Skip to main content Skip to search Skip to search

History General

For the Love of History

Winners of the Pierre Berton Award Bring to Life Canada's Past

by (author) Winners of the Pierre Berton Award

foreword by Will Ferguson

Doubleday Canada
Initial publish date
Oct 2005
General, Essays, North America
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Oct 2005
    List Price

Add it to your shelf

Where to buy it


Featuring some of Canada’s best known and most admired historians, this collection will appeal to Pierre Berton fans and history lovers everywhere.

For the Love of History features the contributions of outstanding writers who have won recognition for the creative and colourful ways in which they have popularized Canadian history. Including a foreword by Pierre Berton, this book chronicles a diverse and lively range of historical episodes, from an account of early fur-traders and the story of the intriguing life of Isabel Mackenzie King to a dramatic look at the FLQ Crisis. Drawing on the contributors’ skills as acclaimed and inventive storytellers, this book pays lasting tribute to the unrivalled legacy of Pierre Berton.

About the authors

Winners of the Pierre Berton Award's profile page

Travel writer and novelist Will Ferguson is the author of several award-winning memoirs, including Beyond Belfast, about a 560-mile walk across Northern Ireland in the rain; Hitching Rides with Buddha, about an end-to-end journey across Japan by thumb; and most recently the humour collection Canadian Pie, which includes his travels from Yukon to PEI.

Ferguson's novels include Happiness™, a satire set in the world of self-help publishing, and Spanish Fly, a coming-of-age tale of con men and call girls set amid the jazz clubs of the Great Depression. His work, which has been published in more than twenty languages around the world, has been nominated for both an IMPAC Dublin Award and a Commonwealth Writers' Prize, and he is a three-time winner of the Leacock Medal.


Will Ferguson's profile page

Excerpt: For the Love of History: Winners of the Pierre Berton Award Bring to Life Canada's Past (by (author) Winners of the Pierre Berton Award; foreword by Will Ferguson)

“The non-fiction writer can and should use some of the novelist’s techniques–scene setting, character development, narrative drive –but at the same time he is hampered by one dictum: he cannot make anything up. Yet that is where the fun and excitement lie–in digging out the facts, as a private eye digs out clues, and stitching them together in a way that intrigues, educates, and stimulates the reader.”

It was impossible not to like Frederick Cook. He belonged to that human subspecies whose members seem forever courteous, gentle, and apparently open. In 1907, when he set off on his polar journey, he had few antagonists apart from Peary. Even Peary, on first acquaintance some years before, had called him “a thoroughly decent fellow.” Roald Amundsen, who spent a winter with him in the Antarctic, went further. He was, Amundsen recalled, “loved and respected by all, a man of unfailing courage, unfailing hope, endless cheerfulness, unwearied kindness.” He was genial, inventive, eager to help out, and incurably optimistic. People took to Cook on first meeting; he was so ingenuous, so direct, with his clear blue eyes and his shock of ash blond hair that hinted at his German ­ancestry.

This affability concealed certain flaws in the Cook character. When the full record is examined, he emerges as a remarkably careless human being–careless with the truth, careless with his financial obligations, careless of the consequences of his actions. The world is full of Cooks–charming, child-like people who rarely look ahead but leap from one of life’s pinnacles to the next, hoping always to land ­unharmed.

The contrast between the two remarkable explorers, each of whom claimed the North Pole, could not have been more extreme. Cook was later to write of his polar quest that he had “a personal ambition, a crazy hunger I had to satisfy.” It was, of course, the popular thing to say; it fitted the public’s concept of what an explorer should be – a man who sacrificed everything for a dream. But there is little suggestion of any “crazy hunger” in Cook’s actions before or after his attempt on the Pole – none of the fierce, obsessive will to succeed that drove Peary. On the contrary, Cook was remarkably casual. He had none of Peary’s superb organizational skills, and it wasn’t in his nature to indulge in the kind of military precision that Peary brought to his long-range planning. Cook’s various ventures seem to have been entered upon almost by chance, or as an afterthought, or as the result of a sudden spur-of-the-moment decision. That was certainly true of his much-trumpeted conquest of Mount McKinley in 1906. It was also true of his first trip to the Arctic with Peary in 1891. He spotted an advertisement in the Brooklyn Standard-Union asking for volunteers to join Peary in his first North Greenland expedition. Cook, who had been enthralled by Kane’s accounts of the Arctic just as Peary had been, answered the ad and was surprised to find himself accepted. His assault on the Pole was equally impulsive. Though he had certainly talked with John Bradley about his hopes before leaving New York, he didn’t make up his mind until he reached Anoatok and found weather conditions favourable.

In 1907, when he was heading north once again, he was forty-two years old and already one of the best-known explorers in the world. One of five children born to a German immigrant (Cook was originally “Koch”), he had had his share of vicissitudes and hardships. His widowed mother supported her family by working in a sweatshop. Cook put himself through medical school by delivering milk door to door at three in the morning. His first wife died of peritonitis. His first attempts at a practice in Brooklyn were a failure. But in 1907 he was a public figure, respected by his fellow explorers. He had been four times to the Arctic, once to the Antarctic, had written two best-selling books on his adventures, had succeeded Adolphus Greely as president of the Explorers’ Club (the third–Peary would be the fourth), was founder and first president of the Arctic Club of America and the recipient of honours and medals from both sides of the Atlantic. Standing five feet nine inches in his Eskimo furs, a stocky, rugged figure with weather-beaten features, he looked the very model of a modern American explorer.

Cook’s voyage to Greenland with “Gambler Jim” Bradley was planned as a hunting expedition. Cook had no fixed or definite intentions, apart from furthering his studies of Eskimo culture, but the idea of a polar attempt lurked somewhere in the back of his mind. Bradley was happy to have such a noted explorer with him, while Cook, as he told Cyrus Adams of the American Geographical Society, “half hoped” that he might “make the expedition a jumping off point for the Pole.” Bradley told Cook that if he did decide to go, he was prepared to underwrite the cost.

When the yacht reached the Greenland coast, the pair set off for the Eskimo hunting grounds at Anoatok, thirty miles north of Etah. There they found a bear hunt in progress. The best dogs in the area and the most capable natives (many of them doubtless trained by Peary) were assembled in a region abounding with game. In Cook’s mind every essential for Arctic exploration was present. He decided on the spot to make an attempt on the Pole the following spring. What Anoatok could not supply, Bradley certainly would.

Cook, like Peary, saw the so-called “dash” as a kind of sporting event without scientific value. It was a challenge – like the ascent of Mount McKinley–nothing more. But Cook’s attitude was far more casual than that of his rival. “The attaining of this mystical spot,” he wrote later, “did not then, and does not now, seem in itself to mean anything; I did not then, and do not now, consider it the treasure house of any great scientific secrets. The only thing to be gained from reaching the Pole, the triumph of it, the lesson in accomplishment, is that man, by brain power and muscle energy, can subdue the most terrific forces of a blind nature if he is determined enough, courageous enough, and undauntedly persistent despite failure.”

When winter approached, Bradley returned to New York on his yacht. One volunteer stayed behind with Cook–the yacht’s twenty-nine-year-old steward, Rudolph Franke. The two men spent five months in a gloomy stone hut at Anoatok, “a land of sorrowful dead,” in Cook’s phrase. Rewarded with Bradley’s supply of weapons, tools, and trade goods, the entire band of 250 natives gathered from the surrounding villages cheerfully set about to outfit him for the coming venture sewing clothes of hides, building light, flexible sledges, gathering grass to insulate boots, and preparing food and other supplies.

Other titles by Will Ferguson