For 20 years, from 1994 to 2014, Al Pope produced a regular column for the Yukon News. It was called Nordicity. He said it started because he had written so many letters to the editor that Peter Lesniak, who held that position at the time, invited him to become a regular contributor.
This origin story resonates with me, since much the same thing happened to me at the Whitehorse Star when Max Fraser was in charge back in 1977. To start off, Pope created an imaginary Yukon Community named One Bucket Creek and used it to spoof real life events in his area, as well as imaginary ones.
He’s not the first to take this route to satire. Stroller White did it many decades ago. I also recall a fellow named Henry Wilkinson, who used to write pieces that involved the Carcross Closet of Commerce.
There are a number of One Bucket entries in this 20-year retrospective volume, but Pope admits that he just couldn’t keep up creating imaginary narratives over two decades. Besides, this had all started in the first place because he kept writing letters to the editor.
So, as he writes in the introduction to The Boreal Curmudgeon: Twenty Years of Nordicity, “the subject matter broadened to include national and international issues.”
However, the quirky column still managed to fall back to its origins, with essays about“destructive cats, urban chickens, threatened pigs, breastfeeding and anything that I might have been preoccupied with on deadline day.”
Pope has divided the material up into 11 chapters, though sections might be a better term. You can pick your day’s reading according to themes. There is a One Bucket Creek section, another on mushing, one on northern beasties, a section on science and another on the Royal Family. There are essays on Canadian culture, and a section on national scandals and cover-ups—enough to make you forget all about SNC Lavalin.
The essays are enhanced by the addition of Heidi Marion’s 32 pen-and-ink illustrations, scattered throughout the book.
Pope is critical of all the political leaders within the time frame when he was writing the column, but you really don’t want to miss his take down of Andrew Scheer, not when he was leader of the Conservatives (not to be confused with the Progressive Conservatives) , but when he was Speaker of the Legislature. It’s brutal.
The Boreal Curmudgeon is not the sort of book to be read from cover to cover in a single sitting.After all, the columns were written one at a time, week by week, over many years. I found that one to three of them per day was a good dose. At that rate I was several months reading the entire collection of about 100 essays, but it was worth the time.