In 1897, the discovery of gold in the desolate reaches of the Yukon has the world abuzz with excitement, and thousands of prospectors swarm to the north seeking riches the likes of which have never been seen before.
For Liza Peterson and her family, the gold rush is a chance for them to make a fortune by moving their general store business from Vancouver to Dawson City, the only established town in the Yukon. For Constable Ben Turner, a recent recruit of the North-West Mounted Police, upholding the law in a place overrun with guns, liquor, prostitutes, and thieves is an opportunity to escape a dark past and become the man of integrity he has always wanted to be. But the long, difficult journey over icy mountain passes and whitewater rapids is much more treacherous than Liza or Ben imagined, and neither is completely prepared for the forbidding north.
As Liza’s family nears the mountain’s peak, a catastrophe strikes with fatal consequences, and not even the NWMP can help. Alone and desperate, Liza finally reaches Dawson City, only to find herself in a different kind of peril. Meanwhile, Ben, wracked with guilt over the accident on the trail, sees the chance to make things right. But just as love begins to grow, new dangers arise, threatening to separate the couple forever.
Inspired by history as rich as the Klondike’s gold, At the Mountain’s Edge is an epic tale of romance and adventure about two people who must let go of the past not only to be together, but also to survive.
|Publisher:||Simon & Schuster|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.10(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
At the Mountain’s Edge
Liza’s laugh was out before she could stop it. No one else in the room made a sound. She glanced at her mother, wondering if perhaps she’d misheard her father’s words, but she looked as bewildered as Liza felt. Even Stan had been stunned into silence, and that was rare. Her brother usually had something to say about everything. She let her breath out slowly, timing it with the sober tick-tock of the old clock on the mantel behind her, waiting for her father to laugh and assure them he’d been joking.
Up until a minute ago, the evening had been like any other. Liza had been absorbed in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes—though if her brother would stop spouting trivia about the rubber forests of Nicaragua or whatever it was from his latest National Geographic Magazine she would have been even more engrossed in it. On the other side of the room, her mother had been quietly sewing in her armchair by the fire while Liza’s father set out his pipe and tobacco, the ledgers for the family’s general store spread in front of him.
Then, as calmly as one might announce they were going for a walk up the street, her father had declared his intention to move both the family and their business from Vancouver to Dawson City, in the Yukon. That’s when Liza had laughed, and the choked sound had fallen flat in the ensuing silence.
“They call it the ‘Paris of the North,’?” he said.
To Liza’s bewilderment, he looked absolutely thrilled about the idea, and he was regarding his family as though they’d leap at the opportunity. Certainly she would, given the chance to see the real Paris. But this?
After an uncomfortable pause, Liza’s mother spoke. “Arthur, what on earth are you talking about?”
“An adventure the likes of which none of us have ever imagined, my dear.” He beamed, drawing out his answer as he drew out the lighting of his pipe. The aromatic smoke began curling above their heads, but its normal ability to soothe Liza was absent tonight. She was as impatient as her mother to know more.
“Just because the rest of the world is taking leave of its senses,” her mother said, lips tight, “that does not mean this family must do the same.”
“Think of the business, Agatha,” Liza’s father replied. “The Klondike Gold Rush is the opportunity of a lifetime. We shall build a future in which all our roads are, quite literally, paved in gold.”
“No, thank you,” she replied. “I am more than satisfied on our present muddy road. As far as the business is concerned, I am quite content. Thanks to this gold phenomenon, the depression is finally lifting, and while I’ll admit the past few years have been challenging, our store is already doing much better. The prospectors are buying their supplies from us, so there is no need for us to move to the distant wilds.”
As her parents spoke, Liza cast a glance at her brother. He appeared to have recovered from his shock, and from the eager lean of his body Liza could practically see a pick and shovel already clenched in his hands.
“Father, I think this is a marvellous idea,” Stan said, sounding more like an excited little boy than a young man of twenty-two. “Besides, I’d love to ride a dogsled.”
“Don’t be absurd,” Liza said. “You don’t know the first thing about dogsledding. You’d end up in a snowdrift.”
“No, I wouldn’t. There was a dogsled display set up outside the Vancouver Hardware shop today, and the shopkeeper was demonstrating how to drive them. It didn’t look all that difficult.”
“I saw that display, too. The four raggedy mongrels they’d hitched to it hardly looked as if they were up to that type of journey.”
“So now you’re an expert?”
Liza closed her eyes. Once Stan had something on his mind, there was no way to get around it.
