by Alison McCreesh
The myth of the North plays big in Canadian consciousness and literature, and it is this curiosity about Northernness, coupled with the fascinatingly detailed watercolour that makes up the cover, that had Ramshackle: A Yellowknife Story calling to me from a table at TCAF.
Alison McCreesh has collected her various comics strips, drawings, and ideas about her and her boyfriend's summer visit to Yellowknife a few years ago. The pair, freshly graduated and unhurried about settling down, by a beater of a soccer mom minivan, and drive it from Quebec to the Northwest Territories (clear across the country/continent, for the less geographically-inclined), before spending most of a summer living in it in an abandoned field.
McCreesh fits nicely in the Canadian tradition of honest comic memoirists, giving us a clear portrayal of the downsides of her adventure as well as sharing the beauty of the land and the people who live there. She alternates between grey tone illustrations and rich watercolours, and gives a strong sense of place to this book.
As much as I enjoyed reading about Alison's experiences, I found that I really gravitated towards the parts of the book that dealt with the way in which Yellowknifers have constructed their day-to-day existence in a city just below the Arctic Circle. Details about the inability to construct sewage or water pipes on solid bedrock, and the subsequent system that has developed around 'honeybuckets' - pails used to collect washroom waste which homeowners have to take to a disposal site themselves, fascinate me. Likewise, I was very interested to learn about the informal community called the Woodlot, a group of quasi-legal shacks that have become the nexus for a very special part of the city.
McCreesh has done some very good work in this book, which entertained me as much as it informed me. Recommended.