Friday, October 4, 2013

I Married the Klondike by Laura Beatrice Berton

I purchased this book in Dawson, the Yukon and would have missed it if not for one of the locals with whom I was talking in that book store of sorts.  I am so fortunate to have picked it up, as it is not a book available or known in the states, or lower 48 as they refer to us up north.  This  is the memoir of Laura Berton who went to the Klondike in 1907 as a 29 year old kindergarten teacher from Toronto leaving her family and life of upper  class comfort for the wilderness.  She was drawn to the life in what they called the Paris of the North, met  the man who would become her husband and  raised her family, having her first child at  42 years old.  I was familiar after traveling there with Pierre Berton's, her son, excellent historical chronicles of the  far north.   Because we  were there in August, this historical writing resounded with me. 

It is a  concise, well written book, at only 231 pages but filled with her perspective in the rugged land and winters.  A magnificent forward by Robert Service, the poet of the north and her son, Pierre are in this republished edition.  Her opening line, is almost an understatement of the life she would have in the bitter cold and the wilderness in the early 1900's, "I imagine that in everyone's life there eventually comes a moment when a simple question or a change meeting or a knock on the door changes the entire course of one's future."   It is a wealth of history and personal anecdotes as well as a unique chronicle of the decline of Dawson after the gold discovery of 1898 peaked. 

In talking about the journey to Whitehorse to Dawson on foot in winter, I shuddered.  It is a rugged land and although we on tour made that trek in train, dome car and by motor coach bus with all amenities  I  appreciated and imagined the hardships endured back in the day. Page 136.mentions the walk ins when the stage would take a fort night, considered too long for the seekers.    "I'm walking in you know, he said, talking as casually as if he were about to take a stroll down Regent Street.  And, off he went, in his brisk way, on a 360 mile hike through deep snow, lonely forest, frozen river and high plateau, in the dead of winter with the thermometer well below zero and the blue Aurora his only beacon.  A short time later we had a letter from him from Dawson describing the experience." 

Seldom do I  include this much from the cover but it conveys the
outstanding historical content and excellent writing of this book. 
 It is a book I will keep for future reference and one I suspect few of my friends will ever read.  I give it 4 ****.