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Houseboat Chronicles

Notes from a Life in Shield Country

by (author) Jake Macdonald

McClelland & Stewart
Initial publish date
Mar 2004
General, Boating, Adventure
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Mar 2004
    List Price

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This is the story of Jake MacDonald’s discovery of some of the last wild places in North America. The Precambrian Shield extends from the Arctic, across much of eastern Canada, and south into the United States. When Jake was still a boy, his father built a cottage in Manitoba. It was here that Jake developed a hankering to live in wild places, and why he decided to quit his graduate studies and explore the distant corners of the continent in a second-hand van.

First he worked as a guide, then as an odd-job person, and ultimately, as a kind of hunter-gatherer of stories. He met Inuit hunters who had been mauled by polar bears and Native trappers who walked routinely across thousands of miles of roadless wilderness. He came to know the cops, the tourists, and the Native people. He made friends with the hardy individuals who made a life for themselves in the wilderness: a German soldier imprisoned in northern Ontario in the Second World War who fell in love with the land; a guide who built an extraordinary houseboat out of exotic wood; and a bachelor known as the Prince who lived in a trailer behind a town’s community centre. In telling their stories, Jake MacDonald tells us something about the Shield Country, and something about ourselves.

MacDonald argues that the heart and soul of Canada are to be found in Shield country. On its countless cold lakes, under its impossibly starry skies, we come to know ourselves. Its vastness and indifference show us our limitations and help to define us. This exploration of Shield country is, finally, an exploration of Canada itself.

About the author


Jake MacDonaldis the author of Houseboat Chronicles: Notes from a Life in the Shield Country, as well as five works of fiction. He is also an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in Sporting Classics, Saturday Night, Canadian Geographic, Maclean's, and the Winnipeg Free Press. He lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada.


Jake Macdonald's profile page


  • Winner, Hilary Weston Writers' Trust Non-Fiction Prize

Editorial Reviews

“MacDonald is a wry, witty, and self-effacing writer, with as keen an eye for human character as he has for the natural world. His account of his Winnipeg childhood will resonate keenly with anyone who ever yearned for a pellet gun, or spent long summer afternoons exploring the wilds of country forests or city parks and ravines.…Houseboat Chronicles is a joy to read.…”
Quill & Quire
“MacDonald has what a screenwriter friend praises as ‘dexterity.’ Urban avenue or backwoods trail, his laced-with-sense-of-wonder writing never fails to do justice to locale.”
Winnipeg Free Press

“Living in a houseboat thousands of miles from the rest of civilization with some other like-minded types and a billion blackflies for company never sounded so inviting as in this book. Tangy and sharp, Houseboat Chronicles is perfectly suited to fall.”
Calgary Herald
“MacDonald has in him a touch of Grey Owl (the self-transforming imagination), a dollop of Mark Twain (brilliant comic iconoclasm) and a merciful twist of Bart Simpson (a capability for ‘keeping it real,’ as Lisa Simpson once put it). While MacDonald’s writing possesses both power and magic, there is about it a jauntiness and good will, an often self-deprecating skepticism that whispers from between the lines, ‘I am neither your “sensitive” nor your stentorian nature writer, and I’m not going to let you forget it.’ This isn’t to say MacDonald is not ‘sensitive’ – he is – but more so that he sees the brutality as well as the grace of Nature; sees the grand joke and the giddiness along with the gravitas. And it is happily to our advantage as readers.…[We are lucky to have] writers such as MacDonald, who know and love this graceful land, and whose version of it illuminates our own sometimes limited version.”
Globe and Mail

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