Tuesday, August 19, 2008

I married the Klondike - Book Review

I married the Klondike
By Laura Beatrice Berton
Hutchinson 1955

I popped into a Goodwill shop on my way home after school yesterday and found 2 more Berton books I can read for the 2nd Canadian Book Challenge. One was The Canadian Invasion about the 1812 war, and the other was I married the Klondike.

I read Pierre Berton's memoirs last year for the 1st Canadian Book challenge. In his memoirs, Pierre mention that his mother had also written a book. I married the Klondike is the title of the memoirs of Pierre's mother Laura Beatrice Berton, nee Thompson. I have been hoping to find it to read.

My book has no dustcover, so the picture above is just a nice one I found online. I have no idea what the dust jacket looks like for my book.

Anyway, in 1908 when Laura Thompson was 29 years old, she was asked to be the school teacher in Dawson, Yukon. At that time Laura was earning $480 per year as a teacher in Toronto. Dawson city was offering her $2100 per year. It was, of course an easy offer to accept.

Laura traveled to Vancouver and then by ferry north to Skagway in Alaska. Then a train trip over the mountains to Whitehorse, and lastly a steamboat ride down the Yukon river to Dawson. Along the way Laura met the poet Robert Service. Robert eventually settled in a house across the road from the Bertons house in Dawson. It is still a tourist site today.

Laura writes about the midnight sun. The fact is that the sun does set at midnight in Dawson in the summer, but only for an hour and a half. This is because Dawson is 200 miles south of the Arctic circle.

She writes about the hard life looking for gold, the high prices of food and clothes because almost everything had to be shipped in from Outside. She writes about life in the mining camps, and life in Dawson when Dawson was cut off from the Outside world during the winter. She wrote quite a lot about Robert Service, the poet.

Laura writes about meeting Frank Berton and eventually getting married to him in 1912. During the first year of their marriage, Laura and Frank lived in a Mining Camp in Sourdough Gully some miles out of Dawson. Then Frank was posted to Dawson City as the Mining Recorder.

When world war one broke out, most of the men in Dawson city signed up. Frank did as well. As an engineer, he was posted to the Royal Canadian Engineers Corps based in Vancouver. So in 1914 the Bertons left Dawson city and moved to Vancouver. It would be five years before they returned to Dawson city.

It was not until 1919 that the Bertons finally returned to the Yukon. Frank's first job was at Whitehorse and this was where they arrived in October that year, in the middle of a blizzard. The Bertons first child was born in Whitehorse in 1920. Laura was now 42 years old. (older than me when I became a mother). In 1921 Frank, Laura and their baby son finally made the move back to Dawson. And shortly after their arrival in Dawson, their daughter was born.

The funny thing is that during the entire last half of the book, while Laura does mention her children a few times, she NEVER refers to them by their names. Always as "my son, my daughter, or the children". Laura's children were named Pierre and Lucy. But not once did I read those names in this book.

Laura writes about the flat keel boat that Frank built, and which the family used for many years during the summers. They would travel up the Yukon river, and camp on the small river islands that dotted the river. The advantage to living on the islands were no mosquitos and usually no shelter either. The boat would hold everything the family needed for the summer.

Laura and Frank Berton and their family remained in Dawson from 1921 until the depression finally arrived and Frank lost his job in 1932. Then the family left Dawson city and moved to Vancouver permanently.

I enjoyed this book very much. It's not too long - just 230 pages. I read it in one day. Purchased it at 4pm and finished reading it 9 hours later. If you want to know what life was really like in the Gold mining era, you have to read this book - IF you can find it.

I read this book for the Second Canadian Book Challenge and the Memoirs Challenge.

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