1997, Books, Non-Fiction

The Great Adventure (1997) by David Cruise, Alison Griffiths

I normally read a book through and finish it before starting another. But, with this one, I kept finding books I wanted to read at the library and they would show up before I finished this. So my reading of it became extremely disjointed. Some of this, perhaps most of this, had to do with my initial lack of enthusiasm regarding the title. I would suggest to you that the title is not a good indication of the quality of this book.

Because that title sounds like this book was written for children and it wasn’t. This is a history of the North West Mounted Police’s first entry into the Northwest, a grueling ride/march from Fort Garry to a place called Fort Whoop Up. It’s a narrative history that partially functions as a quasi oral history, albeit with the participants all long dead. The history is based in part upon diary entries, so it is essentially narrated by the participants.

It’s a story I didn’t know and I’m glad I know it now. It’s fairly well told and full of interesting (and sometimes shocking) information about western Canada (and Montana) was like in the late 19th century. Moreover, the March, a bit of a fool’s errand, has all sorts of echoes in in other military missions. So many military endeavours are examples of extreme human folly, and this is no different – from the commander to the logistics, this was a bad idea and it’s miraculous it worked out as well as it did. The relative success of the mission is a testament to the human spirit. But there are so many lessons here and it seems like, as with so many other attempts of its ilk, most of them were probably ignored because the mission could be deemed a “success.” So the book is worth it if you don’t know the story, or if you want to read about a boondoggle full of incompetence and privation.

But there are definitely a bunch of problems with the book. The first is the approach: the authors go into the heads of people and that is pure creation. It’s clear that this is the nature of the book, but if you object to that kind of history – and there’s a good reason to – then you will have a problem with this. Also, though there are many early attempts to incorporate the perspective of the natives – something I was really worried about when I first started reading – their perspective is inconsistent at best, which is a problem. And it does feel like, despite the length of the book, there is some context missing, especially in the final part. I don’t know how to fix that, and there is still plenty of context, but I felt like I had a few too many questions left when the book ended, and these were not resolved by the epilogue. 

Still glad I read it, and I wouldn’t have read it had it not been gifted to me.


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