Don Reddick

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Yukon News


By Ken Bolton, The Yukon News, 11/5/93

There never was a hockey team called the Dawson City Seven.

There was a team called the Dawson City Nuggets, coached by the legendary King of the Yukon, Joseph Whiteside Boyle. And it did, indeed, challenge the Ottawa Silver Seven for the Stanley Cup in 1905.

But the name of George (Boston) Mason - the elderly narrator of Don Reddick's novel, Dawson City Seven - wasn't on the roster, even as a spare.

So strong is Reddick's story-telling prowess, however, that any objection to the insertion of a fictional character into a historical account dissolves within the first few pages of this 319-page saga.

After all, when it comes to the Yukon's immediate post-Gold Rush period, who really knows where fact ends and fiction begins?

This is no repository of startling historical revelations about boom days in Dawson.

Most of the characters and anecdotes Reddick provides can be found in the pages of Peirre Berton's Klondike, or numerous other readily available sources. The rest can easily be extrapolated from those same sources.

What makes it such a pleasant read is the skill with which Reddick weaves his tale, and the gentle romanticism with which he imbues the central character.

This is a novel that warrants a one-sitting read.

Essentially it is an evening's cozy recollection by an old man in 1962, of the glory days of his life's Great Adventure.

You can almost hear the fire crackle as Mason's story unfolds.

It's a familiar tale.

The 18-year-old son of a Confederate soldier, Mason leaves his family's adopted farm home in Sudbury, Massachusetts, in 1904, bound for the Klondike gold fields.

Like thousands of others, he's too late to strike it rich. Yet his dream of the elusive mother lode spurs him on.

The obligatory train ride across Canada affords Mason a burst of self-confidence as he struts his single skill - ice skating - for an appreciative audience of fellow passengers on the frozen waters of Lake Louise.

From Vancouver he sets off by boat to Skagway, in company with an unlikely companion, a young bum (the distinction from a hobo or a tramp is clearly explained) named Billy the Pickle.

In the raucous Alaska seaport, he is swindled by a pair of Soapy Smith-style rounders, and sees his new friend come to grief.

Mason hits low tide in Dawson, when he learns of his mother's death. Was ever a young hero so alone, a continent away from family and the girl he left with a sad misunderstanding?

Naturally, in the fine tradition of Horatio Alger, Reddick has set the stage for an upturn in Mason's fortunes.

His strength of character, buoyed by the wisdom of his late father, who was defeated but never conquered, permits Mason to shun the decadence and depravity that surrounds him.

He meets Joe Boyle, learns to play hockey, and gets chosen to accompany the Nuggets on their impossible mission by dog-sled, ship and train back across the continent to challenge the reigning Stanley Cup champs.

They arrive in Ottawa exhausted and out of shape from their 25-day odyssey, two scant days before the first match scheduled for Friday, January 13, 1905.

There's no need to spoil Reddick's yarn by revealing the outcome of their on-ice encounters. It's in the history books.

But writing with a seductive warmth, Reddick provides an authentic central character both innocent and aware, who earns his manhood against a fascinating historical background.