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  • Red Serge and Polar Bear Pants: The Biography of Harry Stallworthy, RCMP
  • C.M. Sawchuk
Red Serge and Polar Bear Pants: The Biography of Harry Stallworthy, RCMP. William Barr. Edmonton: University of Alberta Press, 2004. Pp. 400, illus., b&w, $34.95

Although the annals of exemplary northern Canadians boast several members of the RCMP – F.J. Fitzgerald, Sam Steele, and J.D. Moodie come to mind – William Barr seeks now to add Harry Stallworthy's name to that list. A professor emeritus of geography at the University of Saskatchewan, Barr has, in his past publications, brought attention to northern explorers who have been undeservedly forgotten. In recent years, he has translated exploration accounts out of the French and German originals. Now a body of English sources forms the basis for this original narrative about Stallworthy's life.

Stallworthy is an engaging subject both symbolically and personally. In the early twentieth century the federal government depended upon RCMP constables in the Northern Service to exemplify Canadian sovereignty in far-flung regions. Stallworthy occupied Bache Peninsula, on Ellesmere Island's eastern coast, at a crucial time in Canadian-Norwegian territorial negotiations. Because of the continuous presence of Stallworthy and other officers from 1922 onward, Norway withdrew its claim to those lands in 1930. William Morrison, in his introduction, makes a pertinent historical connection by noting that Canadian sovereignty in the North will be contested once more because of rising global temperatures. [End Page 158]

The particulars of Stallworthy's career from 1913 to 1946 not only provide exciting reading, but also demonstrate the range of capabilities of a gifted RCMP officer. Undoubtedly Stallworthy's most important work occurred in the North. From 1930–2 he aided in the search for the German biologist Hans Krüger, who had disappeared west of Bache Peninsula in the spring of 1930. One of Stallworthy's sledge patrols comprised 65 days of winter travel over an estimated 2,250 kilometres – a staggering feat by any standard. Stallworthy also guided the Oxford University Ellesmere Land Expedition through the same territory in 1934–5. The leader of that expedition, Edward Shackleton (son of the famous Ernest), later admitted that 'had it not been for Sergeant Stallworthy, our difficulties would have been so increased that it is probable we should have had very little success' (270). Aside from Ellesmere, Stallworthy enjoyed postings at Dawson, Moncton, Ottawa, Stony Rapids, Fort Smith, and Thorold, among other places. His varied experiences are representative of the challenges that RCMP officers faced in adapting themselves to different regions, and illustrate the widely diverse nation these men served.

The book achieves most in emphasizing Stallworthy's complex personality. Barr's access to Stallworthy's correspondence with his brother, Bill, and the diaries of his wife, Hilda, bestows a very human character upon a man who could have been portrayed as superhuman. Throughout, Barr sprinkles evidence of Stallworthy's roguishness – an 'illegal possession of alcohol' citation that dogged his career, attempts to work personal traplines against Force regulations and smuggle the furs south, and a fight with his Ellesmere co-worker that knocked out some of the latter's teeth. Nor does Barr hesitate to describe the physical ailments that plagued Stallworthy his whole life. Such information enhances, not detracts, from the virtues that such a man would be expected to display – his calm yet passionate nature, his affection for the Inughuit of Greenland and their lifestyle, and his love for Hilda despite their long separations. Barr is to be applauded for this well-balanced portrayal.

Red Serge and Polar Bear Pants is one of Barr's most accessible books to date: It is a coherent narrative with quotations from primary sources interspersed. The author's smooth and polished prose contrasts with the staccato, jerky rhythm of Stallworthy's, and mutes the latter's voice somewhat. Yet Stallworthy is often quoted at great length, and certainly enough to establish his unique character. When Stallworthy's life intersects with important events, Barr gives adequate background information without detracting from his subject's primacy. This reviewer appreciated most that, when the primary sources failed to provide information, Barr [End Page 159] admitted it candidly. He...


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