The author and his college-age son lowered their canoes into the waters off Fort McMurray in the northeast comer of Alberta to retrace the 1789 journey of the merchant/explorer Alexander Mackenzie--1700 miles of rivers and lakes to the Arctic Ocean. Although Mead is an outdoorsman who can paddle a mean canoe, he is essentially more interested in people and their ways than in observing nature. To be sure, there's a good deal about wind and weather with an occasional self-directed tirade when Mead does something ""idlotic""--like allowing the canoe to drift away or a candle to melt a hole in the tent floor. However, between re-creations of sections of Mackenzie's journal (doggedly composed by Mackenzie prow-side among natural and human storms), Mead comments upon the changing face of Canada's Northwest Territory and talks to some of its denizens. There are the deserted trappers' cabins; river traffic diverted to road and rail; and around the bend, after a stretch of wilderness, the raw towns with the familiar montage of airport-motel-bars-porn-magazines-and-oil-drums. As for the plight of the Indians and Eskimos, either dispersed or gathered in settlements, the interests of those 20 thousand individuals ""do not weigh very heavily against the interests of the 22 million other Canadians. And that finally is the issue."" An energetic, personal, splayed-out chronicle, intermittently informative and generally engaging.