Kathleen Winter: ‘Boundless’

Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage
Kathleen Winter, August 2014

Boundless_Kathleen_WinterIn 2010, on a last-minute invitation from Noah Richler, best-selling author Kathleen Winter joined an Adventure Canada trip through the Northwest Passage. Winter and her cohort left the coast of Greenland bound for Kugluktuk, Nunavut by way of Ilulissat, Karat Fjord, Baffin Bay, Dundas Harbour, Pond Inlet, Beechey Island, and an infamous uncharted rock off King William Island…

Four years later, Winter’s memoir of that journey, Boundless, appeared in bookstores across the country, garnering excellent reviews. The Globe and Mail praised its “inexorable narrative drive and its keen attention to humanity“, while the Toronto Star noted Winter’s “graceful, poetic, shimmering prose“.

Naturally, I was curious. But having twice travelled a similar route with Adventure Canada as a Zodiac driver and host, I took my time before diving into Boundless. Would my own memories be compromised by reading someone else’s thoughts about places I’ve been to, and people I know?

To my relief, Boundless isn’t the sort of travel memoir that rehashes experiences, day by day and note for note. Winter’s writerly transit of the fabled Northwest Passage (a term she thoughtfully deconstructs) is hers alone. The roles of the various staff, the unique and sometimes frenetic shipboard experience, and all the daily work that goes into making the experience memorable for the passengers really fade into the background in this tale.

Adventure Canada promotes the thrill of Zodiac excursions, the emotion of cultural exchanges, the magnificence of the surroundings. But Winter’s is a journey of the mind, through memories and ideas and the notions we are made of. Taking a cue from the late folk singer Stan Rogers in his anthem Northwest Passage, Winter boldly traces ‘one warm line’ of her own.

Speaking of Rogers: from among over a hundred possibilities among the passengers, staff, and crew, Winter chooses but a few characters on whom to focus. Nathan Rogers, the folk icon’s son, aboard as the trip’s musician, becomes a confidant; we learn that he is tracing his own warm line where his father never went. Geologist Marc St. Onge baffles and beguiles with his enthusiasm for this rocky realm where cataclysm is laid bare. Sheena McGoogan’s watercolour workshops help Winter express what she cannot say. Inuit culturalists Berndadette Dean and Aaju Peter are by turns thoughtful, troubled, resolute, and wise, colouring Winter’s received Anglo-Canadian mythology of the North with insights into Nunavut—Our Beautiful Land.

Kathleen Winter at Karrat Island, Greenland

Kathleen Winter at Karrat Island, Greenland

This very real and contemporary place is more complex and ancient than any myth, as Winter and a few quirky passengers with whom she feels a quiet kinship learn along the way.

Stuffing tufts of musk oxen fur into her journal, donning a woollen beard, sketching an exquisite suit of ladies’ long underwear, Winter colours outside the lines of the classic maps of Meta Incognita.

Dancing on the ceiling of the captain’s quarters, sometimes silly and sometimes serious, Winter subverts the monolithic myth of Exploring the Great White North as she discovers that this journey, like all great journeys, really happens within.

One of the things I love about Boundless is that for Winter, the sublime and the mundane intermingle freely. Surrounded by the splendour of the Arctic, which defies description, she is led instead to remember and to muse over her own earthly passage. As she does, she dissolves the dotted lines across the maps we’ve worshipped, and instead brings the reader into reflection on the things that really matter: what we believe, how we live, whom we love, why we’re here. Boundless, indeed, is the territory of the heart.

Boundless was long-listed for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Winter’s previous book, Annabel, won the Thomas Head Raddall Award and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Awards in 2010. Annabel was also shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a Canada Reads selection in 2014.

Join Kathleen Winter on Adventure Canada’s voyage to Newfoundland and Wild Labrador, July 5-17, 2015.