“Didn’t think so. Clubb and Stewart over on Cordova Street call themselves ‘Klondike Outfitters,’ so I imagine they’d know all about it. I could go ask them.”
Their father cleared his throat, interrupting their banter. “No doubt Mr. Clubb would be happy to sell you whatever your heart desires for four times the usual price.”
“If supplies are so expensive,” her mother interjected, “then I don’t see how we can afford this venture.”
Liza did. For the past three years, she’d peeked at the store ledgers when her father wasn’t looking, fascinated by the columns of figures, the rise and fall of sales. Last year, when the newspapers had announced the discovery of gold in the Yukon, she’d watched as the store’s numbers soared to a thrilling new height. But she never told her father she’d done that. Ever since they’d first set up their store in Vancouver, Liza had worked behind the counter. She’d only been ten years old, and her father had quickly noticed the magnetic effect her bright smile had on customers. Now, at twenty, Liza still loved running the cash, but she longed to do more and had asked her father if she could work on the ledgers.
“Your job is to help the customers,” he’d replied.
“I can do more than count change,” she’d insisted.
“Leave the accounting to me. It’s a man’s job.”
The remark bothered her, but none of her attempts to change his mind worked, so she took matters into her own hands. She figured it wouldn’t do anyone any harm if she quietly taught herself how the shop’s finances worked, and one of the first things she discovered was that her father was an adept businessman. Now she realized she should have suspected something was brewing. He’d been studying the newspapers with more intensity of late, and she’d noticed him stockpiling snowshoes and other outdoor equipment. She just hadn’t imagined any of it might be for their personal use.
“We wouldn’t be mining, would we?” she asked. “We know nothing about mining.”
“Of course not,” her father replied. “We’d be mining the miners. Trust me, Liza. This is an incredible opportunity. We cannot lose.”
“But we could mine, right?” Stan pressed.
A tiny whistle sang through the room as her father drew on his pipe. “If you can find the time, I don’t see why not. But our priority will be in establishing the business, because in order to afford what we will need in Dawson City, I will be selling both the shop and this house.”
Liza caught her breath, and her fingers dug into the arms of her chair.
“Arthur,” her mother said carefully, “I know your heart is set on this, but it seems . . . irresponsible. To start with, the Yukon is not the place for a young lady.”
Liza’s thoughts touched on handsome Charles MacGillvray, the young man who stopped by to see her at the store every so often. Charles hadn’t done anything more than flirt over the counter, and Liza didn’t feel a terrible longing when he wasn’t around, but she did feel a tug of regret at being denied the opportunity to see how things might go between the two of them.
“Our daughter is not a dainty flower,” her father said, appraising her. “She’s made of stronger stuff.”
“Am I?” Liza asked.
“Certainly. You’ve never shied away from hard work. Besides, you and your mother would always be with Stan and me, safe from any possible threats.”
“Oh, Stan would protect me, would he?” Liza gave her brother a sideways look.
Stan ignored her and turned to their mother. “Let’s go, Mother,” he urged. “Think of it! The Klondike Gold Fields! It’s a strike like no one has ever seen before, and it’s so close!”
“Close?” Liza said. “For someone who reads as much as you do, you might want to brush up on geography.”
“I mean as compared to the rest of the world, obviously. People are travelling to the Yukon from all over—America, Europe, England—and all of them are much farther away than we are. After a few weeks up there, they return home with boats full of gold. I read some have more than a hundred thousand dollars of gold with them! Think of that: a hundred thousand dollars!”
Her mother studied the three of them. “There will be no more talk of the Yukon. The Petersons are not embarking on another wild goose chase, and that’s that.”
“Another wild goose chase?” Liza’s father asked, his smile fading.
“You know what I’m talking about, Arthur. Our life in Toronto was perfectly fine. Because of you, I bid my family goodbye and we uprooted everything so we could move to this rough, rainy place.” She kept her eyes on him as she stabbed her sewing needle through the coat she was mending. “Since then we’ve poured our lives and everything we have into the store—and now that business is finally starting to improve, you want to move us again. It’s not fair, Arthur.”
Silence descended over the room. Toronto meant little to Liza, since she and Stan had been very young when the family had come to Vancouver. The voyage had seemed like an adventure to them—no one else they knew had ever taken a train!—and they’d both settled in well. But Liza knew her mother still longed for the family she’d left behind. Especially her sister, to whom she still wrote weekly letters. While she did seem happier now that the store was doing well, whenever Liza made any passing mention of Toronto her mother drooped like a wilted flower, speaking wistfully of its bustling streets with their colourful shops and window displays, recalling the dances and parties she had attended regularly before she’d met her husband.
