Prisoners of the North

Publisher: Anchor Canada
Canada’s master storyteller returns to the North to chronicle the extraordinary stories of five inspiring and controversial characters.

Canada’s master storyteller returns to the North to bring history to life. Prisoners of the North tells the extraordinary stories of five inspiring and controversial characters whose adventures in Canada’s frozen wilderness are no less fascinating today than they were a hundred years ago.

We meet Joseph Boyle, the self-made millionaire gold prospector from Woodstock, Ontario, who went off to the Great War with the word “Yukon” inscribed on his shoulder straps, and solid-gold maple-leaf lapel badges. There he survived several scrapes with rogue Bolsheviks, earned the admiration of Trotsky, saved Romania from the advancing Germans, and entered into a passionate affair with its queen.

We meet Vilhjalmur Steffansson, who knew every corner of the Canadian North better than any explorer. His claim to have discovered a tribe of “Blond Eskimos” brought him world-wide attention and landed him in controversy that would dog him the rest of his life.

There is John Hornby, the eccentric public-school Englishman so enthralled with the Barren Grounds where he lived that he finally starved to death there with the two young men who had joined his adventures.

Berton gives us a riveting account of the contradictory life of Robert Service — a world-famous poet whose self-effacement was completely at odds with his public persona.

And we meet the extraordinary Lady Jane Franklin, who belied every last stereotype about Victorian women with her immense determination, energy, and sense of adventure. She travelled more widely than even her famous explorer husband, Sir John. And her indefatigable efforts to find him after his disappearance were legendary.

A Yukoner himself, Berton weaves these tales of courage, fortitude, and reckless lust for adventure with a love for Canada’s harsh north. With his sharp eye for detail and faultless ear for a good story, Pierre Berton shows once again why he is Canada’s favourite historian.

From the Hardcover edition.



In the Yukon, where I spent my childhood and much of my teens, the old-timers had a phrase for those who had been held captive by the North. “He’s missed too many boats,” they’d say. When the sternwheeler Casca puffed out into the grey river on her last voyage of the...
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"With a sleight of hand style that never distracts from his subjects, Berton vividly resurrects misfits and dynamos, ferreting out the qualities that make them extraordinary. He makes history resonant and relevant."
Toronto Star

"At historical storytelling, Berton is a master. . . . Berton gives us a vivid picture of how the land can get under people’s skin and become a potent driving force in their lives. . . . [He] manages to produce an exciting series of personal vignettes."
The Globe and Mail

"Berton’s works of non-fiction are so readable that they might be mistaken for novels. Berton is a stickler for the truth and for detail. This book proves once again that he is our country’s finest historian."
Edmonton Journal

"Berton makes history read like fiction: fast-paced, colourful and full of both significance and suspense. It is a rare art and one that has served him and his readers well."
The London Free Press (ON)

"Nobody writes popular history the way Pierre Berton does. He is the undisputed Canadian king of the genre."
Calgary Herald