Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - March - 2023 Issue

The Arctic, Iceland, and Canadiana from Bjarne Tokerud Bookseller


Arctic Exploration, Iceland & Canadiana.

Bjarne Tokerud Bookseller has issued a fantastic catalogue for everyone not afraid of the cold (or at least not afraid of reading about it). It is filled with adventures it's hard to imagine anyone enduring. The catalogue is Arctic Exploration, Iceland & Canadiana. You will travel no farther south than Point Pelee with this collection. It is a tribute to the hardy who settled Canada, stopped in Iceland, and determined to conquer the frigid northland of the Arctic, traveling so far north that every direction you headed was south. These are a handful of items from the over 250 offered.


We will start with a book of early Canadiana and a classic of wishful thinking. This is one of those books with an exceedingly long title of which we include only a small portion: An account of the countries adjoining to Hudson's Bay. in the north-west part of America: Containing a Description of their Lakes and Rivers, the Nature of the Soil and Climates, and their Methods of Commerce, &c. Shewing the Benefit to be made by settling Colonies, and opening a Trade in these Parts; whereby the French will be deprived in a great Measure of their Traffick in Furs, and the Communication between Canada and Mississippi be cut off. With an abstract of Captain Middleton's Journal, and observations upon his behaviour during his Voyage, and since his Return. The author was Arthur Dobbs, the publication date 1749. While this sounds like a geographical description of a place not well known at the time, and it was, it was also something more. It was Dobbs' attack on three entities or persons he disliked intensely. First came the French. They had already taken over large swaths of America, notably the Louisiana territory. He wanted to see a greater British presence in America before France grabbed even more. At least western Canada was indirectly British controlled through the Hudson's Bay Company, but they were almost a nation unto themselves. Dobbs didn't like them either. He wanted their monopoly broken up. Third, he was convinced there was a Northwest Passage that would open up the Far East to British trade. This was the water passage thought to be navigable north of Canada and south of the Arctic. Dobbs believed there was such a route emanating from Hudson Bay. A century earlier, the first explorer said no there was not. More recently, the aforementioned Captain Middleton reached the same conclusion after exploring the region. That led to an angry debate as Dobbs refused to believe that conclusion, accusing Middleton of working for the Hudson's Bay Company in a plot to keep competition out. It would not be until the 20th century that a Northwest Passage would be found, and it did not pass through Hudson Bay. Besides which, it is at points too shallow to navigate and is frozen over most of the time. Item 2. Priced at $18,000 (Canadian dollars or approximately $13,288 in U.S. currency).


Speaking of discovering the Northwest Passage, here is the man who pulled it off. He was Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. It was not easy. Entering from the Atlantic side, it took him and his crew of six four years, including wintering over three times, to reach the Pacific end. The dream was to find a quicker shipping route from Europe to East Asia than sailing all the way around the tip of South America, though four years was hardly faster. Besides which, they only made it all the way because they had a small boat, not one designed to carry a heavy payload. Add to that the short season when waters are navigable and what they really determined is that there is no practical way of making this journey (though there is speculation that climate change may open a usable route). Amundsen's book is The Northwest Passage. Being the Record of a Voyage of Exploration of the Ship "Gjoa" 1903-1907, a first British edition published in 1908. For Amundsen, this proved to be a “warm up” (“cool down” might be a better expression here) for his most important triumph. In 1911, Amundsen became the first person to reach the South Pole. Some like it cold. Item 8. $950 (US $701).


Not all polar explorations turned out as well as Amudsen's did. Item 42 is Ice Pack and Tundra. An Account of the Search for the Jeanette and a Sledge Journey Through Siberia by William H. Gilder, published in 1883. Thirty years before Peary reached the North Pole, George De Long headed up an American naval expedition to reach the North Pole. They set out from San Francisco heading north. The belief was that there was a warm water channel between Russia and Alaska that would take them close enough to the pole by boat to complete the journey. It was an illusion. The Jeannette became trapped in ice north of Siberia. They could not escape. They waited and hoped for 19 months before the ice finally crushed their ship. The 33 men grabbed their three small boats and headed south for open water, hoping to reach Siberia. Unfortunately, a storm arose while they were on the water. The boats were separated. One disappeared and was never heard from again. Another made it to the Siberian coast where they were found by natives and survived. The third also made it to the coast but not near anyone. Two of the men set off to find help, barely surviving long enough to find it. A search was organized but could not find the other men, which included De Long, before winter forced them back. They had all perished long before they were found the following spring. Author Gilder was a journalist on a relief expedition but they were unable to reach their destination. $450 (US $332).


This item counts for both categories of Arctic exploration and Canadiana. The title is A Journey from Prince of Wales's Fort in Hudson's Bay, to the Northern Ocean. Undertaken by Order of the Hudson's Bay Company, for the Discovery of Copper Mines, a North-West Passage, &c. in the Years 1769, 1770, 1771 & 1772, published in 1795. The author was Samuel Hearne. Hearne was hired by the Hudson's Bay Company to explore Indian claims of there being copper in inland areas no European had ever seen. After two aborted attempts, Hearne set off from Churchill with a reliable Indian guide. He traveled up the Coppermine River to the Arctic Ocean. As such, according to Sabin, “The author will always be remembered as the first white man that ever gazed on the dreary expanse of the Arctic or Frozen Ocean from the northern shores of the Continent of America.” He returned to Fort Albany with a manuscript of what he saw, including information on the area's natural history and Indian tribes. There is a backstory to this book. Fort Albany was captured by La Perouse for the French, but was later returned to the British. However, on return, La Perouse exacted a promise that the British would publish the manuscript Hearne left behind. That explains the long delay until this book was published, three years after Hearne died. Item 54. $10,500 (US $7,751).


Next is an 1854 third edition of a Canadian classic, Roughing It in The Bush: or, Forest Life in Canada, by Susanna Moodie. As the foreword to the third edition explains, “Canada became the great land-mark for the rich in hope and poor in purse...The general interest, once excited, was industriously kept alive by pamphlets, published by interested parties, which prominently set forth all the good to be derived from a settlement in the Backwoods of Canada; while they carefully concealed the toil and hardship to be endured in order to secure these advantages.” Mrs. Moodie was there to level with the would-be settlers. “The Bush” was her description for the backcountry of Ontario where she and her husband first settled, and it was not the Utopia that was described in Britain by the companies seeking to take you there. As Tokerud points out, “She ends up calling the backwoods 'the prison house' and dwells on sickness, death, danger, and near-disaster.” Despite it all, she stayed in Canada, even after her husband died, but did move to a more developed area, she later called “the clearings,” which she preferred. Item 254. $1,250 (US $922).


This is just a small sampling of the extensive collection of northern books available. Bjarne Tokerud has prepared a video that will introduce you to some of the items in this catalogue. If Arctic exploration or Canadiana is of interest to you, you will want to spend two minutes with this video. Here is the link: Catalogue 66 Arctic Exploration, Iceland & Canadiana.


Bjarne Tokerud Bookseller may be reached at 604-633-0001 or bjarnetokerud@gmail.com. The website is www.bjarnetokerud.com.

Rare Book Monthly

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