CM . . .
. Volume XXII Number 39. . . .June 10, 2016
Admittedly, Pierre Elliot Trudeau is now history in that he is dead. When one says 'Trudeau' today, the image that springs to mind is of his prime ministerial son rather than him. Since Pierre is sufficiently long enough gone that he can be written about as an historical figure, especially when it's back in 1931 when he was a teenager, he can have stories made up about him, and this is what Steve Pitt has done, inventing a scenario in which Pierre and his father take a summer trip up to the Yukon to investigate the 'claim' that Trudeau Senior was looking into as a possible investment if he decided it had potential for a gold mine.
Pierre is not painted as being very keen on this outing. He is already a rather dapper young man, a bit full of himself, studious, and keen on reading adventure novels, especially those focussed on monsters and vampires, but not so much on subjecting himself to the hardships of an actual adventure in Canada's North where 'roughing it' is how life is lived. However, he is given no choice. The two of them, father and son, go off Pierre's older sister very envious of his good luck and in Dawson City they meet up with young Pierre Berton and his father. The two pairs a 'pair of Pierres', a joke that almost everyone they meet makes, and their fathers join forces as they fly into the neighbourhood of the potential mine.
'Our' Pierre had already had a rather curious encounter with a young Indian at one of the steamer's pauses along the Yukon River, but after they had settled into the cabin abandoned by the previous owners of the claim that the Trudeaus were looking at, the two of them had encounters with first an aboriginal family who were living surreptitiously in the area to avoid having their daughter whipped off to residential school, and then a couple of characters strange enough and strong enough to be thought to be supernatural. It could have ended badly for them, but, of course, it didn't. Were these peculiar creatures actually a couple of wendigos (the bear equivalent of werewolves), trying to kill strangers invading their territory?
Wail of the Wendigo is an interesting blend of the fantastic, the history of gold prospecting and mining in the north, and of the possible origins of various characteristics of the adult Pierres. Young Berton's interest in history and his habit of taking notes on everything that was going on about him, combined with Trudeau's habit of wearing a red rose boutinère and his expertise with an canoe, will give those who remember them a chuckle. (Also 'fuddle duddle'!) Whether the intended audience appreciates these touches is questionable, but it certainly does no harm. I have not heard that Trudeau continued to read and admire gothic novels in later life, or if he actually regarded his red rose as protection from evil spirits, but the rose, at least, was frequently in evidence.
The story is exciting in outline, terrifying in many aspects, and should be a real nail biter and page flipper. But... somehow the writing doesn't quite grab us and make us care. I regret this; I'd like to love the book, but the fact remains that it has a lot of good ideas that don't quite gel. Interesting history, less interesting storytelling. The Yukon is a fascinating place, however, and that comes through loud and clear.
Mary Thomas lives in Winnipeg, MB.
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other reproduction is prohibited without permission.
Copyright © the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.