For generations, the Nahanni River has maintained a larger than life perception in people’s awareness.
While the Nahanni’s landscapes, geology and ecological significance are truly on a scale that is difficult to comprehend, it is often the colourful myths and legends of the Nahanni that people first hear about. Tales from the Nahanni have found their way into our collective imagination in part through the many books written about this river with the beautiful name.
Read on for a few of the books that have contributed to the Nahanni’s fame and esteem.
#1 – The Dangerous River
R.M. Patterson’s The Dangerous River remains a classic tale, one I reread each season. Patterson, an English gentleman with a penchant for adventure, spins a colourful yarn from his two sojourns into the Nahanni river valley in the 1920’s. Dangerous River includes an overview of many of the legends that accelerated the Nahanni to a household name in the early part of the 20th century such as the dramatic story of the McLeod Brothers and their headless demise in what is now known as Deadmen Valley. With determination to rival the Nahanni’s swift current, Patterson made his way up river as far as Virginia Falls under his own power, with a paddle and pole. After making the descent through the rapids of Fourth Canyon with canoe groups I love to read Patterson’s recount of paddling through that same section, against the flow. I can’t help but be charmed by Patterson and his affinity for a good story. Always a gentleman, Patterson enjoys a wash and shave before sitting down to enjoy a hot meal of whatever game he most recently encountered on the banks of the Nahanni. A favourite anecdote from Dangerous River is the story of a moose cow and calf in Patterson’s camp which involves Patterson’s supper of partridge mulligan sailing into the river in the pot now formed to the shape of the calf’s hind foot. For the full tale and a good laugh you’ll have to track down a copy of your own or join me on the Nahanni next summer.
#2 – Nahanni Trailhead
If you thought Patterson was a true adventurer for striking out into the Nahanni on his own, then take your hat off for Joanne Ronan Moore who not only set off to spend a winter in the Nahanni but did so with her new husband in tow! An intimate story of relationship to one another and to the land, Nahanni Trailhead is the much loved recount of a year long honeymoon in the Nahanni. Having received permission to build a cabin on the Nahanni, John and Joanne Moore spend an exciting, challenging and occasionally romantic year together yet very much alone, in the Nahanni. Joanne’s journals became the basis of the book, Nahanni Trailhead. Their cabin still stands tucked in the trees on the banks of the Nahanni just above Moore’s Hotsprings. This is a great place to pull over, smell the wild mint that grows on the shore and enjoy the inflow of warm water from the springs into the main flow of the Nahanni.
#3 – Nahanni
Another avid northern storyteller is Dick Turner. Turner’s book Nahanni reads like a coming of age story for both himself and Canada’s north. Turner arrives in the north with his brother as a young man along with many others at that time who were escaping the Depression or their own personal histories. Written with humour and straight from the hip the book is full of Turner’s personal experiences and opinions of the years turned decades he first spent in the north. Full of stories from the trap line, around the fire and from his lovely wife Vera’s kitchen Nahanni provides a glimpse into a time and a lifestyle that has almost vanished.
#4 – The Magnificent Nahanni
For those curious about how Nahanni National Park Reserve came to be and the ongoing efforts to ensure this watershed is protected, The Magnificent Nahanni is an insightful read. It is exhaustively researched by Gordon Nelson and well cited. This thesis is a true saga. Drawing on the institutional knowledge of Parks Canada, Federal and Territorial Governments and outfitters alike, it shines some light on the unsung heroes of conservation in the Canadian North. The fact that voices called for the Nahanni’s protection for decades before the park reserve was established is an important reminder that conservation is a long game and we must continue to speak up for the wild places we love so dearly.
Perhaps the best stories from the Nahanni are yet to be written. The region’s unexplored terrain, rich history and incredible geography will continue to draw adventurers for years to come.