Quill and Quire


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by Pierre Berton

Canada’s coastline is the longest in the world, and yet we don’t view ourselves as a maritime nation. This is the paradox at the heart of Pierre Berton’s Seacoasts. In stark contrast with the lush photographs by André Gallant that accompany the text, Berton’s history of our Pacific, Arctic, and Atlantic coasts is not a pretty picture. The recurring theme is one of loss – ships wrecked off Sable Island, men dead in the search for the Northwest Passage, native traditions abandoned for Western ways. The losses aren’t all in the past tense, either: just as the bowhead whale was hunted to near-extinction in the last century, so today’s stocks of Pacific salmon and Atlantic cod have been fished to scarcity. This is a book best read twice: Gallant’s vision of coastal grandeur fills the mind with wonder; Berton’s prose fills the heart with regret.