a decent sense of the place without being too specific. The wilderness town of Rockton is a bit too manicured to be a really acceptable depiction of the Yukon wilderness, but then this story takes place in the summer, so Armstrong can get away with a lot.

In the end, it was a decent read. Some of the fans at Amazon are calling for a sequel, but, even though there are some loose ends in Casey’s life, I don’t really see where one would go. That said, Armstrong was signing books at Coles in Whitehorse on August 27, and her website says part of the trip was research for more books in this series



Bookends: A Pair of Pierres find danger in the bush January 17, 2017

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Bookends: A Pair of Pierres find danger in the bush

By Dan Davidson

March 22, 2016

– 964 words –


The Wail of the Wendigo

An Early Adventure of Pierre Trudeau

By Steve Pitt

Fireside Publishing House

227 pages



I should probably explain right off the top that the Leaders & Legacies series of young adult adventure books, of which this is the fifth volume, does not ask that you believe much of hat’s happening in any of the mysteries. The idea is to imagine what various of our Prime Ministers might have been like if they had been involved in Hardy Boys style adventures in their teen years. The series was created and is guided by Roderick Benns, who wrote the first two books.

So far there have been adventures featuring John Diefenbaker, John A. Macdonald, Paul Martin and Richard Bennett. Each of the books so far has featured a fairly realistic mystery and setting and has included all sorts of things that might be said to foreshadow what these lads would grow up to be.

The current book gets full marks for all sorts of clues to the future, but has moved into new territory with its inclusion of quite a few supernatural elements. It’s a bit of Hardy Boys meets Goosebumps.

It’s set in the year 1931, and while it begins with Pierre Trudeau and his father in Montreal, planning a trip to the Yukon to test out a gold claim, it doesn’t stay there long. Actually it begins firmly in Pierre’s head, where he is engrossed in reading a pulp fiction horror story in which one of Canada’s former Prime Ministers, transformed into a vampire after his death in England, is being pursued through the labyrinth of rooms in the Parliament Buildings. Pierre is on a paddle wheeler, heading for Dawson, and it’s towards the end of a the chapter before we flash back and find out how he ended up there, talking to a young deckhand named Art Fry.

Art Fry? Yes, the first of a number of other real life persons who make their way into this book. Art’s along for most of the ride from there on. Other real folk include Frank Berton, Wop May, Albert Johnson, Terohaute and, of course, the young Pierre Berton.

Along the way to Dawson, young Trudeau has a strange encounter with a boy that no one else can see, and receives the gift of a bear claw in exchange for a chocolate bar. This turns out to be very important later.

The pair of Pierres (a running gag in the book) do not take to each other at all in the beginning. Berton sees Trudeau (they end up using last names to avoid confusion) as a stuck-up city boy, and Trudeau sees Berton (bow tie and all) as an arrogant know-it-all who is forever taking notes on everything around him.

In a sort time the boys, their fathers and Art, are bundled into May’s plan and flown east to the Rat River district, where they set up camp near an abandoned (and strangely fortified) cabin and begin the process of testing the creeks for colours.

There’s something strange happening at night, weird sounds that have nothing to do with Trudeau’s overheated imagination. Later the boys will learn about the danger and why the cabin was so fortified.

In the meantime, they learn to hunt, courtesy of lessons from a native girl (because the term First Nations hadn’t been though of yet) named Henni. She and her parents have been living a traditional lifestyle in the woods ever since the authorities threatened to take her off to residential school.

She and her family know the secret behind the strange noises at night and are friends with the mysterious man named Albert Johnson, who claims to be the 141 year old survivor of one of the Franklin Expeditions. He and another man survived that disaster, but at a cost. Terohaute consumed the flesh of his companions, and fed it to some of the other stranded men, passing it off as game he had killed.

For this cannibalism, both he and Johnson were changed into Wendigos, driven to eat human flesh and shun the company of mankind. Franklin has been trying to cure himself of the curse, but Terohaute has embraced it.

Henni’s family and the boys come up with a plan to take away much of Terohaute’s power and send Albert, who is tired of his long life, in the next world.

And that’s all I’m going to tell you about that.

There’s a lot of what film fans would call Easter Eggs in this book. Trudeau says things like “Just watch me” and is presented with a red rose to wear in his lapel as a charm against danger. Berton takes notes on everything and is outwardly full of himself, while inwardly unsure, as befits a boy whose growth spurt came to him late in his youth.

They meet again four years after the events of this story, after Wop May has had a hand in tracking down the Mad Trapper, who was operating out of that cabin on Rat River and displayed unnatural endurance while he was fleeing from the RCMP in the winter. Guess who?

