The minute this book arrived in my house, it was appropriated by my husband, who proceeded to chuckle
his way through a selection of the reminiscences and anecdotes it contains. I had hoped he would offer to write the review
as well, but he drew the line at that. Remarkable, all the same, simply because all these pieces have been contributed by
women, for women, on the basis that (to quote the author) "almost everything written on Canada's northland is by men" and
is about subjects which interest men. Toni Graeme, a former Women's Employment Counsellor for Yellowknife, has assembled these
pieces so as to represent a female point of view.
The curious thing is that the thirty-one little "stories", in their concern with the minutiae of everyday
life, actually capture the essence of northern Canada, the vast expanses of sparsely-populated country north of the 60th
parallel to which the title of the book refers. Furthermore, they do so in a way that is guaranteed to hold some appeal for
almost every type of reader, whether man, woman or child. Here is self-publishing at its best and most original: an attractive
large-format illustrated paperback, containing the lively if not always eloquent words of women who have never thought of
themselves as writers. From nurse to teacher, from shop assistant to civil servant, each takes her own slant on the "call
of the north".
Even those women who stayed at home to care for husband and children are pioneers in the truest sense,
having to be resourceful and imaginative just in order to hold the home together. Several of them describe the reckless courage
with which they drove off marauding bears. My personal favourites, though, are the various stories about transport, ranging
from the intrepid entertainers who made the drive north accompanied by two grand pianos on a trailer to the woman who set
fire to an aircraft with her cigarette!
"I can't think of one person in the North that I knew that I didn't admire," writes Mildred O'Callaghan
of her time in Yellowknife. I would go a stage further and say that there is no woman featured in this book that I don't admire
for her perseverance, good humour and sheer spirit of adventure. The only major criticism I could make is that the individual
stories are simply too brief. It's not clear whether the women were given a word limit for their contributions, but at times
they seem to be cut off short just as they are getting to the interesting bits. Perhaps that is all part of the fun - in order
to discover the full story, I need to pay a visit of my own to the frozen North. The Canadian tourist agencies have good reason
to be grateful to the authors.
Link to web site for this book
ISBN 1-55212-449-5 Published by Trafford, 2001.
Paperback, 102pp, illustrated. UK retail price
£8.00 plus P&P
Review by Deborah Fisher
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