True North Rising: 50 years of memories from Whit Fraser

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I wanted to review this book because it’s a reporter’s memoir and a good one, by someone who’s been everywhere and met seemingly every interesting person in the North. 

But Jim Bell over at Nunatsiaq News beat me to it, and his review of this “big-hearted” book sums it up so well that I’m going to defer to him entirely.

“An expression of abiding love for northern Canada and its people, True North Rising is an irresistible collection of stories, rants, and intimate confessions,” Bell writes. I urge you to read his full review here.  

Whit Fraser, if you didn’t know, spent several years with the CBC, starting in Iqaluit (then Frobisher Bay) and then Yellowknife, where he wound up running the CBC’s coverage of the Berger Inquiry into the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. He later became the founding chairman of the Canadian Polar Commission and later still, executive director of Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami. He also married Mary Simon, the well-known international figure from Nunavik, the love story with whom Fraser includes in his book.

Bell’s review cuts right to the juicy chase, including Fraser’s mic-dropping account of the time he threw his reporter’s pencil down and gave his own testimony at the pipeline inquiry he was supposed to be covering, causing a storm of protest in which the CBC ultimately backed Fraser.

[This incident, actually, is a good microcosm of Fraser’s approach in general. Impassioned by a sense of injustice he feared might actually win out — this happened at a hearing in pro-pipeline Norman Wells — he impulsively gave a speech in support of the Indigenous anti-pipeline view without pausing to consider the consequences. He never renounced this view either, though he admits in his memoir, somewhat bashfully, to having not spoken about it in 40 years, knowing himself, now, to have been fairly egregiously in the wrong professionally at this moment.

[Also: while I was aware of the stark racial divide on display during this inquiry, Fraser’s book is the first I’ve heard of a White Power North of 60 group that formed in response to the Indian Brotherhood (later the Dene Nation), but Fraser only mentions it to point out that N.W.T. Commissioner Stuart Hodgson failed to denounce it. I can’t recall reading about this anywhere else.]

Jim Bell is too kind to mention the typos that riddle the second half of this book, including names, places, you name it.

But don’t let that deter you. Whit Fraser’s written a giant, open love letter to the North, a charming and absorbing romp through many of the most important political developments of the past fifty years.

To quote Bell again, “Those insights into a turbulent period that’s now passed into history make this a must read for anyone interested in northern Canada.”

True North Rising
By Whit Fraser
Burnstown Publishing House 2018
256 pages

Update June 10, 2019: Bumped into Whit Fraser at the Northwords gala and he assures me the second edition of his book is free of typos!

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