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The Old Way North

The Old Way North

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Following the Oberholtzer-Magee Expedition

Author David F. Pelly

Minnesota Historical Society Press (June 15, 2008)

An exploration of the Oberholtzer-Magee Expedition and the hidden history—both natural and human—of this vast and beautiful wilderness.


$18.95 paperback available September 2017

In the spring of 1912, Anishinaabe guide Billy Magee received a letter from future conservationist Ernest Oberholtzer asking Magee to accompany him on a journey. Soon after the two set off on a five-month canoe expedition following the old way north, a largely unmapped territory that would test both their endurance and their friendship.

Tracing the route of the Oberholtzer-Magee expedition, The Old Way North transports readers through the history of this challenging wilderness and introduces them to the mapmakers, fur traders and trappers, missionaries, and Native peoples who relied on this corridor for trade and travel. Through Oberholtzer’s journals along with historical records, personal interviews with Dene and Inuit, and present-day canoeing accounts, wilderness and conservation writer David Pelly reconstructs the many tales hidden in this land.

Author information

David Pelly has been traveling and living in the Arctic since the late1970s. He is the author of several articles and books on the land and its people, including Thelon: A River Sanctuary and Sacred Hunt: A Portrait of the Relationship between Seals and Inuit.

Reviews and news

Advance Praise:

“One smiles to think of the enthusiasm with which Ernest Oberholtzer would have greeted this work that so ably reveals the historical dimensions of the landscape through which he and Billy Magee traveled on their epic 1912 canoe journey.”
Joe Paddock, author of Keeper of the Wild: The Life of Ernest Oberholtzer

“In The Old Way North, David Pelly both delivers a narrative of Ernest Oberholtzer and Billy Magee’s 2,000-mile exploratory canoe voyage of 1912 and examines the lives and customs of the Cree, Chipewyan, and Inuit through whose territories the intrepid Americans traveled. His research into the records and lore of Native groups and individuals, from the 1850s to the present day, is rigorous, tellingly detailed, and sympathetic. This account of those peoples and of the vast region reaching from Reindeer Lake to Nueltin Lake, and from there to Hudson Bay, will commend itself to anyone who is drawn to the history of the sub-Arctic north.”
R. H. Cockburn, Emeritus Professor of English, The University of New Brunswick

“David Pelly’s The Old Way North is a richly textured book—a combination of Oberholtzer’s 1912 expedition account, historical commentary on the people and places, and the author’s experiences and reflections, all arranged against the backdrop of the barren lands. The research is impressive, the story engaging. At times, I wanted to head out in a canoe myself.”
Bill Waiser, Professor of History, University of Saskatchewan

  • This title is also available at your favorite e-book vendor.
  • 224 pages
  • 20 b&w photos, 1 map
  • 6 x 9 inches
  • ISBN: 9780873516167

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