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Home > Magazine > History > Books Tips for the Great White North

Books Tips for the Great White North
August 17, 2012

Much North American heritage relates to Canada and its backwoods history. The voyageurs hugely influenced the development of the Continent. Well, their influence has spread onward all the way to today, in rather a direct fashion. There are a nice passle of books out there that outline this connection and help give us a more solid feeling of cultural connection after reading them... I recommend them all.

"Keeper of the Wild: Life of Ernest Oberholtzer" -- story of the quirky backwoods guy who took on a major developer and won, saving the land that he then helped set up as the Boundary Waters.

Anything by or about Grey Owl, including the movie starring Remington Steele. : ) He's a guy who helped start today's conservation movement, yet he had at least one amazing wrinkle to his tale.

Anything by Hap Wilson, including "Grey Owl & Me," but especially "The Cabin," about the various cabins that this poor young hippy woodsman set up for himself and his friends in various parts of the Algonquin Provincial Park region. Hap is still out there and fiesty, I believe. He's a canoer who has found a way to live and contribute "way up there." He's also published the main books of river maps for the region which feature his own mapping artwork and sketches and much opinionating.

"True North" by Elliot Merrick -- the first memoir of a modern-type city person spending a winter "getting away from it all" in the remote bush of the interior of Labrador. In the 1920's. He and his wife were allowed to join the annual winter trapper migration to the interior. No safety net. LOTS of canoe miles -- voyageur amounts. Then months of sub-zero. Then hundreds of miles of snowshoeing back out on the river before the melt -- like 30 miles a day pulling loads, for weeks. His wife was the tough one. Elliot was lucky to live. Wonderful tale of many dimensions, including white coastal trapper interactions with indian remote interior trapper families. I think in his elder years he was inspirational to, and pals with, the Conovers, whose wilderness skills books are wonderful -- especially their "Winter Walker" editions (several have been made of the same basic book).

"Attack on Michilamackinac" by Alexander Henry (edited from his journal) -- all up north Michiganders have to read this, so my notice is probably already redundant, but *just in case* -- it's a nonstop total action story of a 21-yr-old kid who jumps in WAY over his head and convinces someone to let him honcho a load of trade goods to the north. Every day after that he almost gets killed. Tons of Indian lore. This guy then went on to start the rival to the Hudson Bay Company. He worked the bush from age 21 to about 80 then wrote his memoir. Rock star! (This book covers his first year. It really should be a movie.) One of my favorite parts is how the whole up north tribal world gets rescued from starvation each Feb by the sugaring rush and how they put on 20 lbs in a few weeks living purely on sugar.

Group of Seven painter books are good to be familiar with -- they're the painters of northwoods Canada -- and the Tom Thomson story is a good one even with some mystery involved.

"One Incredible Journey" by Verlen Kruger and Clint Waddell. There's also a truly dandy documentary film about the same trip called "Never Before, Never Again." Verlen and Clint paddle from the east coast of Canada to the west coast in one summer, combining both the major fur trade routes. From snow-out to snow-back-in. When they started the snow actually wasn't out so they portaged for many (urban) miles until they got to running water.

"Waterwalker" -- documentary film by Bill Mason (I have DVDs of this for sale). He spent a year canoeing the perimeter of Lake Superior showing natural and industrial aspects. Marvelous narration and filmmaking.

"They Shared to Survive" by Selwyn Dewdney -- profiles of various farnorthwoods Indian tribes and their cultures. Not such a thick book but very insightful. Nice artwork throughout. Covers basically all the tribes touched upon in the books above. Coast to coast is covered. This guy also published a very rare book about the sacred birch scrolls of the Ojibwa. The MEL library system has one copy. Technically it's still forbidden info but the culture behind the scrolls and their lore is amazing. I found both of these books while exploring the Migration Scroll topic (I've posted on it here before).

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