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A Time in the Arctic

Reviewed: August 5, 2008
By: Bern Will Brown
Publisher: Fitzhenry & Whiteside
96 pages / 100 colour photographs, $45.00

Bern Will Brown arrived in the Arctic in 1948 as a member of the Oblates of Mary Immaculate. He has lived in the North from nearly 60 years, serving parishes in Fort McMurray, Camsell Portage, Uranium City, Fort Smith, Nahanni Butte, Tulita, Deline, Colville Lake, Aklavik and Inuvik. He has travelled extensively in Canada’s north by canoe, dog team, and by bush plane.

He served the Roman Catholic Church until 1971, when he left the priesthood and subsequently married. He and his wife, Margaret, still live in Colville Lake, the last of the communities to which he was posted by the church in 1962.

The press kit indicates that Father Brown, as he was usually known, had many duties outside the church walls. “(He) performed routine medical work such as delivering babies sewing up axe cuts, and pulling teeth. He has also been a fire warden, dogcatcher, storekeeper, postmaster, and newspaper editor. He is an accomplished photographer and a well-known artist.”

This book is a collection of photographs of every day events all across the North. They were taken mostly during the 1950s, before the major changes of the last quarter of the 20th century would change the lifestyle there forever. The most recent one seems ot be from Pope John-Paul II’s visit to Fort Simpson in 1987.

A Time in the Arctic shows Cree and Inuit people living in a traditional lifestyle, dressed for life on the land, housed in tents, cabins and the first of the government built houses that replaced them. While there are a few snowmobiles (called motor toboggans here) to be seen, the major modes of transportation seem to have been the extremes of dogsled and canoe, paired against airplanes and motorized water craft. One sequence of photos shows the construction of a skin covered canoe.

Brown has written a number of other books, including several volumes of autobiography and photographs. This one seems to have been self-published, though it has a major distributor behind it. The layout is pleasant and the pictures have reproduced well, but I did note a few minor typos on my way through it (settlemenet, opperate) which are the natural consequences of doing your own writing, typing and layout. After a while you know what it should be and stop seeing what it is.

None of these things are major issues, however, and do not detract from the basic charm of the book.

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