Legacy Review - Reading the River
Reviewed by: Mary Oakwell
As the river she honours flows through thousands of miles of territory, Myrna Kostash's anthology flows through a myriad of other writers' reflections on the waterway. The theme of Reading the River is the North Saskatchewan from its headwaters in the Rockies to the shores of Hudson Bay where it empties.
The book is organized by places you can visit along the river, from Saskatchewan River Crossing, to Grand Rapids at Lake Wininpeg. Kostash herself visited every place in the book, up to the forks near Prince Albert, from historic sites to modern communities.
Kostash journeys through time as well as distance. The river's stories go back as far as the oral traditions of the First Nations peoples. She includes stories of the fur traders and explorers, the missionaries, the North West Mounted Police, and the settlers. More recent contributions include poetry and pictures, all products of the varied relationships men and women have had with the great North Saskatchewan.
Reading the River introduces us to unexpected raconteurs and perspectives. Kayaker and naturalist Robert Pruden, the great-great-grandson of Fort Edmonton Chief Factor John Pruden, reflects on a river journey he made from Drayton Valley to Edmonton, with a beaver swimming alongside. Pruden conveys an intimate, water-level view of the river and life along its banks. Darrin Hagen has contributed a funny, poignant memoir about standing on the bridge over the river at Rocky Mountain House on the day he left for Edmonton for a new life as a writer, composer, performer--and drag queen. Hagen imagines jumping into the water and flowing to his future.
Quotes from published works, journals, and other material open other doors, and a comprehensive bibliography will help satisfy the history bluff.
Kostash has assembled a highly readable collection of writings, historic and contemporary, on the North Saskatchewan River, its history, geology, and people. Reading the River belongs in the library of anyone who is interested in one of the West's most important waterways.