Burnt Snow

Vanishing before our eyes a way of life that is changing so fast it is frightening. Life in the North is undergoing incredible changes and yet the people of the North cling onto every vestige of that old life that they can. In the early seventies, those medicine men that were left from the old era struggled to remind and educate their people to not give up their old ways. To not let it all fall by the wayside. Their children were now speaking another tongue and returned from residential schools scared from disconnection with a family and communal life. This book reflects the people of that time, and their lifestyle of living off the land in total independence and their incredible life-skills of survival.

The author, an Irish Immigrant, who for 5 years was partially raised by a metis family in Winnipeg, heads North in a soul searching mission to find himself and his place in life. The reflections of his encounters with some of the leading figures of the North are quite humorous and consequential to the development of the North. Many of the chapters describing the Elders who would influence him in countless ways and how their teachings later are the source of making it possible for him to survive some seemingly impossible situations of survival.

Traveling from community-to-community, quite often by Dog team on long solo trips, he covers the vast areas of all the surrounding land of Great Bear and Great Slave Lake. Or traveling by floatplane or winter road to isolated villages to construct log buildings such as community halls, schools, churches, stores, garages, and homes. All of which were built by the local people under his supervision. Using dog teams to haul all the logs from miles around both people and dogs were hired. A dying way of life the trapping industry slowly falling by the wayside all these dog teams were starting to become of no use, but by using them in the log hauling they now had a purpose. The poverty that ensued with the fall of the trapping industry and no additional aid from the government was disheartening and caused great hardship in these communities. There was no other source of income. When the author arrived on the scene the construction of these buildings was a great relief and brought a small reprieve to their situation.

In between these opportune times of finding work in these isolated areas the author goes on adventures that often lead to hair razing worrisome situations. One in which he has to walk 80 miles to get help for his companions and his dogs who were completely out of food. A trip from down in a deep valley on the Horn Plateau to a downhill trek to the Mackenzie River with almost no food. A snowshoe trip that consisted of 3 days and 2 nights with one night’s sleep.

An almost gypsy-like medicine man arrives one day under very bad ice conditions and then 3 weeks later leaves in impossibly worse ice conditions. Conditions so bad that the entire community cannot figure out how he did it with seven dogs and a sled on absolute mush ice and open water conditions. This medicine man would have the greatest influence on the author and made him even challenge life more than he could ever imagine he would.