Far Pastures


262 pages
Contains Photos, Index
ISBN 1-894898-15-X
DDC 917.1204'2





Reviewed by John R. Abbott

John Abbott is a professor of history at Laurentian University’s Algoma University College. He is the co-author of The Border at Sault Ste Marie and The History of Fort St. Joseph.


Sketching an outline of R.M. Patterson’s life is simple enough. He was
born (1898) in Ireland, reared in Scotland, and hardened at Rossall (a
boarding school in the northwest of England). He read history at Oxford,
joined the horse artillery, was captured and imprisoned during the last
few months of World War I, and served time at the Bank of England before
escaping to Canada. His competence, insouciance, and questing spirit saw
him through myriad adventures, escapades, and livelihoods on the land
and rivers midst the hills and mountains of western and northwestern
Canada. He died in 1984.

Were it not for the formidable gifts that Patterson brings to a
contemporary audience, none of this would matter. His was the last
generation whose world view would be imbued with the qualities espoused
by Kipling and promoted in the Boy’s Own Paper. Like the young heroes
who populated the pages of the BOP, he exhibited a vigorous union of
mind, body, and spirit. His energies found a forum for free expression
in the vast, lightly populated reaches of the British Empire. Patterson
possessed a photographic memory and the literary skill to put his
listeners (he is a master of dialogue) immediately into the picture.
Tentative readers should dip first into Far Pastures and read “The
Night Riders,” set in the Peace River homesteading country of the
mid-1920s. That will almost certainly set the hook and, reading backward
and forward, they will discover that Far Pastures is a “sampler”
that reveals intriguing aspects of his career as an adventurer on the
Nahanni and Mackenzie rivers, then (newly married) as a cattle and dude
rancher during the 1930s and early 1940s in the Alberta foothills
southwest of Calgary.

The Buffalo Head reveals the childhood influences that shaped
Patterson’s world view, while focusing primarily on the ranch that he
and his wife developed in the 1930s. Not to be missed here is a
description of a month’s bacchanal following the Armistice of November
11, 1918.

Finlay’s River is a memoir of Patterson’s own exploration of the
Finlay (now drowned in Williston Lake), which allows him to interpret
and place into context the excursions of the explorers, trappers, and
traders who had preceded him. This volume, like the others, offers vivid
accounts of life in the mountains west as the horse, paddle, and setting
pole were being replaced by cars, trucks, and outboard motors. Few have
managed to interpret the era with an eye so keen, and a pen so facile,
as R.M. Patterson’s.


Patterson, R.M., “Far Pastures,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 15, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/16929.