Monday, 17 May 2010

Review of Whitehorse author Linda Johnson's "Kandik Map"

Book Review of Whitehorse author Linda Johnson's frustrating search for the origins of the "Kandik Map"


FAIRBANKS - "The Kandik Map" by Canadian author Linda Johnson is something of a detective story. It's an attempt at learning the origins of the map referred to in the book's title, an effort that came up frustratingly short.

Drawn up in 1880, the Kandik Map was, at its creation, the most detailed map available of the Yukon River, Interior Alaska and environs. It included the first known outline of the upper Tanana River and numerous other landmarks that were unfamiliar to white explorers entering the region for the first time. It also provided information on traditional transit pathways used by Natives for centuries.

The map itself is surprisingly clear in its details considering the time it was created. The real mystery, however, involves the circumstances under which it was produced. To this day, it is not known who commissioned the map, although many suspect that Ivan Petroff, an immigrant from Russia who was hired to conduct the 1880 census of Alaska may have requested it. He certainly possessed it at one time, since notes in his handwriting accompany it.

Petroff's notes credit the map's artwork to a man named Paul Kandik, who is listed as a Yukon Indian, and the annotation to Francois Mercier, a French Canadian fur trader who was active in Interior Alaska at the time.

Of Mercier a fair bit can be learned. He was well known in the region, and others documented many of his activities. He also wrote a popular memoir of his Alaska days later in his life. But nowhere does he or anyone else mention his work on the map.

Of Paul Kandik, nothing is known beyond his elegant artwork and the notation that he was a Native. The name Paul was commonly taken by Athabascan Natives of the time after they were baptized into Christianity, but Kandik is not known today as a Native surname, and isn't found in any of the census records from the last 130 years. Hence Paul Kandik is the ghost who inhabits this story, his presence always felt, but never seen.

Johnson, who lives in Whitehorse, made the map the center of her research when she entered the Northern Studies Masters Program at UAF. The resultant book zigzags down numerous blind alleys, uncovering plenty of history about a very specific time in Alaska. Johnson falls short of finding out who Paul Kandik was, but she does offer important insight into a period of dramatic upheaval during the decades between Alaska's purchase and the Gold Rush that forever changed it.