Drifting Home

Reviewed: January 31, 2003
By: Pierre Berton
Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre Books
174 Pages, $16.95

Itís always nice to see an old friend out in new attire. Not Berton himself, though we are on speaking and e-mailing terms, I mean the book. Drifting Home was one of the first books we bought in the Yukon, picked up on a trip to Whitehorse about a month after we got here in 1976. The Berton name was familiar. Iíd seen the home movies of this trip that were a feature on the Pierre Berton Show, and we were curious.

So it was also one of the first Yukon books that we read.

(That means Iíve never reviewed it in the Star, by the way. This column began in the winter of 1977, some time after Iíd read the book.)

The reissue in trade paperback is in itself a chronicle of inflation and changing times. My old M&S hardcover copy (issued in 1973) cost $6.95. It had the same 174 pages of text, but it included 24 pages of colour photos, an album of the trip along with some historical photos from the Berton family.

Well, extras like that cost a lot more these days, so itís no surprise that they didnít make it into the new edition.

So what did? The framework of the book is the trip down the Yukon River to Whitehorse, a trip that Peggy-Anne Berton , who looks to have been a pre-teen in the photos of my original copy, has told me she remembers making several times. For her, Dawson is the place where she took her first steps, and sheís come back several times on her own - including the last two summers - to ground herself, work, and think about her experimental video projects.

(Sheís also steadfastly refused to be interviewed in a formal way - eschewing any thought of waving the Berton flag - even slipping out of town last fall without a promised visit, so this mention in a book review is my little revenge.)

Inside the frame, Berton tells a bit of his personal history, about growing up in Dawson, and the tale of how his father came first to the territory. Some of this would be recapped later in volume one of his two volume autobiography, Starting Out, but Iíve always felt that it was told closer to his heart in this book.

Itís a tidy little volume with a very personal touch to it. You come away feeling you know more about why the Klondike has always loomed so large among his 45 published books.

The new edition has a lovely sunset colour cover looking at the shoreline of low trees across a river. My only complaint is that itís not distinctive enough. It could be any river, not necessarily the Yukon.

Berton is still banging away at one of his many electric typewriters, busily crafting a new book, which Iím told will be about some northern characters. I suspect one of these will be A.N.C. Treadgold, of Klondike mining fame. I actually got to loan him a book that he needed for his research, so Iím looking forward to seeing the final product.