Nahanni Journals: R.M. Patterson's 1927–1929 Journals.


320 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 978-0-88864-477-0
DDC 917.19'3042




Edited by Richard C. Davis
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 lived for the thrill of adventure travel. In two of his other titles, Far Pastures, Trail to the Interior, Finlay’s River and (in particular) The Dangerous River, he revealed a temperament not unlike that which Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ascribed to Ulysses, who had “become a name; for always roaming with a hungry heart.”

Patterson was born in 1898, in the north of England, the only son of an English mother and a Scottish father. He survived service in the Great War, took a second at Oxford, and in 1924 fled an appointment at the Bank of England for a soldier’s land grant in the Peace River District of northern Alberta. An “itching foot” (Far Pastures) soon took him off the land and into the heart of the virtually pristine Nahanni River country. Between 1927 and 1929, for the most part a solitary figure, he poled, paddled, lined, and dragged his 16-foot Chestnut canoe up and down and around the rapids, swifts, sweepers, and whirlpools of the Nahanni and its associated rivers in northern Alberta, British Columbia, the Yukon, and the Northwest Territories. Day by day, for stretches of time, he kept a journal whose observations were set down for his mother’s eyes alone. They were also the fundamental source for his best-known volume, The Dangerous River.

The Journals will appeal to armchair travellers, historians of the Canadian Northwest, students of Canadian travel literature, paddlers, and anyone planning an expedition into the Nahanni country. There are passages predictive, descriptive, and cautionary. “In years to come this will be a great play ground—now it is God’s garden & only Faille [a trapper] & I are on the river…” After working his way up a canyon swept by “a mass of white water” and floored with stones “sharp as knives” which flayed the soles of his shoes and the canvas bottom of his canoe, he reflected that the river built character:“[I]t develops in one an appalling obstinacy.” Obstinacy was, indeed, the final defence against mosquito swarms thicker than fog: “They pester, torture, suck blood & give no rest…many a white man…must have fallen & died in the northern bush, clean worn out by their attacks or else driven raving mad.”

Highly recommended.


Patterson, R.M., “Nahanni Journals: R.M. Patterson's 1927–1929 Journals.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 23, 2024,