The Greenland revelation

Veteran Arctic photographer Martin Lipman travelled with us on our Heart of the Arctic expedition cruise this past summer, representing the Canadian Museum of Nature. He kindly agreed to share some of his spectacular photos along with his thoughts on his first visit to Greenland.

Greenland's stunning fiords are just the beginning.

Greenland’s stunning fiords are just the beginning.

Greenland was a revelation for me. As incredible as the Canadian Arctic is, Greenland is not to be missed. The scale of ice, the intense beauty of the landscape and the warmth of the people are all stellar. From the moment you see the the coastline in Kangerlussuaq, you know it’s going to be good.

Leaving Kangerlussuaq Fjord I remained on deck until the light dipped below the horizon tracking the massive volcanic seams of the Kangaamiut dike swarm, one of a handful of such geological structures in the world.


This dike swarm is one of many extraordinary geological features along Greenland’s west coast.

Eternity Fiord is no less stunning—the power of the ice quickly becomes apparent. Sadly some the glaciers here have started to ground out due to global warming.

The beauty of the ice belies its ecological warning.

The beauty of the ice belies its ecological warning.

Zodiac landings in Greenland are particularly special. The nature of the coastal landscape invites exploration. Its history, its surprising flora and its wild geology all draw you forward. Cresting the next ridge reveals an even more incredible view than the last – and sinking in that soft moss is not to be missed. People often ask where Greenland got it’s name, I suggest it is the subtle palette of the mosses and lichen and its restful effect on your eyes.

Coastal Greenland is visually stunning.

Coastal Greenland is visually stunning.

Tiny mosses and flowers on the tundra are stunning features of Greenland's landings.

Tiny mosses and flowers on the tundra are stunning features of Greenland’s landings.

As you sail north towards Ilulissat and Disko Bay, the quantity of ice increases and the days get even longer. Arctic veterans now say that the ice is smaller and broken up due to the speed at which the Jakobshavn Glacier is moving now – a staggering 60 to 100 feet everyday. That said, you still see massive bergs that dwarf the ship.

Icebergs like those that inspired the Group of Seven still impress.

Icebergs like those that inspired the Group of Seven still impress.

Cruising the ice by Zodiac reveals even more detail: incredible translucent blue seams, hidden caves and pools and endless straiations are a (frozen) feast for the eyes, but with the ice it’s the sound that gets you. Crisp bubbles rise to the surface and constant melting is heard as the water drips off the ice. If you are lucky, you’ll hear the thunderous crack of one of the bigger bergs as it releases pressure. You feel it instinctively on the water: the icebergs are not benign, they are unpredictable and incredibly powerful.

Zodiac cruising is the ideal way to appreciate Greenland's glaciers.

Zodiac cruising is the ideal way to appreciate Greenland’s glaciers.

Being able to weave through said icebergs or land at an ancient encampment at the shallow end of a fiord is part of the wondrous appeal of Arctic cruising. Having access to a fleet of Zodiacs transforms the trip into genuine exploration, accessing communities and shoreline that large ships can’t begin to approach. To access multiple sites in a day then pull up anchor and steam up the coast to do it all over again the next day that sets ship-based travel apart.

The Sea Adventurer and the Zodiac fleet make a perfect cruising combination.

The Sea Adventurer and the Zodiac fleet make a perfect cruising combination.

The communities of Western Greenland are remarkable in themselves. The warmth and artistry of the people and the colour of the villages stand in stark contrast the harsh environment that they occupy. As a Canadian, it was fascinating to see Adventure Canada’ Inuit staff land on shore and begin to speak Inuktituk with local Greenlanders. It gives you a very different sense of the neighbourhood and the distant the communal links the predate our two countries.

Greenland's villages are beautiful and fascinating.

Greenland’s villages are beautiful and fascinating.

Wide smiles make a warm welcome anywhere you go.

Wide smiles make a warm welcome anywhere you go.

Greenland's people are as amazing as the landscape they call home.

Greenland’s people are as amazing as the landscape they call home.