September 2014

Canoeing with the Cree

Eric Sevareid: Canoeing with the Cree (Minneapolis: Borealis Books, first edition, 1969, Borealis edition, 2004)

Severeid - Canoeing with the Cree
I suppose that the adventure of a lifetime can come at any age, but for Eric Sevareid, the trip was in his late teenage years when with quite a bit more energy and audacity than many his age, Eric and a friend took a 2,250 mile canoe trip from Minneapolis to Hudson Bay. They headed upstream until they got to the Red River of the North and from there made their way to Lake Winnipeg, across the lake and down the river to Hudson Bay. It was a remarkable trip for a single summer - considered by many to be impossible, but with more than a small amount of luck the two were successful.

There were risks that could have led to disaster, with huge waves and significant problems, but somehow they accomplished the nearly impossible and rendered it not impossible. Eric Sevareid showed the signs of the newsman that he was to become with accurate, cogent and engaging writing.

The book is a quick read, but great fun and another one of those “must read” books for those interested in northern canoe adventures.

Chance Along

Christina and Kirby Salisbury: Chance Along: A Wind Worth Waiting For (Floweree, Montana: Biama Books, , 2013)

Salisbury - Chance Along
I don’t know how many of us there are, but there have to be a lot of people who read magazines like “Wooden Boat” and “Messing About in Boats” who dream of building a really big sailboat - capable of making ocean cruises. We pour over plans and think about the layout of a live aboard boat. And then we never really build that boat. A few start the boats and eventually leave an unfinished project among the debris of their legacy. And a very small number of folks start that boat, see it through to completion, and move aboard to live and explore the world.

Tina and Kirby Salisbury really built their boat and Chance Along is both the name of the boat and the memoir they wrote about the process of building. With a poetic and artistic style, a deep respect for sustainability and the power of nature, they have written a superb true adventure story and a compliment to their first book, Treehouse Perspectives.

I admit that I’m a bit biased as I am a Kirby’s cousin and I watched the progress of their boat from a distance. As I was going to school and launching my career, I found small ways to help, melting lead for ballast, helping scrounge some tools and parts that were needed, and mostly observing and listening to the stories of the boat and its progress.

The book is a delightful story and one that every boatbuilder and would be boatbuilder should read.

Distant Summers

P.G. Downes, edited by R.H. Cockburn: Distant Summers: P.G. Downes’ Journals of Travels in Northern Canada. Volume 1: 1936-1938; Volume II: 1939 - 1947 (Ottawa: McGahern Stewart Publishing, 2012)

Downes - Distant Summers
P.G. Downes’ Journals are a rare and wonderful treasure. He kept stunningly accurate records of his travels, including sketches, photographs and maps. His interest in the people of the north distinguish his journals from other travelogues. Two large volumes made for a wonderful time of reading and discovering the lands and the peoples of the north. Each trip had a different itinerary and different challenges. Downes usually traveled with a companion, but the last trip is a solo journey that tested his skills as a paddler and a wilderness survivor.

I’m sure I’ll be coming back to these journals, with their detailed appendices about individuals; Cree and Chipewan religion, lore, customs, traditions and practices; the operations of the Hudson Bay Company and other trading companies and so much more.

These two volumes record a narrow window in the story of the far north, and it is a time that is now past. What a joy to share the journey!