A True Story of Endurance and
St. Martins Press, New York 2002
their heroes, it seems great stories never die. When
three men slowly starved to death in the spring of 1927
in a humble cabin on the shores of a largely unknown
northern river who could have imagined their tale would
inspire a fine book 75 years later.
the tale of Cold Burial and of John Hornby and his
tragic, heroic and foolhardy death along the wooded
banks of the Thelon River. British author Clive
Powell-Williams takes us along with Hornby and his
two companions; Harold Adlard and young cousin Edgar
Powell-Williams has gathered
a mountain of research and methodically pours it out in
this fascinating read. It says something of a book where
the entire plot, outcome and history are generally known
that it can shed fascinating insights into this old
John Hornby is truly the
Rosetta Stone of northern travel. His fascinating
magnetism, wild adventures and mysterious ways tell us
so much of the northern experience. He is everything
that is right – and wrong – about the heroic northern
tradition. No one can truly understand much of what he
did yet we marvel at his exploits and shake our heads at
It really takes a fellow
Brit to do justice to this tale and add much needed
context to this tale of heroic death. Powell-Williams is
obviously steeped in the ‘chin-up tradition that raised
Hornby and his kind and explains it well here. He even
delves into the world of privilege and fame that Hornby
emerged from the youngest son of the celebrated A. N.
Hornby, ‘The Cricketing Squire’.
The diary of Christian is
well known and has been twice published. First as
Unflinching: A diary of tragic adventure in 1937 and
again in 1980 as Death in the Barren Ground.
Powell-Williams goes much further into the private and
unpublished letters and diaries of Christian, Adlard,
Hornby and most notably Capt. James Critchell-Bullock.
It was Critchell-Bullock who
really got a huge dose of Hornby – so much so that it
changed his life. Their expedition in 1923-4 where he
and Hornby lived in a smoky cave in the side of an esker
on Artillery Lake gave him many insights into this
unique man. He tried for years to make a go of the film
footage he shot on the trip. All the furs they had
trapped were useless by the time they made it out and it
was a financial bust, all part of the enigma that was
Powell-Williams brings all
of this together in a thorough and fascinating read.
Things get a bit tedious when his source material is
somewhat sparse in the middle of winter when the
threesome were desperately searching for food. The
book’s analytical and detailed description of the
effects of starvation is riveting.
Of course, it is 18-year-old
Edgar Christian who is largely the narrator of this tale
and its last survivor. His diligence in keeping a diary
under horrendous conditions was the spark that
guaranteed the Hornby torch would burn forever. But it
is Powell-Williams’ blending of all the sources that
makes this book work. He tells the story in a very
manner doling out huge amounts of minutiae as this
ill-fated expedition makes its way from England to the
shores of the Thelon.
It is also very useful to
hear from other sources like George Douglas, Guy
Blanchet and Stefansson. These respected - and
long-lived - men of the north certainly have an
important say in this story.
But does it fully explain
John Hornby? Of course not. How can you explain a man
who forbade Christian from taking a bible and himself
packed formal evening dress, complete with gold shirt
studs. But it adds layer to the level of understanding
of this enigma of a man who haunts us still.
— Michael Peake
Lost Lands, Forgotten
A Woman’s Journey to the Heart
HarperCollins, 2002 262 pp. $34.95
to Hornby and company perhaps the most famous canoe
tales of the north are the Hubbard and Wallace
expeditions of a century ago.
It would seem then, that
Lost Lands, Forgotten Stories is a bit of an odd title
for a book about these famous trips. But I guess it
Alexandra Pratt is a
young English writer with a taste for adventure,
She attempts to follow in the footsteps of the
plucky Mina Hubbard who in 1905 completed the
ill-fated expedition of her late husband Leonidas.
It takes but one turn
of the book’s cover, to the endpaper maps, to see
how little progress Alexandra and her lone Innu
guide, Jean Pierre Ashini, actually
made trying to get up the Naskapi River in the heart of
Mina Hubbard had three
strong guides including the redoubtable George Elson.
And the Naskapi River was much harder to get up in
Mina’s day, its flow had not been diverted as it is now
into the Churchill Falls hydro project.
For the casual reader this
book may seem like a wonderful and brave adventure. To
an experienced wilderness canoeist, it was doomed from
However great a guide Jean
Pierre may have been, it was way too much to ask him to
take this petite British neophyte on her first real
canoe trip. Pratt had originally hired a young man from
central Canada to be her guide whom she calls Neville.
This was not his real name. I know this because he
approached me for route info and spoke about his worries
of her preparedness for this trip. He pulled out when he
feared it would be a mess and Alexandra had to hurriedly
arrange to get a guide once she arrived in Labrador. She
was lucky to be in the very capable hands of Joe Goudie,
Labrador legend and all round great guy who helped her
make contacts and get plugged into the local community.
Without Joe, there’s no book.
Pratt writes well and makes
the most of the experience and you have to give her
credit for really trying despite the odds. She has many
historical threads to weave in and it’s too bad she
couldn’t have made it further to blend in some more. She
uses Mina Hubbard’s journals to breath life into her
story. It was a short trip in miles but took several
weeks. Her writing on the river is very vague when it
comes to describing particular points along the way and
how much, or little, progress they made in a particular
Some things just don’t ring
true which makes others suspect. The two were traveling
in the heat of a Labrador summer, with some really warm
weather. It makes no sense then that near the end of
their trip she describes Jean Pierre jumping into the
chest-deep river with, “The water only a few degrees
above freezing”. That would certainly NOT be the case as
shallow rivers of the region are not ice cold in August
especially during a very hot summer.
Pratt does use the chance to
tell the tale of the Innu people and their fight to
retain their land rights in Labrador. She was obviously
influenced by Jean Pierre who is active in the politics
of the region. Formerly known as the Naskapi and
Montagnais Indians, they have a long and proud tradition
of living in Labrador.
Eventually the end of their
line is reached and Pratt realizes they will not make it
up this very tough river. Then she finds out they cannot
make it down the river either as Jean Pierre had
sustained a knee injury along the way that he hadn’t
mentioned. That meant using her satphone and calling for
a helicopter–and paying for one - much to her shock.
Their boat was a classic wood & canvas Rollin Thurlow
Northwoods Canoe model her original guide had helped her
obtain - and it was left in the woods to be picked up on
a later winter trip.
The Hubbard story is a well
known one and never better told than in the book Great
Heart by Rugge and Davidson. How curious then that Lost
Lands never cites this seminal tome in its bibliography.
That seemed very strange to me.
Pratt does convey her story
well, the struggles, disappointment and the rugged
beauty of the Labrador landscape. She gets a rare chance
to see it intimately through the eyes of a native guide,
just like Mina Hubbard did. That was a great hook for
the story, too bad she couldn't complete the tale.
— Michael Peake