CM . . .
. Volume XII Number 5 . . . . October 28, 2005
As the title suggests, this book tells the story of the Klondike gold rush of 1897 to 1899. This is a paperback version of a book originally published in 1983. Sub-titled A Photographic Essay / 1897-1899, the format is large, 9" x 10.25", as is the print, a boon for those readers with older eyes. The book consists of 240 pages with 200 black and white photographs from the period. Some of these photographs have never been published before. This book could be considered as a companion volume to Pierre Berton's Klondike, first published in 1958, but The Klondike Quest stands up very well on its own merits.
The book consists of nine chapters, each one describing a particular phase of the gold rush. Each chapter consists, first, of text describing the events, then a section of photographs from that time period. For example, Chapter One, "Gold Fever," opens with two maps of the area, then has six pages of text followed by eleven pages of captioned photographs. Three of those photographs take up a full page each, two take up a complete two-page spread. The advantage of this format is the amount of detail that these sizes allow for. You can clearly make out the expressions on the faces of those involved. It is interesting to watch how the expressions change as you progress through the book, from optimistic in the beginning, to almost hopeless by the end.This format continues throughout the book. In Chapter Two, "The Shimmering Sands," we have three pages of text followed by eleven pages of photographs; Chapter Three, "The Trail of Dead Horses," has three and a half pages of text and sixteen pages of photographs. The other chapters are: “Up the Golden Stairs,” “The Armada,” “The Shuffling Throng,” “The Creeks,” “City of Gold” and finally, “All That Glitters.” One trick used to good advantage is the taking one of the larger pictures and later on focusing in on a blow-up of just a portion of the original. This approach allows the reader to stare into the eyes of a character from our past uncluttered by his surroundings.
While the photographs form the heart of the book, the text does not take second place. Some readers may find Berton's prose "a bit over the top"; however, it flows well and certainly suits the topic and time period under discussion. Even in the relatively short amount of text allowed for, the author provides us with personal human details rather than simple sweeping generalities. He also gives us bits of information about a piece of history with which we may have felt familiar. How many readers knew that the detachment of Mounties at the top of the White Pass also helped define the disputed border with the Americans, and that they held that position with a Maxim gun? How many readers thought about those same members of the North West Mounted Police whose health was permanently damaged by their post waist-deep in snow and melt water? Most books on the gold rush concentrate on the miners and not those working to maintain some semblance of law and order.The Klondike Quest should have a broad appeal to readers of all ages who like information provided about a brief but dramatic period in our history, or to those who simply enjoy the many photographs. The pictures alone will offer hours of viewing.
Ronald J. Hore, involved with the Canadian Authors Association and writer's workshops for several years, retired from the business world in Winnipeg, MB.
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