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Berton, Pierre
Illustrated by Paul McCusker Toronto, McClelland & Stewart, 1992. 84pp, paper, $5.99, ISBN 0-7710-1434-1. (Exploring the Frozen North) (Adventures in Canadian History). CIP.

Grades 6 to 8/Ages 11 to 13

Reviewed by Hugh A. Cook

Volume 20 Number 5
1992 October

This is Pierre Berton's first book in the "Exploring the Frozen North" mini-series. Berton stated that he wished to present the true facts of these explorations and would not add even dialogue that was not known to be accurate. He does, however, relate the events in a colourful and interesting style.

Edward Parry, a naval officer, was chosen to search for the Northwest Passage to the Far East by sailing west across the northern reaches of America, Whalers and fishermen knew the way was barred by ice, but the navy felt it was really just a matter of time until one of "their" officers located the passage and opened the gates to the riches of the east, Britain had just won a major campaign against France and the navy was anxious to keep her officers gainfully employed. No one really thought that the navy would be unsuccessful. To this end Parry was chosen and expected to succeed.

It is difficult for us today to believe that the explorers would not have made use of all resources available about the far north. Unfortunately for them, they chose the old codes of the navy over the common sense of the aboriginal people and the whalers. Although Parry spent a winter with the Inuit and accurately documented their way of life, he apparently ignored their approach to survival in that harsh climate and chose to rely on old navy traditions.

The British public were so enthused with their naval officers that they almost developed a form of hero worship toward them. Small though the successes were in these arctic explorations, the captains were eagerly sought after as speakers and dinner guests, and many were even regarded as suitable suitors for upper class unwed daughters. Even failure could bring considerable wealth to the captains of these ships.

Parry made three valiant attempts to find the passage and should be highly regarded as an officer who looked after his men and taught them how to survive the monotony, cold and scurvy while wintering over in the high Arctic.

The book has several interesting black-and-white illustrations and maps, a table of contents and an index.

This would be an excellent addition to the history section of any school library since it appears to be accurate and is easily read.

Hugh A. Cook is a former elementary school librarian in Maple, Ontario

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