Hiking Historic Trails
- Nicky Brink (Author) and Stephen R. Bown (Author)
Forgotten Highways: Wilderness Journeys Down the Historic Trails of the Canadian Rockies. Brindle & Glass (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Jane Lytton Gooch
This fascinating account of early exploration in the Canadian Rockies comes to life through the adventures of Nicky Brink and Stephen Bown, a husband and wife team, as they follow the historic trails. Standing on their skis and looking down on the Howse River one January day, they wondered about exploring to the end of the valley but discretely decided they needed more knowledge. Their research over the winter led to an awareness not only of Howse Pass, the first passage through the mountain barrier used by Native traders and David Thompson, but also several other passes with historic appeal: Athabasca Pass, an alternate route for David Thompson when hostile Peigan closed Howse Pass; Simpson Pass named after Sir George Simpson; and the passes in the Kananaskis probably used by Captain John Palliser. Along with these early explorers who were motivated by trade and nationalism, the authors were inspired by Mary Schäffer, the first surveyor of Maligne Lake, who traveled in the wilderness to enjoy its beauty and serenity. Using the journals of these four individuals and consulting numerous maps, the authors carefully planned a series of wilderness adventures for the following summer. Their purpose was to gain an appreciation of the accomplishments of these early explorers by following in their footsteps, and, fortunately, the trails, for the most part, still exist within park boundaries.
This book is a compelling account of adventures in the past and present. Each journey has two complementary narratives; the historical perspective with quotations from the early explorers is followed by the immediate impressions of the authors on the same trails, all recorded on a dictaphone. One quickly realizes that the contemporary journey is remarkably like the past; the modern hiker still has to cope with mountain weather, treacherous river fords, and tedious bushwhacking in fallen timber and devil’s club. Athabasca Pass, for example, is still a formidable place, guarded by high mountains and seemingly haunted by the spirits of past travelers. To honour the fur traders’ accomplishments, the authors and their companions had planned to propose the traditional toast at the Committee’s Punch Bowl, a small lake at the summit of the pass, but, sadly, driving rain forced them to retreat to a lower elevation. Tribulations were, nevertheless, balanced by the joy of backcountry travel—by seeing a grizzly bear at Elizabeth Lake after crossing Ferro Pass and by experiencing a happiness similar to Mary Schäffer’s in Maligne Valley. The authors’ attitude to their wilderness expeditions is an inspiration for those who might be inclined to make the same journeys. Despite the trials of wet weather and overgrown trails, they maintained their sense of humour and an appreciation for their good fortune in being able to explore these wilderness highways which played such a significant role in shaping Canada. Their book beckons us to follow.
- Worlds Within Worlds by Allan Brown
Books reviewed: A Random Gospel by David Helwig, Too Spare, Too Fierce by Patrick Lane, and Science Lessons by W. H. New
- Wanted: The Author by Meredith Quartermain
Books reviewed: A Painted Elephant by Jill Hartman, Alarum Within: Theatre Poems by Kimmy Beach, and with wax by derek beaulieu
- Wanted: New Readers by Paul Milton
Books reviewed: The More Easily Kept Illusions: The Poetry of Al Purdy by Robert Budde and Al Purdy, Speaking of Power: The Poetry of Di Brandt by Di Brandt and Tanis Macdonald, and Field Marks: The Poetry of Don McKay by Méira Cook and Don McKay
- Going with the Flow by Lawrence Mathews
Books reviewed: River Thieves by Michael Crummey
- Gauging Young Readers by Rick Gooding
Books reviewed: Molly's Cue by Alison Acheson, The Broken Thread by Linda Smith, and The Secret Fiend by Shane Peacock
MLA: Bown, Stephen R, Brink, Nicky, and Gooch, Jane Lytton. Hiking Historic Trails. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 25 Jan. 2015.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #197 (Summer 2008), Predators and Gardens. (pg. 120 - 121)
***Please note that the articles and reviews from the Canadian Literature website (www.canlit.ca) may not be the final versions as they are printed in the journal, as additional editing sometimes takes place between the two versions. If you are quoting from the website, please indicate the date accessed when citing the web version of reviews and articles.