|Review by: Moira Richards||
Authored and collected by Toni Graeme
This is a collection of short-short remembrances and peeks at snapshots from the family albums of 36 women, each of whom decided for one reason or another, to spend a part of her life in Canada's Arctic regions.
I live in a little African town that lies about 30 degrees south of the Equator. So, the terrain, the climate, and the living conditions of the parts of Canada that are 60 degrees and more, north of the equator, are very strange to me. I was fascinated therefore, to read the 36 stories that comprise Women Who Lived and Loved North of 60; the short memoirs of women who braved months of frozen dark winter, short night-less summers, and the impassable, isolating thaws and freeze-ups that mark the shift between the two. Why? Maybe because her husband had been sent to work there, or because she herself had accepted a job in an Arctic settlement, or perhaps just for the adventure of it! The reasons why these women ventured into the frozen unknown may have varied, but each one returned south with treasured memories and life-long friendships.
None of the contributors to Women Who Lived and Loved North of 60 is native to that part of the world, so every aspect of the daily life was new to them and was, if not always exciting, then most certainly challenging. One of the delights of this book is to read about the cheerfully resourceful ways that problems were resolved, be it how to keep house for a family of four including a baby in diapers on a weekly water allowance of 45 gallons, or how to vanquish that pesky bear in the kitchen.
Most of the women did not stay in the North long enough to acquire fluency in Inuktitut, the language of the region's native Inuit people, nor to truly understand their culture and way of life. For this reason, the story by the woman who went North to teach the kids there, and who stayed on to marry an Inuit hunter, sparkles as the gem of this collection. She describes her immersion as wife and mother into the 'comfortably huge' Apitak clan, and recounts with love, some of the wealth of knowledge that she has learned from its elders -- more than she could ever teach in return!
As I read through Women Who Lived and Loved North of 60, I became more and more convinced of the importance of preserving in this way, the remarkable experiences of simple women who never set out to be writers. Toni Graeme collected and published the stories of three dozen women who lived in some of the tiny settlements that populate the vast Northern Regions of Canada, for some period during the last 70 years. I wondered how she had managed to find and gather together these memories of ordinary, yet not-so-ordinary women and to find a publisher that recognized their value to the reading public. Read her chat with me about this, her first experience with self-publishing and the challenges of marketing, at womenonwriting.com.