Summer North of Sixty: By Paddle and Portage Across the Barren Lands


230 pages
Contains Maps
ISBN 1-55013-224-5
DDC 917.19'2043





Reviewed by Nora T. Corley

Nora T. Corley is a writer and librarian in Ottawa.


In 1980, Raffan—a professor of education at Queen’s University in
Kingston and a nature writer and photographer—embarked on a six-week,
700 kilometre canoe trip with five friends, from Munn Lake, north of
Yellowknife, to Bathurst Inlet. They travelled through Back Lake and
Aylmer Lake, along the Back River, then along the lengths of Contwoyto
Lake and the Burnside River to the Bathurst Inlet Lodge. Carrying
everything with them in three canoes (tents, food, cooking equipment,
sleeping bags, and clothing), the six passed through isolated country of
great beauty, charm, and sometimes hostility. The voracious insects,
crippling storms, and endless portages were balanced by pleasant paddles
on calm waters and by encounters with birds, wolves, caribou, muskoxen,
bears, and a wolverine.

Raffan has written a highly readable account of the journey, describing
its highs and lows equally, and philosophizing along the way.
Interspersed with their adventures are accounts of historical others
whose paths they crossed, particularly Sir John Franklin, and
comparisons between then and now. The narrative flows easily (except
when interrupted by the continual conversion of imperial measurements to
metric), and the contrived snippets of conversation add personal

The journey itself was a great teacher, and the author “learned
things, and thought things and felt things” that spoke to him in a
fashion he had never before experienced. He shares all this with the
reader. Summer North of Sixty is a significantly better book than most
of its genre.


Raffan, James., “Summer North of Sixty: By Paddle and Portage Across the Barren Lands,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 13, 2024,