Arctic Twilight: Taking Len Budgell Home

arctic twilight cover

How many times did Leonard say to me, write to me, that he would love to show me the Labrador, that he wished he could take me to visit his seagoing friend in Nova Scotia who was building a yacht, that he could take me back to the places he’d been.  They are countless, and I know this because you can do it all on the computer, right? Go into the manuscript and find them, and count them.

In the precious twenty-two years of his life that I knew him, he wrote about 7000 pages of letters, to me. He wrote thousands to other friends, but I think our connection was so close that he wrote more to me than to any one other person.

Now I am taking him home, not to the Labrador this time, but to where he went to secondary school in St. John’s, to Nova Scotia, to Fogo island where his father was born.  If Len had had his preferences in life, one of them would have been never to leave the Maritimes; another would have been to have had a life on the sea.

Arctic Twilight is edited  from the first four thousand pages he wrote me. Three thousand of those pages were of his family whom I knew, and who knew me. I heard of each new tooth a grandchild had struggled with, of a daughter’s gardens, of his wife Muriel’s Alzheimer disease.

The other thousand were of everything else he loved, mostly the people he treasured, native people he called, as they did back then, Indians and Eskimos; seagoing men, and women. he thought women were much higher in the scheme of things than men. He wrote of his Arctic postings with The Hudson’s Bay Company, of animals, of dogs and ospreys and owls and whales and seals. Goats. An early reader said his writing was magical, that once you get into it, you can’t put it down.

Unofficially he started working for the Company when he was twelve, behind the counter in North West River, Labrador, and driving nurses and doctors by dog team to distant locations on the Labrador. His official start was at Cartwright when he was 18 years old.len at 18

It’s a wonderful photo, isn’t it, Len at 18; it was once on the cover of Them Days Magazine as he often wrote for this oral history publication and was close to editor Doris Saunders. (He wrote many, many letters to her too, of course.)

So I will bring Leonard and his writings to Newfoundland and to Nova Scotia, reading in five libraries and several other venues. I could read for weeks never stopping, as although I’ve been taking him to places like Whitehorse lately, his writing is always alive to me, and I find it hard to stop reading his words aloud when the audience still seems to want more.

On Fogo I will be staying where he had lived for that seminal year when he was a boy, finishing the sequel to Arctic Twilight.  I can’t wait to have my feet walk the places he walked. I can’t wait to bring his words to more places. Places that will be the richer for them.

I love being able to say that Arctic Twilight: Leonard Budgell and the Changing North is one of the best books anyone can read, that every Canadian should know his writings, because I didn’t write this book, Leonard did.  It can be found on Amazon, also available on e-readers. It was published by Blue Butterfly Books, but is now under Dundurn Press.


To everyone ‘down east’, I’m looking forward to seeing you soon!

My way of celebrating ‘Harper Gone’

scan justin0001When I launched Arctic Twilight: Leonard Budgell and the Changing North in March 2010, we were fortunate to be able to do that in the house of parliament, in the office of Liberal Senator Bill Romkey. Many MPs came, as well as senators, Liberal and Conservative.  Justin Trudeau was just an MP back then, but he came, lined up (twice) bought the book, had it signed and then at my request signed mine. I’ve never published this photo before, but he kissed my cheek!

The photo juxtaposition of this photo with a brochure from Haskapa, the company in Mahone Bay, NS, that produces deliciousness in various forms from the the haskap berry, is because my poet friend Janet Barkhouse who lives in Mahone Bay, sent me samples of their products.

I was keeping the jam for a special occasion, so this morning I celebrated Harper’s going with toast and Haskapa jam. Thank you Jan, it was perfect. The berry is rich in flavour so you don’t need much on your toast. Usually I pile jam on, having a real yearning for intensity. Not necessary with Haskapa jam. A little goes a long way.

To further this celebration I reread Janet’s chapbook Silence. Here is an excerpt from those poems:

snapshot: gneiss


scrub spruce

a windfall log

three man outcrop


fold on fold

their faces tell

time’s pressure


war    love   lust

lessons learned

and loss


now rest and a tot




three men making myth

how far they walked to get here

how long ago they left


For info on Haskapa products, go to Many thanks Janet, for the chapbook and a lovely day of celebration!



Writer/ Editor Hat

Here is a photo of Leonard Budgell at eighteen. He has just been officially hired by The Hudson`s Bay Company at Cartwright, Labrador. Son of a Hudson`s Bay Post Manager, unofficially he had been behind the counter in Northwest River and Rigolet since he was about ten.

len at 18Len was extremely shy and several of his letters tell of experiences when he was behind that counter that would have him blushing furiously. Usually a young nurse would be involved, asking the boy for something like a pair of longjohns. At other times he drove nurses and doctors by dogsled around to the tiny Labrador communities. A storm would arise, and shelter found in a tiny trapper`s tilt. The nurse of course, not properly dressed for Labrador storms, would be wet and cold, and Len would be caught. Once her clothes were off and drying, what to do…

Len would go on to be a Servant of The Bay (his favourite term) for many years in Northern areas. Where many men might remember, and tell or write of these experiences, Len just happened to be an incredible writer. His stories have us laughing or crying, connecting, learning or laughing. Want to read some wonderful things about the sea, or animals of the North, or the natural abilities of native peoples, or whales or seals, or owl eggs, go to Arctic Twilight: Leonard Budgell and the Changing North (2010, Blue Butterfly Books-Dundurn Press).

In The Globe, Michael Crummy called Len  the greatest writer on the North that he knows of. Mr. Crummy credits Len`s writing about boats and engines in his own novel, Sweetland.

I miss him very much. Leonard died in the year 2000, but his words will be here for a very long time. For more about Len and Arctic Twilight, you can to the Archives, and the June posts.