The Journal of Canadian

Wilderness Canoeing

  WINTER 2004

PAGE 8

OUTFIT 115
 

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Canoelit

 

 

 

Canoelit

Reviewed by Michael Peake

The Man Who Mapped the Arctic

The Intrepid Life of George Back, Franklin’s Lieutenant

By Peter Steel

Raincoast Books, Vancouver, 2003

288pp, $39.95

ISBN: 1-55192648-2

It appears the Franklin Myth, and those around it, shows little signs of waning as we get deeper into yet another century.

A fine book has emerged on one of the giants of that era, George Back. Intrepid life, indeed. Like so many of his era, young George was serving in the Royal Navy before he turned 12 and was imprisoned by Napolean’s army for several years which certainly shaped his character.

Author Steele does a superb job on the narrative of this tales that spans eight decades, always keeping it interesting. It reads like a great magazine piece and not a stuffy artifact of history. The section on Back’s years as a French prisoner were particularly enlightening. Penal service at that time

was vastly different than now, and he had the ability to move around the country experiencing different forms of incarceration as well as enjoying the bawdy pleasures of France at a young age. It was a life-changing meeting with an old Navy man at the time, that the teenage Back was told to shape up and harness his obvious talents that began Back’s exemplary career as a leader, artist and tough traveller. 

Add to that, a constant complainer about mosquitoes in the north. That makes Back all the more real to us and flies [sic] in the face of the pious and puffy Franklin who could never bear to kill one of God’s smallest creatures.

The Man who Mapped the Arctic is both a joy and revelation to read. George Back was a very real, and imperfect, character in an exciting era of hardship and heroism. Peter Steele keeps this story in touch with George Back’s contemporary times and ours, putting it into context for both eras. In doing so he has done a service both to George Back and his grateful readers.

Ancient Mariner

The Amazing Adventures of Samuel Hearne

By Peter Steel

HarperCollins, Toronto, 2003

334pp, $36.95

ISBN: 0-00-200098-9

Ken McGoogan brings his non-fiction novelist approach to the iconic Samuel Hearne in Ancient Mariner. The idea of using actual dialogue attributed to long-dead people is off-putting to some but he shows it can work.

Hearne, like George Back was sent into the Royal Navy at a young age in a very tough time– a century before Back.

McGoogan is great at weaving a tale with style and personal dialogue. He contends Coleridge’s classic poem  The Rime

of the Ancient Mariner is based on Hearne. He also delves into the actual events of the Bloody Falls massacre and two centuries worth of theories on it. Fascinating stuff.

Hearne’s epic 2200 mile journey across the breadth of northern Canada is enough for such a book, but there were many other wonderful accomplishments. McGoogan sometimes pushes too hard to spin-doctor Hearne’s motives but he brings up all the facts and opinions and it all makes for absorbing reading for northern paddlers who marvel at the man’s exploits.

 

Nunavik

Arctic Quebec in Pictures

Photographs by Henrik Wittenborn

Province of Quebec, 2003

$49.95

ISBN: 2-551-19632-9

For years it was simply known as Ungava, which means ‘far away.’ But Nunavik, a variation of Nunavut, is the appellation that the large and rugged area known as Arctic Quebec goes by now.

There’s nothing quite like Ungava, as some of us still call it. As a frequent summer visitor to its interior, I have found it to offer; beauty, hardship and heartbreaking toil and utter joy. This will be a hard book to find for some people as it is published by the Province of Quebec as part of their Coins de Pays series (Corners of our Land) and available through provincial book outlets.

It is a beautiful 10 by 13 inch full colour book containing more than 100 pages of photos by the Quebec-based photographer Heiko Wittenborn who has shot more than 10,000 exposures of Nunavik. The photos are from all seasons and in all shades of light. Although the book is entirely in French, it features simply pictures and small captions that most people can make their way through. Although it is certainly not a canoeing book there many rivers featured including the George and a spectacular aerial view of Limestone Falls (see opposite page!) on the Caniapisau River. Wittenborn shoots of lot of stuff for Quebec Tourism and has clearly great access to all areas of the north. For many people wondering what all the fuss is about, this book will introduce them to the harsh, and largely unseen, beauty of Ungava/Nunavik.

 Winter 2004         Outfit 115 

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Maps and information herein are not intended for navigational use, and are not represented to be correct in every respect.

All pages intended for reference use only, and all pages are subject to change with new information and without notice.

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