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Cover of issue #220

Current Issue: #220 Tracking CanLit (Spring 2014)

Canadian Literature’s Issue 220 (Spring 2014) is now available. The issue features a wide range of articles and book reviews as well as a selection of new Canadian poetry.

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.

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MLA: Bown, Stephen R, Brink, Nicky, and Gooch, Jane Lytton. Hiking Historic Trails. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 21 Dec. 2014.

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.

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