Master wilderness storyteller Mowat (High Latitudes, 2003, etc.) spins a rousing tale of travels through the Canadian Far North during 1947, darkened a bit by forebodings about the future.
The author went to the barren lands west of Hudson Bay in the postwar period as an assistant to a scientist he immediately disliked. Mowat considered their work “little more than high-grade plundering ventures devoted to slaughtering everything non-human or non-domesticated,” and he’d had had enough of that during the war. So before long he took ill-tempered parting from the scientist and pushed off with Charles Schweder, a Metis trapper. They checked on Schweder’s lines as they roved, but mostly the pair explored parts unknown, experienced the great migration of caribou, and met native people, inland-dwelling Inuit uncorrupted by contact with the population to the south. Mowat also ran into curious pockets of white settlers and gathered their stories; he hunted for the stories of the Indians and the Metis he encountered as well. To these narratives, he brings his acute observational powers and participatory enthusiasm, which also fire his descriptions of a land of golden eskers, big spruce, clear lakes, green willow swales, freshwater seals, crashing rapids, grizzlies and ptarmigan, and, always, mosquitoes. Mowat deplores the Canadian government’s abuse of native peoples, the diseases that decimated their number, the relief supplies that never came as promised to the dislocated populations. Even the missionaries, he notes, “speculated that the native’s pagan beliefs might have brought them nearer to God than did . . . Christianity.” The author shows off skills developed over decades as he comfortably sets the scene (“I spent the best part of my childhood roaming the central Saskatchewan prairie”) and alludes to the life of roaming to come.
A superior example of Mowat’s chronicling powers, illuminating a grand Canadian region that was about to change forever.