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In the 45 years Fran Hurcomb has resided in Yellowknife, a lot has changed. 

From her early days living on the trapline, to running sled dogs and building a houseboat, Hurcomb calls the North a place with “such potential for adventure.”

In her latest book, Breaking Trail: Northern Stories from a Simpler Time, Hurcomb gives readers a glimpse into some of her adventures from when she first backed her 1966 Valiant out of an Ottawa driveway and drove past the 60th parallel. 

Breaking Trail is a collection of 14 short stories recounting Fran Hurcomb’s early years in Yellowknife in the 1970s.
image courtesy of Fran Hurcomb.

In 14 short stories, Breaking Trail recounts a mixture of fact and fiction in Hurcomb’s semi-autobiographical collection that she intends as a lighthearted read. 

Known for her photography, Hurcomb has published three pictorial histories and two children’s books. Breaking Trail, however, is unlike anything she’s done before. 

“It’s not a history, like my Old Town book or my dog derby book or those other ones. And it’s not pure fiction like my kids books,” she said. “This is sort of a mixture. It’s about a time and a place. The place being this area, and the time being mid-’70s.

“I just let my imagination go,” said Hurcomb. “Some stories are as true to fact as I can remember.”

Others were inspired by people and places encountered along the way.

In considering the book’s subtitle, Hurcomb said that Yellowknife in the ’70s seemed like a simpler time.

“No time is perfect, but it did seem to me, when I think back, that life was a bit more straightforward. You could just do things,” she said, describing building a cabin or going out into the bush without formal permission. “And nobody ever looked twice at us.”

Though, she said, “I also wonder if that’s something as you get older, you just begin to think life is getting complicated.”

Having authored a number of Northern-focused books, Hurcomb recalls being fascinated by the North from the time she was a child. 

“A story requires a bit of an adventure, whether it’s physical or mental,” she said. “In order to have any kind of story, something’s got to be happening. I just feel like a lot happens in the North.”

Breaking Trail tells the story of a new Northerner; of a dog musher; a cabin builder; of someone spending much of her time out in the bush. Hearing those stories from a female perspective is as unique as the accounts themselves, Hurcomb said. 

“It’s not that women weren’t having adventures, it’s just, we don’t seem to hear about them,” she said. “I hope that people will appreciate this as a different viewpoint because it is a woman’s point of view, and kind of in a man’s world in those days.”

As of last week, Breaking Trail became available at the Yellowknife Book Cellar and the Down to Earth Gallery. For out-of-towners looking to get their hands on a copy, Hurcomb suggests emailing her at franhurcomb@gmail.com and she will send a copy in the mail.

While a book launch doesn’t appear to be in the cards, she said if ever there is a warm day in the coming months, she would set up a table outside the Down to Earth Gallery, “put on some warm clothes, and sit around for a couple hours” to sign copies.  

Hurcomb said she feels “a good sense of accomplishment” with Breaking Trail.

“I hope people get an appreciation for just the wonderful wildness of the North.”

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Natalie Pressman

Natalie is a graduate of Carleton University’s journalism program. She has since held contracts working with an NGO in Vietnam and with Journalists for Human Rights in Iskatewizaagegan #39 Independent...

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