Pathfinder Publications

Pathfinder Publications The ExploreNorth Blog Arctic & Northern Books Contact Us


Mackenzie Breakup

A Novel by Jean Kadmon
Click the cover for an excerpt ...

January 2011 - Mackenzie Breakup is now available at Amazon as a Kindle ebook!

ISBN 0-9681672-1-7
Published February 1997
5 .5" x 8.5", 262 pages
Original list price $22.50 Cdn
As of March 2002, this book is out of print. We do, however, have a few "printer's error" copies available for $10 (US or Canadian) each, including shipping - the reverse of the first 4 pages is upside-down, otherwise they are perfect.


by Jane Gaffin, Yukon News
by Murray Lundberg
by Eva Shaltiel, Voices Israel

About the Book

        For the first three years of the Second World War, North America was spared from damage from enemy forces; that changed on the 3rd of June 1942, when Japanese forces attacked the Aleutian Islands of Alaska. That invasion increased the urgency to complete the construction of the Alaska Highway, which had been approved four months earlier, and the Canol Project, approved only four weeks previous to the attacks.

        The Canol ("Canadian Oil") Project was designed to ensure an oil supply to Alaskan bases, safe from the hazards of coastal shipping. Under the direction of the United States Engineering Department (U.S.E.D.) of the U.S. Army, the primary focus of the project involved construction of a pipeline to take crude oil 576 miles from a small oilfield at Norman Wells, Northwest Territories to a new refinery at Whitehorse, Yukon, and fuel from the refinery to Ladd Field at Fort Richardson (Fairbanks), Alaska, another 606 miles. As well as the main pipeline, other lines were built to supply several air fields along the Northwest Staging Route for aircraft transfers both to Alaska, and to Russia as part of the Lend-Lease Program.

        This novel, Mackenzie Breakup, has been written by Jean Kadmon, who worked on the Canol as a girl fresh from school. As one of a handful of women working among 8,000 men, she experienced the excitement and social upheavals of the war years, both the loneliness and the camaraderie of camp life, and most of all, "The North" in all of its moods.

        Although the Canol Project in retrospect was a fiasco in engineering, social, environmental and military terms, it remains one of the most ambitious, far-sighted experiments ever attempted in the northern part of the North American continent. As such, the Project deserves to be recognized, and the men and women who took part in it recognized for their part in it. Little has been written about the Canol, particularly about the people who worked on it; Mackenzie Breakup uses a concoction of actual happenings, imaginative characterizations, sex, insight into the Project itself, and a sense of the North when it was still under the spell of an Athabaskan Indian caribou spirit, to share one woman's sense of wonder at it all.

At Fish Lake, NWT
June, 1943

About the Author

        When Jean Kadmon was fifteen her father, Max W. Ball, a petroleum geologist in Colorado, moved his family to Edmonton Alberta, where he set up and ran Abasand Oils, a plant to work the oil sand deposits at Fort MacMurray, on the Athabaska River.

        Jean's high school and undergraduate university years were spent in Edmonton, and upon graduation from the University of Alberta in May 1943, 20-year-old Jean was accepted for a job with the Engineering Department of the U.S. Army, as a clerk-typist on the Canol Project. In early June she was flown to the base of operations on the Mackenzie River; at first, she worked in the office of the Area Engineer of the pipeline road at Camp Canol, but by the end of June had been transferred to the other side of the Mackenzie River, to the U.S.E.D. office at the oil field of Norman Wells.

        Although she only remained on the Project for six months, the experience left an indelible impression on her. In January of 1944, Jean Kadmon began studies in Anthropology at the University of Chicago, intending to return North to teach and conduct research on early man at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Love, however, intervened; she met an economics student from Israel, and at the end of the war, they married and moved to Jerusalem. Except for a two-year stint in the U.S., and a few summers in the Rckies, she, her children and grandchildren have remained in Israel ever since.

        Jean's life in Jerusalem turned from the social sciences to literature, poetry, painting and sculpture; the writing of Mackenzie Breakup was started in the 1950s, based on both memories, and on notes which she had kept during her stay in Camp Canol and Norman Wells. The manuscript has gone through several revisions over the years; while still a novel, each revision has brought it closer to the actual events of her youth.

        Jean's poetry has been published in two collections, Clais and Clock and Peering Out, and in the booklet Moshav Segev, an epic on the Six-Day War in Israel. Another novel, Summer Madness, is to be published in 1998. She has had group and one-woman exhibitions of her paintings and sculptures both in Israel and in her birth-place, Colorado.

Comments on reading Mackenzie Breakup by Jean Kadmon
Eva Shaltiel

This is a moving tale of wartime, very different from the heroic accounts of frontline action. It gives the story of a search for oil and pipeline road building in the far north of Canada - measures taken to insure the energy needs of the U.S. and Canada as they assisted the Russian war effort in the common struggle against the German and Japanese threat to conquer the world. After wondering at the details of the first narrative paragraph, the book pulls you in, and you get absorbed in the story of lives, thoughts and interaction of the many well designed characters.

The opening passages of descriptions of nature and the geological givens of the remote north are so beautiful as to border on the lyrical. Throughout the book they create a background, sometimes at odds with the every day concerns of the people that have assembled there in one of the great endeavors of World War II. The reader starts to identify with the idealistic enthusiasm of the leaders of the project, and when towards the end of the war, economical considerations prescribe the abandoning of the oil drilling, one feels disappointed.

One of the questions the figures in the story grapple with most is the profound change that is wrought in each one of them while they are removed from the mundane cares of life in the "civilized " parts of the country. The North creates a value system of its own. People get "bushed." They become liberated of prejudice and social gradations that encumber life down south. A personĂ­s worth is not any more determined by his income or even by the level of his education, but rather by the way he or she works and relates to comrades. Love grows, even though it cuts across accepted conventions. Of course it also brings pain, but certainly not boredom as in smalltown tedium. Even the less glamorous people were touched by the immediacy of the relations formed.

You almost feel the cold and see the glory of the aurora borealis, the brilliance of fall and the mystery of the polar nights.

(Eva Shaltiel is a member of the editorial board of "Voices Israel.")