A Human History of the Arctic World

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I FIRST BECAME AWARE OF THE ARCTIC during the 1950s,
when I was a teenager whose world was limited to the well-tended
farmlands and tame urban environments of Ontario. It is hard to
remember how exotic most remote places seemed to us in those
days, when air travel was a rare luxury and television offered only a
few blurry channels depicting life in New York, London or occasionally Toronto. The little we knew of distant environments came
mostly from books and movies, and from the imaginary journeys that
they stimulated. Our ignorance gave travel writers the freedom to
create visions of romantic landscapes and exotic peoples that at times
were only tenuously related to reality. Like many Canadians of the
1950s, I was stirred by Farley Mowat’s books on the desperate plight
of the Barren Grounds Inuit, telling of a hunting people who had
stepped directly from the Stone Age into a world of intrepid bushpilots, hard-drinking fur traders and heartless bureaucrats.To Mowat’s
readers the remote landscapes of the Arctic were enhanced by the
suggestion that they served as a meeting-place between a dramatically alien present and an ancient past.