Winisk: A Cree Indian Settlement on Hudson Bay


383 pages
Contains Photos, Maps
ISBN 0-88887-181-3
DDC 971.3'1






Reviewed by John Steckley

John Steckley teaches in the Human Studies Program at Humber College in


Born in Denmark in 1912, Vita Rordam lived in France, Iran, Germany, and
Switzerland before coming to Canada in 1953. She was not in the country
long before she met and married a man who would take her up into the
north country. This book recounts the couple’s experiences in
Winisk—a small Cree community on the west coast of Hudson
Bay—between December 1955 and October 1957. Vita’s husband worked at
Site 500 (as did Vita herself), a radar station then being constructed
across the river from Winisk.

The book’s title is something of a misnomer in that we learn much
more about Site 500 and its 1950s all-male-environment sexism than we do
about the Cree of Winisk. The only members of the Winisk community that
we get to know well are the missionaries, Father Gagnon and Brother
Alexander. The Cree are the mysterious Other, having only the barest
outlines of a human face; we see them “chattering” in their language
and writing in their “syllabic scribble.” The few Cree that we get
to know by name we visit only briefly. Although we gain some insight
into the financial problems of Native workers at the construction site,
and into the negative impact of residential schools, such moments of
illumination are few and far between.

Perhaps the best was left out. Rordam gave away 100 of her finest
photographs, a generous gesture but also a missed opportunity to show
the human faces that her writing fails to portray.


Rordam, Vita., “Winisk: A Cree Indian Settlement on Hudson Bay,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed July 18, 2024,