Notes on Summer North Coming, Winter North Coming

This picture book is full of many fun and interesting experiences Dorothy had with her family in Northern Canada, a sub-arctic region.

One opening scene shows swimming in the Clearwater River, a heritage river, which flows from Saskatchewan across the Alberta border, then heads north to flow into the Athabasca River.

Blueberries the children pick are low-bush berries, which are ripe to pick in late August and September. They are found usually in forested or burned out areas, in sandy soil.

Birch baskets are mentioned. They are a handicraft popular with craftspeople into making items from nature. They use birch tree bark which is stripped from fallen trees– never live, standing trees.

The father takes the children fishing in the fall, as the rivers in the north are teeming with fresh, cold-water fish such as pickerel or Walleye, and Northern Pike. Other fish are occasional caught, like Arctic Char or White Fish, but those are more common further north in the Northwest Territories, the Yukon, or Nunavut.

Beading is an art form adopted by many transplants to the North, and Indigenous peoples still create beautiful patterns, often associated with their tribe or location. The mukluks in the story have a wild rose pattern which was received by the author embroidered on beautiful handmade slippers by her friend.

The daytime yawning part is all about how the sun never quite sets in the North during the summer solstice. There may be a few hours of dusk and perhaps one or two hours of dark before the sun peeks through the blinds and wakes everyone up! It’s difficult to sleep in the North in the summer when everything bursts into bloom and makes up for the snowy cold winter.

Dorothy’s family harvests wild foods such as deer and moose. Venison stew and bannock are featured in the story when there is a gathering. All cultures have their own version of stew. On Dorothy’s family’s European side, there is goulash and beef bourguignon. As for bannock, a good friend of Dorothy shared a baked bannock recipe with her. She found it to be similar to the baking soda biscuits that she grew up with. But fried bannock is another very delicious story!

In the winter poem, a quinzee is made by piling snow into a giant heap, leaving it to sit for several days while it ‘packs down,’ and then hollowing it out. Dorothy’s children would make these in the winter and she would give them a little tea-light candle (for ages 10 and up) to enjoy on ice-cold days to have a cozy little outdoor retreat.

While the story shows winter camping, she hasn’t done this herself, but her daughter has! Apparently, if one has a very warm sleeping bag, it’s possible!

Dog mushing is still popular in the North, and it is still a fun way to travel to visit traps, or to race. Sadly, at one time several decades ago, the powers that be culled the sled dogs to restrict the Indigenous Peoples to small villages. This has been rectified and many again live off the land by hunting, trapping, and fishing, and harvesting plant-life, although they most often use ATVs now.

Life in the North can sometimes make people feel isolated. This is overcome by being friendly with neighbours, making new friends, and getting together to share a meal and play games, just like the families in the story. Dorothy was thinking about newcomers to the North when she wrote Summer North Coming.

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