The New North: An Account of a Woman’s 1908 Journey through Canada to the Arctic.

An engaging account of a summer journey in 1908 to the Arctic Sea, with much about books and also about Inuit ethnography, etc.

p. 8: The Bible Society of Winnipeg sells Bibles printed in fifty-one different languages—Armenian, Arabic, Burmese, Cree, Esth, … and nine and thirty other tongues. It is to be supposed that some buy their Bible not because it is the Bible but in order to feast the eye on the familiar characters of the home tongue. So would Robinson Crusoe have glutted his sight with a copy of the London Times,could the goat have committed the anachronism of digging one out from among the flotsam of the kelp.

p. 12, on the visit of Mrs. Humphrey Ward to the Winnipeg Canadian Club.

p. 19 on cultural life in Edmonton: From the next tent float the strains of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, and, as we stop to listen, a gentleman and his wife step out. An auto picks them up and off they whirl to Jasper Avenue. The Lord o’ the Tents of Shem disappears into his bank and Milady drives on to the Government house to read before the Literary Club a paper on Browning’s Saul. To the tenderfoot from the South it is all delightfully disconcerting—oxen and autos and Browning on the Saskatchewan!

p. 27, Athabasca Landing: Here we have a large establishment of the Hudson’s Bay Company, an Anglican and a Roman Mission , a little public school, a barracks of the Northwest Mounted Police, a post office, a dozen stores, a reading room, two hotels, and a blacksmith shop, and for population a few whites leavening a host of Cree-Scots half-breeds….

Athabasca Landing is part of the British Empire. But English is at a discount here; Cree and a mixture of these are spoken on all sides…. The wise missionary translates his Bible stories into the language of the latitude. As Count von Hammerstein says, ‘What means a camel to a Cree? I tell him it is a moose that cannot go through a needle’s eye.” The Scriptural sheep and goats become caribou and coyotes, and the celestial Lamb is typified by the baby seal with its coat of shimmering whiteness.

p. 29: HYMNS in the Syllabic characters for the use of the cree Indians in the Diocese of Athabasca [vignette of village church] 1901 Printed at St. Matthew’s Mission Athabasca Landing.

p. 28-30: At the foot of the hill we visit the English parsonage, with its old-time sun-dial at the garden-gate. Within, we find what must surely be the farthest north printing-press. Here two devoted women have spent years [text in syllabic Cree of Galatians 1.20. and “Jesu lover of my soul”] of their lives printing in Cree on a hand-press syllabic hymns and portions of the Gospel for the enlightenment of the Indians. We wander into the school where a young teacher is explaining to his uneasy disciples the intricacies of Present Worth and Compound Interest. Idly we wondered to what use these bare-footed half-Cree urchins will put their exact banking knowledge.

p. 34, on the Hudson’s Bay company: In the days when the Company had its birth, [1670] the blind Milton was dictating his message, and the liberated Bunyan preached the spoken word, the iniquitous Cabal Ministry was forming in England, and Panama was sacked by Morgan the buccaneer…. [and the Governor of Virginia] …was inspired to proclaim piously, “I hope we shall have neither free schools nor printing these hundred years, for learning has brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world, and printing has divulged them. God keep us from both!”

p. 69, re Mr. Harris of Fond du Lac: Scholarly and versatile, we are to find in Mr. Harris a very mint of Indian lore and woodland wisdom and the most wonderful memory I have ever encountered. All the vicissitudes of a Northern life have failed to rub out one line of the Virgil and Horace of his schoolboy days, whole chapters of which, without one false quantity, he repeats for us in a resonant voice. He can recite the whole of “Paradise Lost” as faultlessly as Macaulay was credited with being able to do.

p. 77-78, gives an account of the White House desk made from timbers of the Franklin Search ship, the Resolute.

p. 78-79, re the Indian schools at Fort Chipewyan: The kiddies are taught one day in French and the next day in English; but when they hide behind their spellers to talk about the white visitors, the whisper is in Chipewyan. What do they learn? Reading, (vertical) writing, arithmetic, hymns, and hoeing potatoes, grammar, sewing and shoemaking, and one more branch, never taught in Southern schools [fish cleaning]…. If fish be brain food, then should this convent of Chipewyan gather in medals, degrees, and awards, capturing for its black-eyed boys Rhodes scholarships ad lib.

p. 94, at Fort Chipewyan: We call upon Mr. Harris and his Chipewyan wife, a tall handsome woman whom he addresses as

“Josette.” Their three girls are being educated in the convent at Fort Chipewyan. The room in which we sit reflects the grafting of red life on white. A rough bookcase of birchwood, with thumbed copies of schoolboy classics, Carlyle, the Areopagitica, and the latest Tractate on Radium, gives one a glimpse of the long, long winter nights when all race and latitude limitations fade away and the mind of the Master of Fond du Lack jumps the barrier of ice and snow to mix with the great world of thought outside. “Stone walls do not a prison make nor iron bars a cage.”

