Winner of the Whistler Independent Book Award, Non- Fiction 2021

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Breaking Trail is a Finalist at the WIBA

WIBA 2021 Finalists Announced

Canadian Authors and Vivalogue Publishing have reviewed and evaluated the shortlisted titles for this year’s awards and are happy to announce the six finalists for the 2021 WIBAS.

The fiction finalists are:
Valerie Dunsmore for Rabbit, Rabbit, Rabbit
Pamela McGarry for The Unsuitable Bride
Don McLellan for Ouch: 20 Stories

The non-fiction finalists are:
Elke Babicki for Identity: From Holocaust to Home
Fran Hurcomb for Breaking Trail: Northern Stories from a Simpler Time
Beth Kaplan for Loose Woman: My odyssey from lost to found

The fiction finalists will be judged by Amber Cowie and Darcie Friesen Hossack. The non-fiction finalists will be judged by J.J. Lee and Eve Lazarus.

The winners will be announced during the Whistler Writers Festival, October 14–17, 2021.

The Whistler Independent Book Awards provide independently published authors with a unique opportunity to have their work recognized through a juried process.

Non-shortlisted titles are assessed and reviewed by Canadian Authors Association reviewers so that every participating author will receive valuable, professional feedback on their submission. These authors will receive their evaluations by July 31, 2021.

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Old Town, by Fran Hurcomb


I walked past this book for years before picking it up and reading it. When I finally did, I found a concise, beautifully illustrated history of Yellowknife, with just enough personal charm to make it a bit of a page-turner.  

Yellowknife photographer and writer, Fran Hurcomb, lived in Old Town for nearly 40 years before she published this book, first in a scrappy house just behind the brew pub, then in a skid shack in the Woodyard, then out in the woods at Watta Lake, then in a houseboat she built herself, then finally, in Willow Flats, where I’m going to presume she remained. 

IMG_4208I mention all that because where you live, in Old Town, is crucial, and here’s where I might lay bare my complicated feelings towards the residents of Old Town, or any other group defined by real estate, however cheap and scrappy. Moral righteousness (though attractive in…

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Breaking Trail: Northern Stories from a Simpler Time

Fran Hurcomb reflects on 45 years in the North in new book ‘Breaking Trail’

Northern News Services

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.

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 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.”


Here is one of the fourteen stories from Breaking Trail. Enjoy this glimpse into a northern past.

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The Longest Map

A presentation I made at Percha Kucha night at the PWNHC

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Old Town……the book

“In just 80 years, Yellowknife’s Old Town has undergone huge changes. What started as the centre of a 1930s gold-mining frontier town has become the relaxed, though often-controversial, historic neighbourhood of today’s modern capital city of the Northwest Territories. Despite the changes, Old Town has maintained a lot of its original character.

Author and photographer Fran Hurcomb moved to Old Town in 1975. In this book, she traces its evolution using more than 200 photos, most of them her own. Images of dog teams, shacks, Old Timers, float planes, houseboats and assorted characters illustrate a text covering everything from Old Town’s ongoing battles with City Hall, to how to build a houseboat, to the history of intriguing neighbourhoods such as the Woodyard and Jolliffe Island. This sometimes personal account looks at how Old Town itself has changed, as well as how this vibrant community has changed lives.”

“Old Town” will be available in November at the Book Cellar and Down To Earth Gallery in Yellowknife. If you are out of town, you can order the book by contacting me at The cost is $26.95 plus $4.00 shipping and handling in Canada, plus $1.55 GST. Total cost is $32.50.

Here are a few of the over 200 photos ranging from the 1930s to 2012.

View of the Rock, 1946

Water delivery 1940s. Tom Doornbos.

Peace River Flats 1954. N-1979-052-4517 – Henry Busse

At the causeway, early 1960s. Mike Piro photo

Bootlegger’s shack, Woodyard, 1976

My shack in the Woodyard. 1977

Slugger and Porkchop, Woodyard 1980

Commercial fisherman, Johnny Nault. 1980

My team on Campbell Lake, 1980

First houseboat 1982

Fixing the DeHavilland Beaver on the ice. 1986

Sander’s cabin Jolliffe Island 1985

All dressed up in the Woodyard. 1987

Crossing rotten spring ice. 1988

Ice fishing from the houseboat. 1994

Snow King’s Festival. 1998

Sluggers old shack. 2006

View from the yacht club docks. 2008

Stan “The Man” Laroque. 2012

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Gone Fishing – Northern Style

A little video shot in March with my GoPro. Shot on Great Slave Lake, about 15 km outside of Yellowknife.

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Yellowknife’s Old Town: Not so Long Ago.