After they have caught up with each other’s lives, Berton asks Trudeau if he has ever considered a life in politics.

“Yeah, sure,” Trudeau replies with a laugh. “The chance of me becoming prime minister is about as good as you becoming a best selling author.”

Happily, Pitt has provided eight pages of actual facts about his dramatis personae, so that the readers can separate the fact from the fiction. The two Pierres certainly met during their lives, but not in Dawson in 1931.



Bookends: Ted Harrison remembered in 91 images January 17, 2017

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Bookends: Ted Harrison remembered in 91 images

By Dan Davidson

harrison-collectedMarch 2, 2016

– 656 words –


Ted Harrison Collected

Introduction by Robert Budd

Douglas & McIntyre

112 pages



“We should all try to spread a little happiness wherever we may be,” is one of several quotations from Ted Harrison that help to enliven the eight page essay with which Robert Budd introduces this colourful, signature bound, glossy paper, trade paperback edition based on the ninety-one prints in the serigraph collection which Harrison and his print making collaborator, Michael DeCourcey, produced during the period from 1980 to 2010.

Budd discusses Harrison’s philosophy of art and a bit of his transformation from English style monotone landscapes to the high energy, brilliantly coloured work that has so influenced other Yukon artists and, I am sure, some of the colour choices on a number of public buildings in my town of Dawson.

Harrison’s website (http://www.tedharrison.com), still maintained since his passing last year, expresses more of the artist’s feeling about life and his artistic choices.

“Life is a rainbow road, multicoloured with the most brilliant hues and contrasting with the darkest tones. It is illuminated by the light of success, and rutted by the tracks of failure. Tears of sadness and joy wash its surface while the clouds of doubt and insecurity dapple its course. As we traverse this highway we can reach the highest pinnacles or descend to the darkest valleys.

“Finally, when the end of the road is in sight, we may cast our eyes to the distant horizon where everything began; and say with conviction,

“That sure was one hell of a journey.”

Budd comments on some of the choices that influenced certain of the serigraphs, with easy reference to the page numbers on which they are found, and writes about Harrison’s relationship to animals and birds, especially the ravens that are so prominent in his work.

“Ravens are very meaningful to the Yukon,” Harrison said. “They are a friendly bird to me. They like people. They represent the Yukon.”

The artist’s decision to leave most of the people in his Yukon work faceless was because “I like to feel that people can imagine a face in. You know, they can pop their grandmother’s face in.”

All of those people are outside, walking, seeming to enjoy the outdoors, looking around at the multi-coloured buildings, the sky, the mountains, watching other people doing the same things but in different ways.

There is some discussion of the creation process for the serigraphs, though you can find a lot more detail about that on the website.

The book is available in both printed and e-book versions, though I really can’t imagine why anyone would want to enjoy these pictures on anything other than high quality paper.


The Full Moon at the Napping House

Written by Audrey Woodthe-full-moon

Illustrated by Don Wood

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

26 pages

$17.99 (higher in Canada)


Apparently there was a board book called The Napping House about 15 years ago. This much more ambitious illustrated book is sort of a sequel.

It’s delightfully painted in acrylics and has a look which is both cartoonish and realistic. It’s mostly set in grandmother’s bedroom, where everyone seems to be having trouble getting to sleep.

The text is one of those “house that Jack built” kind of cumulative rhymes, in which the granny is joined sequentially by a child, a dog, a cat, and a mouse, all of whom are playful and not at all ready to settle down in her bedroom, as the tag line on each page goes, “where everyone is restless.”

It seems like no one is going to get any sleep on this full moonlit night, until a chirping cricket catches all their attention and soothes them, one by one, page by page, until at last no one is restless any more.

It’s a lovely little book with lots of opportunity for having fun with little kids.




Bookends: International intrigue comes to the Klondike October 12, 2015

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Bookends: International intrigue comes to the Klondike

By Dan DavidsonGold Web

January 14, 2015

– 776 words –


Gold Web

By Vicki Delany


322 pages


1898 was an exceptionally busy year in the Klondike. In fact, it was an exceptionally busy spring and summer, for that has been the time frame for all four of the Klondike Mystery series novels. While Dawson may have been free of any murders at all in real life, Fiona MacGillivray and her immediate circle of associates have had to deal with a dead dancer, an attempt on our heroine’s life and a kidnapping into the bush in search of a mythical motherlode.

This one begins with a bloody murder in the alley behind Fiona’s Savoy Saloon and Dance Hall.