Liza’s father rose and crossed the room, surprising them all when he knelt at the side of his wife’s chair. He carefully pried her sewing needle from between her fingers, then took her hands in his own.
“You’ve sacrificed so much for our family, my dear,” he said gently, “and yet I am begging for more. Yes, our store is relatively successful, but we are still a small fish and the market here is saturated. Because of that, I fear we may never reach our potential.” He kissed her knuckles. “I want more for you, Agatha. I want to give you the life I promised you when we married.”
Her expression eased. “Oh, Arthur. You have.”
His fingers skimmed along the faded upholstery on the arm of her chair, then paused over the worn patch near her elbow. “No,” he said. “This isn’t what I promised you. You deserve so much more. Do you remember the day I took you to the Crystal Palace? How you said you would love to see the original in London? I promised I would someday give you the world, and now I can take you to the top of it. From there, the sky is the limit.”
“We talked about a lot of things,” she replied. “Young people always have dreams they can’t fulfil.”
“And yet here we are, a quarter of a century later, and I still dream. We have been so busy these past few years with family and work that I fear we have discarded whatever youthful aspirations we once held. I confess this gold fever has lit a fire in my heart, a desire to explore the unexplored, a thirst for adventure, and it is my hope that I have only to ignite this passion within your own heart for you to feel a similar longing.”
“Is that right? Am I to be so easily swayed?”
Liza had never heard her father speak this way, of hearts and adventures, of promises and dreams, and though her mother appeared unmoved, her voice had softened.
“I see it not as swaying you so much as reminding you.”
After a moment, her mother spoke again. “How would we live, if we were to do this thing? How does it work?”
In that instant, Liza saw herself in the future, and her throat tightened. The Liza in her mind stepped out of her home, suitcase in hand, and the door closed behind her with a terrible click of finality. Travel to the Yukon? She shuddered at the thought. Why, that was thousands of miles away. And wasn’t it buried in snow twelve months of the year? Vancouver at its worst was only ever inconvenienced by two inches of the stuff.
Everyone else might be fine with this plan, but Liza did not want to go. Absolutely not. No matter how much gold was buried up there, she had no interest in leaving Vancouver. Everything she knew was here. Of course she’d admired the sun blazing on the distant mountain peaks before, wondering what it might be like to stand up there and look down over the city, but those had never been more than passing, romantic thoughts. Never, ever had she dreamed of climbing a mountain. But now . . .
“Will it be a temporary thing?” she asked. “I mean, we would return to Vancouver afterwards, wouldn’t we?”
“It would last as long as it needs to.” The smile that spread across her father’s face was full of wonder. “The world will be stretched out before us, and the opportunities are boundless.”
She hesitated. “But we don’t have to leave right away, do we?”
“Oh yes,” he said, getting to his feet. Now that the matter was resolved, he had a bounce to his step. “As soon as possible, if we are to stay ahead of the pack.”
Liza looked to her mother, who had resumed her mending with new purpose, but she wouldn’t meet Liza’s eye. She would follow her husband without any further questions, Liza knew.
As her father left the room, Liza leaned back in her chair, her head spinning. How could they possibly travel to the wild frontiers of the Yukon? How would they know what to do? How would they look after themselves? The more she thought about it, the more frightened she became. She had no question that her father was a smart man, that he believed this move was the right thing for all of them, but it sounded more than a little crazy to Liza. She let her breath out slowly, trying to ease the panic that had tightened her chest. Her father would take care of them, she reminded herself. He would do everything he could to prepare them for the road ahead. All Liza had to do was trust him. And she did. With all her heart.
The problem was that she didn’t trust the Yukon.
Reading Group Guide
At the Mountain’s Edge
Reading Group Guide
Topics & Questions for Discussion
1. When Liza’s father announces he’s moving their family to the Yukon, Liza worries about the uncertainties of the journey ahead of them. In what ways did Liza and her family anticipate the hardships of their travel? What surprised them?
2. All Ben has ever wanted to be was a member of the North-West Mounted Police. What does being a Constable mean to Ben? How has his childhood played a part in his career choice?
3. Liza and her mother are two of the few women traveling to the Klondike. What unique struggles do they face along the trail?
4. Though her father and Stan assure Liza that they will take care of her, Liza often wishes to learn and do things on her own. How does her desire for independence develop throughout the novel? Do her choices influence how others see her?
