Wednesday, July 1, 2015

In Canada's Wonderful Northland

In Canada’s Wonderful Northland: A Story of Eight Months of Travel by Canoe, Motorboat, and Dog-Team on the Northern Rivers and along the New Quebec Coast of Hudson Bay, by W. Tees Curran and H. A. Calkins  (Pub. by G. P. Putnam’s Sons, New York & London, 1920, with 60 photos and maps, 331pp of text or 334pp with index.)

This is an extremely fascinating book.  The 1,800 mile trip that created its story was done in 1912.  It was the second of such scientific explorations of the still unknown Quebec, the first taking place in 1907.  That trip was reported in another book titled, “Glimpses of Northern Canada, a Land of Hidden Treasures,” which was published by the Canadian Government.  It was so widely received and in such demand, that writing this second book was a foregone conclusion before this trip even started.

To wrap our minds around such an undertaking demands we first consider that Quebec covers over 17,000 square miles, a fifth the size of the entire United States, and six times greater than Great Britain, and larger than the British Isles, France, Spain, and Germany combined.  It had been 400 years since its discovery, and yet save for the indigenous Eskimos, Indians, and a few trappers, so little understood that Voltaire, after the transfer of Quebec from France to Great Britain in the Treaty of Paris, made this statement.  “We were foolish enough to establish ourselves on the snows of Canada, among the bears and the beavers. …….(The loss of) These fifteen hundred leagues, being a frozen desert, are not a very considerable loss.”

Pinterest search, from near Fort George, circa 1900.

Besides understanding the need to explore and ascertain the new land’s treasures in minerals and other natural resources, the reader is given a clear understanding of the challenges endured, the lives of people among the Hudson’s Bay Company posts, the nature of local Eskimo and Indian groups, and even the struggles of living among teams of Huskies.  The challenges of traveling with scant knowledge of the region, little to no navigational information, no communications between the groups of the expedition or the outside world, sometimes little food or even wood for starting a fire, and savage weather are clearly brought to the reader.  The launch was used mainly to transport the supplies needed to sustain them for eight months, but the canoe was used for exploration, reaching the shore, and more importantly, while pinned down for days on shore, using the canoe in rough seas to recover supplies from the launch, which may be anchored a mile or more offshore to keep it from being bashed on boulders.

From the point of view as an adventure, a canoeing story, or acquiring a better understanding of history, this is a book well worth your time.

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