“The last thing he saw in this world was world was my shocked face.”

Why did the murdered man breathe out her name with his next to last breath, and why did he use the last one to say “Culloden”? And in telling the NWMP all that she knew of the man’s last moments, why did she omit that last bit of information?

There are generally three narrative strands in these books. We get Fiona in the first person. Angus, her 12 year old son, gets the third person treatment, as does Corporal Richard Sterling, the man who may one day become her significant other. The interweaving of these points of view means that we very occasionally view the same scene from more than one perspective.

Of Fiona, we know that she was born to a servant family in Scotland, but got a first class education by virtue of being befriended by the local laird’s daughter, gaining a refined English accent in the process. At a young age tragedy befell her family and she was cast upon her own resources, living for a time with a group of gypsies, and leaving them when the potential for harm at the hands of one of the young men became too great.

This continuing development of her backstory comes to us courtesy of events in the present triggering memories of the past.

In this book’s flashback sequences we learn that she spent a number of years as a street beggar under the tutelage of a Fagin-like character who ran a kiddie crime family as well as a brothel. Good looks and refinement would eventually gain her entry to the homes of the well to do, where she was a successful thief, keeping a step ahead of discovery by moving on.

She moved on to Toronto where she and Angus (we have yet to learn of his origin) lived for a time before deciding to try out the Gold Rush in 1897. A short stay in Skagway convinced her that it was no place for her and Angus. Along the way north she formed a business partnership with Ray Walker, and together they founded the Savoy in Dawson.

There are a number of ongoing plot strands that began in the earlier volumes and weave their way through this book. Fiona has a continuing feud with one of the local madams on Paradise Alley, and that leads to an attempt on her life. The arrival of a lady photographer, Ellen Jennings, leads to Angus taking on a second summer job and appears to drive a wedge between Fiona and Sterling, who have been inching closer together during the months they have known each other.

As Sterling works to solve the murder mystery, other plots are swirling around the town. What is one to make of Count Nicky, the Russian, who seems intent of a hair brained scheme to wrest the Yukon from Canada and make of it and Alaska a new Russia, to escape from the tyranny of the Czar? Then there’s a group of warmed over Fenians, still bent on punishing Britain for all it has done to the Irish by somehow causing a revolution in Canada.

So, while there is a murder at the beginning of the book, much of the thriller action is provided by the presence of spies, both foreign and domestic, and agent provocateurs intent on mischief that go far beyond the confines of peaceful Dawson City.

Delany keeps busy producing books at the rate of about one a year. Aside from the four Klondike books, there are six in the Constable Molly Smith series, set in a town modeled after Nelson, BC, three standalone suspense novels, a book for reluctant readers and, most recently an entry, under the pen name of Eva Gates, in the mystery genre known as the “cozy” style, with the title of By Book or By Crook.


Bookends: Two books about the North for your winter reading February 19, 2015

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Bookends: Two books about the North for your winter reading

By Dan Davidson

December 3, 2014

– 764 words –


One of the perks of writing this column since 1977 is that I’ve had the chance to sample a lot of books I might not necessarily have picked up on my own. In addition, it’s offered me the opportunity to meet, at least by way of interviews, quite a few interesting people who have contributed to my knowledge and understanding of the territory.

In the case of the following two books I interviewed the writers and prepared profiles of them for the Star this past fall.


A Rock Fell on the Moon:

Dad and the Great Yukon Silver Ore HeistA Rock Fell

By Alicia Priest

Lost Moose

251 pages



Alicia Priest spent her early years living in Elsa, leaving there as a result of her father’s part in the silver theft referenced in the subtitle. His crimes caught up with the family after they moved to Vancouver and had a tremendous impact on their lives after that.

This delightful book works on a number of levels. It is a memoir about growing up in rural Yukon. For all the pain and stigma that Gerry Priest inflicted on his family, the parts of the book about life in Elsa are full of joy and happiness and bring to life the late 1950s and early 1960s in a very real way.

Driving through the gated ghost town a few years ago didn’t give me nearly the sense of the place that I got from this book.

It is also a mystery story, as Priest, the journalist, tries to piece together the somewhat fragmentary evidence and figure out just how her father and his partner in crime pulled it off. They were caught almost by accident and, as she says, the methods that were used to catch them, as well as the way in which the evidence vanished, would probably have made it impossible to convict them if the same thing were to have happened a few years later.

Priest was pushed to finish this book, on which she had already been working for a year, when she was diagnosed with ALS, By the time of the book launch in Whitehorse last fall she was no longer able to speak and her husband, Ben, had to handle all the public chores.