5. Throughout the novel, Ben struggles with his temper. What are some of the ways he tries to control his anger? What effect does Miller have on him? What effect does Liza?
6. Why is Ben so determined to put himself in the service of others? What motivates him to take such a difficult post in the Klondike?
7. Blue/Keitl is such a key figure in the story. What does she mean to Liza? To Ben?
8. When Stan dies, Liza is angry with herself, but also with Ben. Why does she blame Ben initially? What makes her forgive him later on?
9. Discuss the theme of survival in the book. How does the unforgiving landscape affect the cast of characters? What do you think keeps Liza and Ben going despite all the hardships they endure?
10. You’ve likely heard of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, but were you aware of the institution’s first iteration, the North-West Mounted Police and their motto Maintien le Droit? How did their presence shape the north? What obstacles did they face?
11. As much as the gold rush was about individual gain, there are many examples of friendship and generosity in the novel. Consider George and Belinda. What do you think their characters say about the value of community?
12. The Klondike Gold Rush is often romanticized because of the riches a few lucky prospectors attained, but the rewards came at great personal cost. How does the novel illustrate the gold rush’s larger impact on the Indigenous and the environment? Does the book change how you think about this moment in history?
13. Fathers play an important role in both Ben and Liza’s lives. Discuss how the choices that Liza and Ben make are influenced by their fathers’ dreams and desires. How might Ben and Liza have turned out differently?
14. During Ben and Liza’s first Christmas in Dawson, they exchange gifts. What’s the significance of the presents they’ve chosen for each other? What do you think they’re trying to say with the gifts?
15. Ben thinks of Liza as the person who broke down the walls he put up around him. Why is Liza the person to get through to Ben?
16. What do you think Liza’s family would have thought of her life in Dawson City, and later in Frank? Do you think Liza’s father would have made different choices?
17. If you were Ben, how would you have handled working together with Miller?
18. Before he moves to Frank, Ben returns to his family home. Why is it important for him to go there? What does he gain by visiting past memories?
19. Discuss the role of the Frank Slide in the novel. How do Ben and Liza’s experiences along the trail and in Dawson City inform the way they act during the calamity? How does the Slide affect their actions afterwards?
20. What is the significance of the title At the Mountain’s Edge?
Enhance Your Book Club
Learn more about the Klondike Gold Rush and the real people of Dawson City by reading about the history here in The Canadian Encyclopedia:
Many of the characters in At the Mountain’s Edge are gold dust miners, but panning for gold was also a popular method during the Klondike Gold Rush. You can learn more about that practice in this instructional video from the Yukon (and maybe find a spot to try your own luck):
The Frank Slide was a devastating event in 1903 that killed over 90 people and displaced an entire town. Find out more at the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre:
If you share the author’s fascination with history, consider reading her previous book, Come from Away, with your book club. Discuss the ways in which women’s lives have changed from the turn of the twentieth century to the Second World War. How are the expectations placed on Grace in Come from Away different from those Liza navigates? What moments demonstrate how the characters are “of their time”?
A Conversation with Genevieve Graham
You’ve mentioned that you came to your love of Canadian history later in life. When did you realize you were fascinated by these places and events? What inspired your interest?
It definitely hit me later in life, and I’m so glad it did! In high school, history class was unavoidable. I memorized the mandatory names, dates, and places for exams then promptly forgot them. History meant nothing to me. It wasn’t until I was in my forties, when I began to read historical fiction, that everything changed. Here was the adventure and romance I craved, woven together with compelling facts. I was swallowed up by the genre and devoured all I could find by master historical fiction authors like Wilbur Smith, Penelope Williamson, Paullina Simons, and Susanna Kearsley. Just for fun, I began to write my first book and fell in love with the process.
In 2008, my family and I moved from Calgary to Nova Scotia, and everything about this province was new to us. We’d never lived by the ocean, never known any lobstermen, didn’t understand about the tides, the red clay, the fog that came in so thick you could cut it. The people were friendly and welcoming, but they were different from people we’d known before. Some of their families had settled here centuries before. I started to wonder who else might have lived here . . . in a fictional sense.