p. 139-41, Fort Simpson: An outer stairway leading to the second story of a big building invites us. Opening the door, we find ourselves in the midst of an old library, and moth and rush, too, here corrupt. We close the door softly behind us and try to realize what it meant to bring a library from England to Fort Simpson a generation ago. First, there arose the desire in the mind of some man for something beyond dried meat and bales of fur. He had to persuade the authorities in England to send out the books. Leather-covered books cost something six or seven decades ago, and the London shareholders liked better to get money than to spend it. We see the precious volumes finally coming across the Atlantic in wooden sailing-ships to Hudson Bay, follow them on the long portages, watch them shoot rapids and make journeys by winter dog-sled, to reach Simpson at last on the backs of men. The old journals reveal stories of the discussion evoked by the reading of these books afterward as, along with the dried fish, deer-meat, and other inter-fort courtesies, they passed from post to post. Was never a circulating library like this one. And now the old books, broken-backed and disemboweled, lie under foot, and none so poor to do them reverence. Everything is so old in this North that there is no veneration for old things.

It is but a few years since the founder of this library died, and his son now sits in his saddle at Fort Simpson. If you were to wonder across the court, as I did to-day, and look into the Sales Shop, you would see the presentation sword of this last-generation Carnegie ignobly slicing bacon for an Indian customer. Sic transit gloria mundi.

What are the books which this sub-Arctic library sent out? We get down on the floor and gently touch the historic old things. Isn’t it Johnson who says, ‘I love to browse in a library’? Judging by the dust and cobwebs, there hasn’t been much browsing done among these volumes for years. Present-day Simpson has seldom ‘fed on the dainties that are bred in a book.’ Here is a first edition of The Spectator, and next it a Life of Garrick, with copies of Virgil, and all Voltaire and Corneille in the original. A set of Shakespeare with exquisite line drawings by Howard shows signs of hard reading, and so does the Apology for the Life of Mr. Colly Cibber. One wonders how a man embedded in Fort Simpson, as a fly in amber, would ever think of sending to the Grand Pays for Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy, yet we find it here, cheek by jowl with The Philosophy of Living or the Way to Enjoy Life and Its Comforts. The Annual Register of History, Politics, and Literature of the Year 1764 looks plummy, but we have to forego it. The lengthy titles of the books of this vintage, as for instance, Death-Bed Triumphs of Eminent Christians, Exemplifying the Power of Religion in a Dying Hour, bring to mind the small boy’s definition of porridge—“fillin’, but not satisfyin’.” Two more little books with big titles are Actors’ Budget of Wit and Merriment, Consisting of Monologues, Prologues and Epilogues, and The London Prisons, with an Account of the More Distinguished Persons Who Have Been Confined in Them.

But the book that most tempts our cupidity is Memoirs of a Miss A—–n, Who Was Educated for a Nun, with Many Interesting Particulars. We want that book, we want to take it on with us and read it when we reach the Land of the Eskimo, where the Mackenzie slips into the Arctic by all its silver mouths. We lift the volume up, and put it down again, and we hunger to steal it. Jekyll struggles with Hyde. At last the Shorter Catechism and the Westminster Confession of Faith triumph; we put it down and softly close the door behind us. And ever since we have regretted our Presbyterian training.

p. 144, gives a brief portrait of the Anglican Bishop Bompas: Bishop Bompas was one of the greatest linguists the Mother Country ever produced. Steeped in Hebrew and the classics when he entered the Northland, he immediately set himself to studying the various native languages, becoming thoroughly master of the Slavi, Beaver, Dog-Rib, and Tukudk dialects. When Mrs. Bompas sent him a Syriac testament and lexicon, he threw himself with characteristic energy into the study of that tongue. There is something in the picture of this devoted man writing in Slavi, primers in Dog-Rib, and a Prayer Book in syllabic Chipewyan, which brings to mind the figure of Caxton bending his silvered head over the blocks of the first printing-press in the old Almonry so many years before. What were the “libraries” in which this Arctic Apostle did his work? The floor of a scow on the Peace, a hole in the snow, a fetid corner of an Eskimo hut. His “Bishop’s Palace,” when he was not afloat, consisted of a bare room twelve feet by eight, in which he studied, cooked, slept, and taught the Indians.

p. 173-74: Indians beg and boast, the Eskimo does neither. With no formulated religion or set creed, he has a code of ethics which forbids him to turn the necessity of another to his own advantage. Amundsen’s farewell to his Eskimo friends sets the thoughtful of us thinking, “Goodbye, my dear, dear friends. My best wish for you is that civilization may never reach you.”

p. 265, in Vermilion on the Peace River: Waiting for steamboat connection, we are for weeks in this glorious autumn weather, guests in the hospitable home of Mr. and Mrs. Wilson…. It is a modern house, with beds of old-fashioned pansies and sweet-Williams and rows of hollyhocks on all sides. The upper verandah affords a view of the Peace, here fully a mile in width, of incomparable beauty. To the visitor who steps over its threshold, Mr. Wilson’s library indicates at once the reading man and the clever artificer. Scientific works of reference, good pictures, the latest magazines, certainly look inviting to ragged travellers who have opened no books, save those of nature and human-nature, for five long months…. Admiring the outcome of hand and head, we get also a glimpse of a warm heart, for we are quick to notice that all these carefully-filed magazines and papers are available for reference to any one in the settlement, whether fort employé or not, who cares to come in here for a quick hour to read.