Canada’s master storyteller returns to the North to chronicle the extraordinary stories of five inspiring and controversial characters.
Canada’s master storyteller returns to the North to bring history to life. Prisoners of the North tells the extraordinary stories of five inspiring and controversial characters whose adventures in Canada’s frozen wilderness are no less fascinating today than they were a hundred years ago.
We meet Joseph Boyle, the self-made millionaire gold prospector from Woodstock, Ontario, who went off to the Great War with the word “Yukon” inscribed on his shoulder straps, and solid-gold maple-leaf lapel badges. There he survived several scrapes with rogue Bolsheviks, earned the admiration of Trotsky, saved Romania from the advancing Germans, and entered into a passionate affair with its queen.
We meet Vilhjalmur Steffansson, who knew every corner of the Canadian North better than any explorer. His claim to have discovered a tribe of “Blond Eskimos” brought him world-wide attention and landed him in controversy that would dog him the rest of his life.
There is John Hornby, the eccentric public-school Englishman so enthralled with the Barren Grounds where he lived that he finally starved to death there with the two young men who had joined his adventures.
Berton gives us a riveting account of the contradictory life of Robert Service — a world-famous poet whose self-effacement was completely at odds with his public persona.
And we meet the extraordinary Lady Jane Franklin, who belied every last stereotype about Victorian women with her immense determination, energy, and sense of adventure. She travelled more widely than even her famous explorer husband, Sir John. And her indefatigable efforts to find him after his disappearance were legendary.
A Yukoner himself, Berton weaves these tales of courage, fortitude, and reckless lust for adventure with a love for Canada’s harsh north. With his sharp eye for detail and faultless ear for a good story, Pierre Berton shows once again why he is Canada’s favourite historian.
The five mid-19th- to mid-20th-century Arctic adventurers Berton profiles here won't be familiar to most readers, but that doesn't make them any less heroic. Joe Boyle, "King of the Klondike," for example, was an innovative gold prospector who was never satisfied settling in one situation for too long, whether it was with a wife or in a job. This inability to stay in one place eventually made him a hero in Romania, where, after a series of extraordinary events, he became a trusted intermediary between that country's citizens and the Bolsheviks. Similar stories about amazing accomplishments fill this workmanlike yet quirky book, as Berton, a veteran Arctic chronicler (Klondike Fever, etc.), sheds light on the lives of Vilhjalmur Stefansson, who deeply admired and lived among the Inuit; Lady Jane Griffin, the first woman to be awarded the Royal Geographic Society's Founders Medal; naturalist John Hornby, who took pride in his ability to live off the land yet starved to death on the banks of the Thelon River thanks to a terrible miscalculation; and poet Robert Service, "the Bard of the North." Although the work suffers at times from a plodding pace, there's no denying Berton's admiration for these people. As he shows, they were always seeking and never satisfied; it's the quintet's shared feeling of wanderlust that makes this book endearing. Photos.