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Gargoyle Carving 101


Gargoyles….love  them. Spent a good hunk of time last winter photographing them in France and the UK. And I love snow…so Gargoyle 101 was obviously made for me. This is the week before Yellowknife’s Snow King Festival begins, so it’s pretty busy down on the ice. Snow King volunteer, Lady Icicle offered the 3 hour course with the carrot of actually having your own gargoyle gracing the turrets of the castle. What better way to spend a Saturday afternoon.

Armed with a hack saw, paint scraper, 2 knives and 2 chisels, I trotted off to the castle. The day was sunny, bright and about minus 20 with only a little breeze. To be on the safe side (having learned from bitter experience), I wore my minus 40 outfit.

Five eager virgin snow carvers were armed and ready to work. After minimal instruction from Lady Icicle (looking at drawings, encouraging us to just go for it etc.) we leapt right in. As usual, I leapt way too fast. I attacked the flat face of my snow brick with glee. It was only about 30 minutes later that I noticed that everyone else was attacking from a corner, to make the gargoyle more 3 dimensional. One look at my gargoyle/cat and it was obvious that I was having trouble with this 3 dimensional thing. It was also obvious that my only carving experience has been with pumpkins. Well, what do you expect, I’m a photographer.

I decided to be mature about this, so instead of smashing my gargoyle (who bore an uncanny resemblance to Garfield), I soldiered on. Around me, some pretty amazing gargoyles were starting to emerge from their snow cocoons. The warm up shack (with cocoa and cookies) was in steady use, but for the most part, we were all quiet and focused. This snow carving is fun.

In the background, the sound of a dozen or so snow castle workers provided a soundtrack of hammering, sawing etc. Site visitors commented on our work and snapped photos. Small children seemed to like my offering. On a suggestion from a member of the Snow King’s crew, my gargoyle got a second snow block and morphed into a sphinx. In fact, I believe he will probably end up being a bench for small children in some obscure corner of the site. Oh well, my aspirations of having a magnificent gargoyle gracing the towers are dashed for now. But don’t despair. I’m not giving up. Anyone can make a snow block (pile up snow; leave overnight to settle; cut with saw). I’ll try again. But first I might head back to the castle to fix the front legs of Garfield/gargoyle/sphinx.

Lady Icicle discusses the merits of a snow block with a neophyte carver

Trying to decide where to start was our first problem.


Carving tools come in all shapes and sizes. My favourite was the paint scraper.


Where else can you use a machete with wild abandon?

No Sue ! Don't do it.

Shapes began to emerge from the snow blocks.

My Garfield gargoyle was destined to become a sphinx.

Our little group carved away, while in the background, the Snow King's castle was undergoing the finishing touches.

Finer detail work was done with the small chisels and knives.

This Cheshire cat gargoyle was particularly menacing.

Lady Icicle's evil flying monkey will strike terror into the hearts of even the most stalwart villains...and that is the point of gargoyles, I think.

Four hours after starting, our Vancouver Island visitor was chilly but pleased with the outcome of the afternoon.

And as for my effort...let's just say I have learned from my mistakes. My next gargoyle will be epic!

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Yellowknife’s Snow King is a well known guy about town. From December through February, he is busy building a huge snow castle on the ice of Yellowknife Bay. In March, the month long Snow King Festival is visited by almost everyone in town. But what does he do in November….when the bay is frozen but there isn’t enough snow to start building? He collects ice, that’s what.

Ice King collects ice for the windows of his snow castle…. about 40 windows in all, in blocks  5 or 6 inches thick and about 2 feet high by 3 feet long. He saws the fresh ice with a giant ice saw and stacks the window blocks carefully to await construction. This year Ice King has a new ice saw, courtesy of Dave Smith, who salvaged it over 30 years ago from the old, derelict, Gros Cap fish plant ice house. The fish plant, located in Devil’s Channel about 80 km south of Yellowknife, operated as a fish processing plant in the 1950’s. Ice was cut in the spring and stored in the sawdust filled icehouse to keep the fish fresh in early summer.

Once the windows have been collected, the Ice King continues sawing for a few days, “just for fun”. He arranges the pieces artistically in “ice gardens”. This is where I usually come in. Every year I spend hours photographing these ice scultpures, trying to capture some of the tiny, frozen universes trapped in the free standing ice.

Now, in late November, the ice is getting too thick to handle easily. Ice King is finished for the year. Long live Snow King.

Ice King saws blocks of ice from frozen Great Slave Lake.

Constant shovelling is required to keep the ice surface smooth.


The ice is about 5 inches thick.

Ice blocks are removed from the water with giant tongs.

The blocks are heavy and slippery.


Some people arrange flowers, some arrange ice.


Blocks are cemented into place with water.

Captured air bubbles create tiny, perfect galaxies.

And up comes the sun, glowing through the Ice King's frozen garden.

Thanks Ice King

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