Thursday, December 29, 2011

Reader's Diary #788- Frank Oppel (Compiled by): Tales of the Canadian North

Tales of the Canadian North, a 500 page collection of essays and short stories from the late 1800s and early 1900s, was the most difficult book for me to get through in 2011. It wasn't the worst book I read this year, but it was certainly a tough slog. Not only was it 500 pages, but each page was divided into 2 columns and the font was ridiculously small. And a good many of the stories were so monotonously boring.

But not all. It was a bit of a surprise for me in one regard. Given the title, I expected it mostly to be north of 60 stories. For the Canadian Book Challenge I'm aiming to read 13 of such books. While I'll include this book in my total as some of the stories were indeed set that far north, it seems that "Canadian North" was more loosely defined here as the Canadian outdoors. Though given that a great number of the authors were American adventure travelers, I guess all of Canada was technically the north.

Tales of the Canadian North is full of manly men and canoes. Some are clearly fictional accounts, some are clearly not, some deal with outdoor peril, the others deal with murderers and traitors. It was interesting to see such a pan-Canadian book feel so similar no matter the province or territorial setting. For all the modern talk about our regional differences, there is certainly a common vein in our collective history.

Of course these are all told by a certain type of author as well. Though I recognized few authors besides Canada's Charles G. D. Roberts, it became apparent early on that they were all white, outdoor enthusiasts, hunters predominately, and as many of them* seemed to easily be able to put their (mostly American) lives on hold and hire guides to take them through the wilds of Canada for several months at a go, I'd venture to guess that most were also independently wealthy. Many of the stories originally appeared in the American publication Outing magazine. So the common vein and feel of the stories may also have been a product of a very narrow perspective.

It's also a very dated perspective. For the most part the "Indians" are untrustworthy and inferior and woman are irrelevant (unless betraying someone). Any nostalgia for the good old days of exploring the great unknown, matching your wits against nature, and so on are tampered by the bigotry. But still, Tales of the Canadian North gives an informative, albeit limited, view of Canadian history.

*The complete list of authors listed in order of first appearance: Lawrence Mott, William Bleasdell Cameron, Andrew J. Stone, William Davenport Hulbert, P.T. McGrath, Tappan Adney, Agnes C. Laut, Therese Guerin Randall, Leonidas Hubbard Jr., Charles G. D. Roberts, Geo. W. Orton, H. Christie Thompson, R. G. Taber, Herman Whitaker, A. Hyatt Verrill, Fitzherbert Leather, Frank H. Risteen, John C. Martin, Vingie E. Roe, Emerson Hough, James C. Allan, W. A. Fraser, Robert Dunn, Rex E. Beach, Robert T. Morris, A. J. Stone, Maximilian Foster, Ernest Ingersoll, Caspar Whitney, Edwin C. Kent, Riley H. Allen, Duncan Campbell Scott.

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