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Alford, Monty.

Whitehorse, Burns & Morton, c1986. 123pp, paper, $10.95, ISBN 0-920961-00-2. Distributed by Burns & Morton, P.O. Box 4315, Whitehorse, Yukon, Y1A 3T3. CIP

Grades 8 and up
Reviewed by Adele Case

Volume 15 Number 1
1987 January

Yukon Water Doctor is the smallish, softcover memoir of a life's work that has been anything but soft. Monty Alford, the author, is a lucky man, who more than once survived boating accidents, immersions in icy water, and float-plane mishaps. More than anything, Alford's book tells us, modestly and self-effacingly, about his decades long love affair with the Yukon.

Hostile weather was an ever-present adversary, except for a few months in the summer. Oddly, though, Alford (trained as a surveyor in England and raised far from snowshoes and sledge dogs) thrived in the solitude of the lonely northern environment. His survey job presented him with frazil, slush, and rock-hard river surface ice, which had to be drilled, chopped, or dynamited so that he could carry on with his hydrographic work. To reach the recording areas, he often had to struggle through heavy snow in sub-zero weather, over impossible terrain with just one guide. As the northern rivers are ice covered for half the year, much of the metering work must be completed in difficult conditions. Alford was not only equal to the demands, he thrived in the arctic climate.

Dubbed "the water doctor man" by Pelly Indians, Alford's title explains his important record-keeping work for the federal Water Survey of Canada. The book is a collection of Alford's reminiscences of the highlights of his life and his adventures on many of the well-known rivers, including the notorious Nahanni and the misnamed Primrose, which Alford describes as an "acrobatic" stream, tumbling rather than flowing to its mouth. Each chapter has a starred overall map, but a good map of the entire territory showing all the metered areas would have been a useful addition to the book.

The book is dedicated to the memory of two of the author's friends who perished in a white-out over Lake Labarge, the body of water immortalized in Service's poem about Sam McGee. If there is a weakness, it is that the book is so low key and almost deprecatory in tone that Alford does not give us the drama of even the most hair-raising incidents he talks about. Why did the Primrose River dogs have to be tied to separate trees? Why are white-outs so feared, and what brings them about? Why are those who love the northern lights such a humble breed of outdoorsmen? What qualities must a man possess to fit in and become a true Yukoner? Perhaps Monty Alford will write again, and let us know.

Adele Case, Britannia S.S., Vancouver, B.C.
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