Polar Winds: A Century of Flying the NorthPolar Winds

By Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail


224 pages



Danielle Metcalfe-Chenail doesn’t fly herself, but she’s a self-described airplane nut. So much so that her first book, a history of Laurentian Air Services, had For the Love of Flying as its main title. She is active in the Canadian Aviation Historical Society, and has served as its president.

I met Metcalfe-Chenail during her stint as writer-in-residence at Berton House, where she had come with the express purpose of researching this book. Many writers come to Dawson with a specific project in mind. Some of them get completed; some get pushed to the side as the Klondike takes hold of the writers and inspires new ideas.

This didn’t happen to Metcalfe-Chenail. Along with the residency she had scored an unrelated Canada Council grant, and the combination of the two gave her the luxury to use Dawson as a home base from which to travel all over the Yukon in search of materials for what she believes is the first detailed history of flying in the Canadian North.

There are lots of books about flying in the North, but most seem to focus on bush pilots or the life of a particular individual. Metcalfe-Chenail went well beyond that, fleshing out the military and police experiences, telling a few of he harrowing stories of the North and also giving a glimpse at what could be the very routine life of a pilot.

There are business stories, personal stories and a birds’ eye overview of the industry. As much as the book is about flying, it is also about the impact that the fliers had on the places they visited and how they knit the North together.

She set out to produce a Northern book. “Everything I was reading that had been written was from a southern point of view and I really wanted to get at what northerners were feeling about what was happening in the air and on the ground.

Polar Winds is not exclusively about Yukon aviation, but since so much of the early recorded history begins with the Gold Rush, there’s quite a bit of Dawson and Whitehorse in its pages.

It’s a very readable history.







Bookends: On the dogsled trail to Dawson in the 1970s November 25, 2014

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It’s only fair to say that the author hated this review and, in my own defence, a couple of people who read the book told me I was too kind.



Bookends: On the dogsled trail to Dawson in the 1970s

By Dan Davidson

May 7, 2014

– 735 words –


Dog Team to Dawson: A Quest for the Cosmic Bannock and other Yukon Stories

By Bruce T. BatchelorDog Team to Dawson

Agio Publishing House

267 pages



Bruce Batchelor was still a bachelor when most of the stories in the collection of Yukon memories took place. For those who may have read his earlier book about wilderness life in the Pelly area, Nine Dog Winter, the stories in this book come before that one.

The bulk of this book is the story referenced in the subtitle: “The Quest for the Cosmic Bannock”. I’m not entirely sure why is has that title, other than that it sounds like a very 70s sort of existential way to think about the experience. Both Batchelor and his mushing partner, Jan Prenty, consumed lots of bannock on the trail from Pelly Crossing to Dawson City, but there wasn’t anything particularly cosmic about it.

That part of the book takes up the first 193 pages, the remaining three stories being short pieces. Two of these are personal essays about experiences in the Yukon and the other is a short version of the Mad Trapper’s tale.

Batchelor and Prenty met quite by accident in a bar in Whitehorse where he was speculating about the joys of a long trek in the later part of the winter with dogs and a sled. Since he didn’t have enough dogs or a sled or anyone to make the trip with him, it was all hot air at that point. And then Prenty allowed she thought it was a good idea and she’d like to go along.

There was no romance involved here. They’d barely met when she said, “I want you to take me winter camping.”

The idea seemed to take wing among their friends and associates as quickly as an Internet meme does today, and soon the pair were being offered dogs, a sled (a toboggan, actually), supplies and all sorts of encouragement. The blue-sky dream had become a reality.

They planned to embark from the Pelly Farm, after visiting with the Bradley family. After some consultation and debate they decided to use as much as they could of the Dawson Overland Trail, which you can still see along the banks of the Yukon River. Before getting to that, they followed a trail made by Peter Isaac and made their way to Fort Selkirk, where they spent some time with Danny and Abby Roberts.

It was a difficult trek. They had planned to make the run in eight to ten days, finishing up on the Yukon River ice on the final run to Dawson. The dogs had never worked together before, so that was tough. There was ice and slush and overflow water to contend with. Their traces wore out, or were chewed through, and the trail abraded the wood of the toboggan until it actually wore through. If they hadn’t been able to borrow a proper sled from Roger Mendelssohn later on, they would not have been able to finish the trip.

While there was much tension and difficulty along the way, there were a lot of good moments as well. For both of them one of these was when they found a pill canister full of placer gold nuggets in a long abandoned miner’s cabin.

