Trail to the Interior.


242 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-1-894898-50-8
DDC 917.11'87





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.


R.M. Patterson knew better than most how to combine the need to earn a living with the need to embark upon adventures that feed the soul. Born in England in 1898 and educated at Oxford, he fought in the Great War and emigrated to western Canada in 1924. Homesteading in Alberta’s Peace River country (the subject of a luminous series of stories published collectively as Far Pastures) was punctuated by an expedition on the South Nahanni River, documented in The Dangerous River. His adventures over the next 16 years of  ranching cattle, entertaining dudes, and exploring the mountains adjacent to his ranch in the Alberta foothills—were recounted in The Buffalo Head. Then, in the late 1940s, he and his family moved to Vancouver Island, where the necessary routine of reconstructing and maintaining an island house and farm were relieved by reading, writing and the planning and execution of expeditions to explore the island archipelago, the Finlay River (described in Finlay’s River), and the seaward approaches to the mountainous interior of western Canada.


Trail to the Interior, like most of Patterson’s projects, was inspired by his love of exploration literature and his passion to retrace the routes of those who had blazed the way. His trip up the Stikine River from Wrangle, Alaska, over the long, arduous portage to Dease Lake, and the down Dease River to its junction with the Laird had been in gestation for over 25 years, since first reading G.M. Dawson’s Report on an Exploration in the Yukon District. During snowbound nights on the Peace River homestead Patterson was entranced by Dawson’s book and its beautiful river maps. Dawson’s account of his 1948 expedition follows the Patterson formula: the trip, segment by segment, consists of his descriptions of the country, the challenges it presents to his physical being, his mental state, and passage-making skills, all interspersed with excerpts from accounts of his predecessors and conversations he has had with various people along the way.


Patterson’s unique and personal perspectives catch our interest and will not let go. Few adventure writers have been able to match his description of river passages: “There is something beautifully final in approaching, over calm water, the rim of a rapid that one has never seen—all decisions made, everything snugged down, jammed in, strapped on and tarped up. There is a feeling of peace, perfect peace, of complete relaxation now that the moment has come.” Like other volumes in the Patterson collection, Trail to the Interior will appeal to the armchair traveller.


Patterson, R.M., “Trail to the Interior.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 26, 2024,