Steve Pitt came to the Yukon in 1982 to attend his sister’s wedding. She was marrying Dal Fry,
son of Art and Margie Fry. That’s part of how Art ended up as a character in Steve’s book, The Wail of the Wendigo.
The book is a young adult adventure novel that brings two kids named Pierre into contact with Fry, famed bush pilot Wop May, a mad trapper or two, survivors of the Franklin expedition and a Han family escaping the clutches of residential school.
This book is subtitled “An Early Adventure of Pierre Trudeau”, and is number five in a series called Leaders and Legacies, in which a succession of our prime ministers have been involved in youthful mysteries.
The series was created, and has been mostly written, by Roderick Benns. So far these have featured John Diefenbaker, John. A. Macdonald, Paul Martin and Richard Bennett.
When Benns was ready to insert Trudeau into this scheme (what with Trudeau Junior’s ascendency) he contacted Pitt, who was known to have an interest in history and a northern connection, having done some mining with the Frys, as well as a bit of farming (herding geese, he says) nearer to Whitehorse.
With that in mind, Pitt decided to cobble up a fictional teenaged meeting between Pierre Trudeau and Pierre Berton, set in the 1930s, around the time that the Mad Trapper of Rat River was active.
That this did not happen in real life is made clear in the Fiction or Fact section at the end of the book, something that is an essential element of each of these books. While part of the aim of the series is to make elements of Canadian history more exciting, the creators feel it is important not to emulate the Americans and make up biographies out of whole cloth.
“Canadians do a really terrible job of telling history,” says Pitt. “They make it very dry and academic. Look at the Americans and the British. They popularize a lot of their characters, their historical figures. It may be that most of what they know about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln is fiction, but at least they know who they are.
“I’m old enough to remember the Trudeau years, and I’d been to the Yukon so I could use that as background for the novel. Then, I’m sort of a history geek, so I’ve worked in all kinds of historical facts and figures.”
The two Pierres are not really great at coping in the bush once their fathers take them out gold hunting, so Pitt has a Métis teenage girl take them under her wing and help them along. Her parents have her out in the bush to escape being carted off to school.
The story is good reading and filled with all sorts of Yukon history as well as some mystical First Nations material that helps to solve the problems created by the existence of the two Wendigos. The two survivors of one of Sir John Franklin’s expeditions were two humans transformed to near immortality and beast-like characteristics as a result of the cannibalism which we know to have been a part of both of his northern expeditions.
It’s clear that Pitt had a great time writing this book, and he managed to create something that has appeal for adults as well as his target audience.