Other names were dropped along the way. They spent a bit of time with the Burian family and Alan Nordling was one of the other people they encountered on their trip, along with John Tapsell and Brian MacDonald.

Despite all the problems, the trip did something for them. Prenty married a trapper and raised a family on a trap line. Batchelor went on to have his Nine Dog Winter marry Marsha, his partner on that later adventure. They now live in Victoria and he works in the publishing trade, while doing a bit of writing.

The second story in the book, “Cost Plus” is about some misadventures in the oil exploration trade up near Eagle Plains, while the final piece, “Love Story for Lucy”, is about the relationship between a man and his best friend, a dog. “Trapping the Mad Trapper” is a short version of that story, enlivened by quotations from a journal kept by Mrs. Helen Thronthwaite, a registered nurse who talked to some of the First Nations men who participated in the hunt for Albert Johnson.



Bookends: Taking another look at the Lost Patrol October 16, 2014

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Bookends: Taking another look at the Lost PatrolDeath Wins

By Dan Davidson

February 19, 2014

– 790 words –


Death Wins in the Arctic

The Lost Winter Patrol of 1910

By Kerry Karram

Dundurn Press

232 pages



Kerry Karram’s fascination with tales of Arctic survival, made evident in her earlier book, Four Degrees Celsius: a Tale of Arctic Peril (Dundurn, 2012), continues with this detailed account of the famous Lost Patrol story.

Her interest in this expedition stemmed from her attendance at her son’s graduation and commissioning as a member of the modern day RCMP, which took place at Depot, in Regina. This is also the home of the RCMP Heritage Centre. It was also at Depot where she met Corporal Sean Chiddenton, who was able to show her the handwritten journal kept by Inspector F.J. Fitzgerald during his last, fatal trek from Fort McPherson down into the Dempster country and almost back again.

This is a document which is not referred to in the bibliography of Dick North’s earlier book, The Lost Patrol (Raincoast reprint edition, 1995), and I can only assume it was not available as a resource when North was researching his account back in the 1970s. Fittingly, his book is one of the sources for this one.

With the journal as a source Karram was enabled to give a day by day account, up to the point where the Inspector was too far gone to make any further entries. Quotations from the journal, from Robert Service’s poetry and from other sources introduce each chapter of the book.

Fitzgerald’s entries are spare, and she pads out the daily jottings with stories of the Force that the men might have shared with each other around the campfire at night before turning in. Aside from providing contextual tales of Royal Northwest Mounted Police history, this is a useful narrative device and helps enliven a story which might otherwise have consisted of repetitions of the same daily round, from the early morning rising, to the noon hour stop, the evening chores, looking after the dogs, having a meal and turning in while trying to keep as warm as possible.

The basic pattern is repeated so many times that it threatens to become tedious, but it does serve to give a sense of the daily grind on the trail in temperatures and snow conditions that eventually did in the four man patrol once they had managed to get lost.

It would certainly appear that they were defeated, for the most part, by overestimating their ability to find their way along the trail without a First Nations guide. The man in the patrol most familiar with the route had only ever travelled it from the opposite direction, and we all know that things can look very different depending on your orientation.

My friend, History Hunter Michael Gates, has pointed out a number of factual problems with this book. Some of them originate with Cpl. Chiddenton, who wrote the foreword. He has the year gold was found in the Klondike off by two years, confusing the Discovery with the Gold Rush.

Some of the captions and text references in the book bounce back and forth between NWMP and RNWMP. By the time this story took place the R had been added to the original name six years earlier. Some of the confusion comes from the telling of tales that take place before this, but it would have been good to clear that up.

Karram is at some pains to show how difficult this trek was in either direction. Inspector Dempster’s relief patrol succeeded because it was better supplied and used a guide, but it was still an ordeal. To underline this fact, Karram briefly tells the story of the 75th anniversary patrol, which was attempted in 1985. It was unsuccessful.

She does not mention the two other successful reenactments. One of these took place in 1969 and is mentioned briefly in Keith Billington’s House Calls by Dogsled (Harbour Publishing, 2018) Billington has since devoted an entire book, The Last Patrol (Caitlin Press, 2013) to this lively tale.

In 1995, to help mark the 100th anniversary of the force in the territory, another successful patrol was undertaken, using Dempster’s relief route from Dawson to Fort McPherson and back. This was also the year that North’s book was revived after its original eight printings by another firm.

Karram tells an interesting story and has a lively style, but the book does suffer from the reader’s certain knowledge that it’s going to end badly for the central characters. There were days when I simply found it too depressing to read about another really bad day. There was, however, never any doubt that I would finish the story.