post written by Emma Filbrun
Author: William Durbin
Major Themes: Canada, Fur Trade, Voyageurs
Synopsis: On his second trip from Montreal to Grand Portage as a voyageur, Pierre overwinters in the North at a fur trading post near an Indian village.
We read The Broken Blade a few months ago, and my boys thoroughly enjoyed it. When we reached the end of it, I noticed a page that talked about a sequel to the book, titled Wintering. Immediately, the boys clamored to get that book and read it, so, being the book junkie I am, I found a copy and we read it as soon as we had the chance.
The boys loved Wintering, but I didn’t feel that it was quite as good as the first book—but then, sequels rarely are. The story was all right, and gave what I believe is an accurate feel for the way the voyageurs lived during the winter in Canada when they were trading for furs. That accuracy, however, is what bothered me the most. I’ll expand on that below.
As the story begins, Pierre is back in Grand Portage after his second trip from Montreal in the north canoes. This year, however, instead of going back home before winter, his crew goes on north to build a trading post and spend the winter collecting furs from the Indians. As it was the year before, Pierre can hardly get along with Beloit, the bowman of his canoe. Beloit is always picking on him and making life hard for Pierre and his friend Louie, another teenager who has joined the crew. The trip is difficult and dangerous, and the winter is long and cold, but Pierre makes new friends in the Indian village near which the trading post is built.
What I most disliked about the book was the way a couple of the men took Indian “wives” for the winter, intending to leave them behind in the spring. There were allusions to this having happened many times through Beloit’s life. In one scene, the commander of the brigade took a young woman into his cabin for the night, then tried to send her home in the morning. There was a happy ending to that story, and nothing was mentioned that was even off-color, but the allusion was there.
Also, there is a fair amount of violence in the story. Once again, this was, in my impression, quite accurate for the time and place, but I don’t appreciate it. At one time, two rival brigades sabotaged each other’s canoes, and there were a few fights between men. Occasionally, there was unnecessary language used, although not too much. In Chapter 7, it was mentioned that the men slept naked because of the heat, and then had to escape a forest fire suddenly; you can imagine what happened then. Chapter 9 includes the brigade leader telling the story of how he was tortured by the Indians at one time; it’s pretty gruesome. Chapter 22 is the worst, however, in a way, as a man dies a horrible death when his gun explodes.
I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, there is a lot that is horrible and ugly. On the other hand, it seems to be a realistic picture of a time that is often romanticized, showing how hard life was for the voyageurs, and that can be a good thing. So, use discretion when offering this book to your children, and consider reading it yourself so you can discuss the harder issues with them.
Read Aloud—Ages 10 – 13
Reading Independently—Ages 12 – 15
Links to buy Wintering:
AbeBooks: View Choices on AbeBooks.com
Keywords: Canada, Fur Trade, Voyageurs