Gerry B's Book Reviews

Klondike Cattle Drive – Norman Lee

An absolute-must addition to your bookshelf. It would make a great gift for the kids as well!

 

 

Story outline: The latest addition to TouchWood Editions’ “Classics West Collection”, this is the colourful tale of a formidable trek undertaken by legendary Cariboo rancher Norman Lee. In 1898, Lee set out to drive 200 head of cattle from his home in the Chilcotin area of BC to the Klondike goldfields – a distance of 1,500 miles. He was gambling both his cattle and his life. This is his story, derived from the journal he kept, his letters and the loyal men who accompanied him. Throughout the daunting weeks of coping with mud, cold and sheer bad luck, Lee kept his sense of humour. When he returned from his Yukon trek, he rewrote the notes from his journal, illustrating his story with his own cartoons and sketches. He completed his manuscript around the turn of the century, but it sat untouched until 1960, when it was published by Howard Mitchell of Mitchell Press, Vancouver.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

In terms of “Canadiana,” it just doesn’t get any more so than “Klondike Cattle Drive,” Norman Lee (Touchwood Editions. 2005). In fact, this sixty-four- page, absolute nugget of a story virtually epitomizes the Canadian pioneering spirit as it once was. That is why it should be made required reading for every history course taught in this country.

In 1898 Norman Lee, a dapper five-foot-eight rancher from the Cariboo District, British Columbia, undertook a 1500-mile cattle drive ‘north’ to Dawson City, Yukon Territory. This in itself was unusual, for most cattle drives at the time were headed south. Moreover, the route north passed through some of the most formidable wilderness imaginable; from pastureless forests to muskeg and belly-scraping swamps.

Just about every type of weather condition was encountered, as well; riding night watches in discomforting drizzle, getting lost in disorienting fog, and braving minus-forty-degree (Fahrenheit) temperatures on the way home.

Remembering that there was no how-to book on how this should be done, and that Norman Lee’s background was as an architect in England, he had to constantly improvise as the trail presented challenge after challenge. Mud, charlatans, lack of supplies, spent animals, all had to be overcome to achieve his goal. Nevertheless, he took it all in stride with humour and stoicism. That is another quintessential characteristic of the pioneer spirit that built this country and nation, and is now in real danger of being forgotten.

As a writer of Canadian, historical fiction I can say with authority that there are precious few published journals to be found. Therefore, it was with considerable rejoicing that I came across Norman Lee’s journal in connection with a Canadian western I was considering. I can also add that when I did find it, it became the inspiration for my forthcoming novel, “Coming of Age on the Trail,” scheduled for release in March 2010. A M/M romance built around a closely similar cattle drive.

In closing I will add that “Klondike Cattle Drive” is an intrinsically enjoyable read for any reason. However, for those who appreciate the rarity of a find like this, and the unquestionable authenticity it adds to the 19th-century pioneer experience, it is an absolute-must addition to your bookshelf. It would make a great gift for the kids as well!

January 26, 2010 - Posted by | Canadian author, Canadian autobiography, Canadian content, Canadian frontier stories, Canadian historical content, Homesteading in Canada, Non-fiction

1 Comment »

  1. […] apart from Norman Lee’s journal [see: Norman Lee “Klondike Cattle Drive,” Touchwood Editions, 2005] I am unaware of any other first-hand account(s) of Canadian history […]

    Pingback by We Pointed Them North: Recollections of a cowpuncher by E.C. “Teddy Blue” Abbott and Helena Huntington Smith « Gerry B's Book Reviews | October 31, 2010 | Reply


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