Campbell of the Yukon


I just finished a remarkable book called Campbell of the Yukon by Clifford Wilson. It was among a lot of other books about to be recycled, so I snagged it and some other ones. I had never heard of Robert Campbell, but he was an amazing man, one of the many Scots who came to Canada with the Hudson’s Bay Company, which was responsible for much of the exploration of Canada’s North.

Campbell was sent to the far north, where he was put in charge in various capacities of outposts in literally unexplored territory. His tales of starvation, hostile natives, and natural and man-made disasters were sometimes hair-raising. He had nothing but respect for the natives, except for the Chilkat, who were hostile as well as thieves. They would overrun a post and steal everything they possibly could. At the same time, he relied heavily on two native friends, Lapie and Kitza, who accompanied him on his explorations and other trips. In fact, there was a comment that the natives in Canada were treated much better than the ones in the U.S. because they were not killed just to be killed and in fact were partners in the fur trade.

campbell2One of the most amazing trips was one in which he walked, mostly by snowshoe, for 3000 miles. It was nothing for him to walk over the snow for 18 days at a time, carrying only what he needed to camp at night. He filled in much of the fairly bare maps of the time and discovered many waterways in that area. He wrote well and was quite opinionated. He was also well respected by his peers of all races.

Wilson put the story together very well, relying greatly on Campbell’s reminiscences, written when he was in his 80s. His journals had unfortunately been burned in a fire when they were in storage. However, Wilson also used letters still in the archives to and from Campbell to fill out the story. Thus it read very well.

As a historical adventure, I highly recommend this. It really gives a sense of the hardships people had when the Canadian West had not even begun to be settled.


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