Canadian history is rich with little known, forgotten, and untold stories. The one that grabbed me was the Halifax Explosion, and now that I know about it, I can’t understand why it took this long. Just over a hundred years ago, two ships collided in the Halifax harbour, one of which was loaded bow to stern with explosives. Nearly two thousand people were killed by a blast that levelled the city, hundreds were blinded by flying shards of glass, and over twenty-six thousand were left homeless. The Halifax Explosion was the largest manmade explosion before Hiroshima. How was it neither me nor my kids, who were attending high school in Nova Scotia at that time, had never heard of it? Halifax was Canada’s busiest port in WWI, crowded with sailors and soldiers headed in and out of the war, and that got my attention as well. Imagine surviving that war only to have your home blown out from beneath you. What physical, mental, and emotional scars might they have had as a result? And what of the people they loved? From those questions was born Tides of Honour and my passion for Canadian history. Once my eyes were opened, I couldn’t look away. This country is rich with stories just waiting to be told.
What drew you to learning about the Klondike Gold Rush?
The idea first called out to me in May 2015 when I was in Victoria on a book tour with the great Susanna Kearsley. We were staying right near the Royal BC Museum, and a huge banner was draped on the outside of the building, announcing an upcoming exhibit on the Klondike Gold Rush. My first reaction was, “What a story that must be!” My second was, “That’s a part of Canadian history? Well, it’s about to become one of my book themes!” The more I learned about the incredible journey those tens of thousands of people made through the unforgiving mountains, the desperate goldfields, and the unique world of Dawson City, the more I wanted to know.
The experience of prospecting for gold was very different in the Yukon than in Alaska, largely because of the presence of the North-West Mounted Police, and a lot of your admiration for the Mounties is reflected in At the Mountain’s Edge. What would you say impressed you most about these men? Did you uncover any challenges or misadventures that didn’t make it into the novel?
I dare say the Klondike Gold Rush was different from similar events in the Yukon entirely because of the North-West Mounted Police. When gold was discovered, there was no well-defined boundary between American and Canadian land in the north, and as a result, there was a bit of a race to see who could claim the goldfields first. The Mounties established themselves before the U.S. could bring their forces, and Canadian laws (and manners!) took over after that. In contrast, the town of Skagway (from the Tlingit “Skagua,” which means “the place where the north wind blows”) was just over the border on the American side, and it was a place overrun by criminals and violence, ruled by Soapy Smith and his infamous gang of thugs.
There was nothing simple about establishing and maintaining that border. The odds were stacked against anyone making the trek north in the first place, and the Mounties had to do so much more than just “get there.” Imagine trudging up a frozen mountainside day after day, building an outpost at the very peak of the Chilkoot Pass despite -60°C weather and blizzards that could bury a tent in a matter of hours. Now imagine you are paid one dollar per day, and you have no set hours, no benefits, little to no medicine, no real rest, and no opportunity to decide when you’ve had enough. Leaving the Mounties before your contract specified (three or five years) was more than frowned upon—it was regarded similarly to desertion from the military. Oh, and you weren’t allowed to be married unless you had spent at least five years in service, had a specific amount of money saved up, and subjected your bride-to-be to an in-depth background check.
Considering the number of stampeders in the Yukon at that time, the NWMP were seriously undermanned, and often they shared their meagre food supplies with the starving prospectors. Sometimes food was so short in supply that the Mounties would excuse lesser crimes because they had no food to feed prisoners. The use of the woodpile as a form of punishment was a brilliant move, since firewood was always in need up there. The Klondike Gold Rush could have been an overwhelming disaster for everyone involved, which is why I have such respect for the Mounties. It was impossible for me to include everything I learned in the book, so I’ve posted some of the deleted scenes on my website.
What came first: the characters and their love story, or this moment in history as the setting? What makes those two elements work together for you?
For me, the moment in history is the first hook, and it grows organically from there. I think of my process as three separate steps. First, I learn about the historic event that has caught my attention. Second, I learn about what else is going on at that time—the politics, the fashions, the cultures, and the attitudes of the day. The last step is to drop myself into that crowd of people right around the time of the event. That’s where I meet my characters. They’re already there, waiting for me, and it’s almost as if they lead me around, showing me things I need to know in order to visualize history and to write the book.
I see the story unfold almost like I’m watching a movie; while I’m learning the history I am also seeing and feeling the reactions of the characters as they experience everything. Sometimes, like with my novel Promises to Keep, the historic event is so traumatic, so incredibly difficult to imagine happening in the first place, it can be a challenge to find the fictional story in the middle of the facts, but for me, those characters bring it all to life.
The wonderful thing about writing At the Mountain’s Edge was the way the NWMP became a part of my Yukon story. I had been planning to write something about the Mounties, arguably the most recognizable icon of Canada, but I hadn’t begun to work on anything for them yet. As soon as I started reading about the Klondike, I understood that this was the Mounties’ story. That’s the magic about writing for me. You never know what is going to grow from the roots of a story—but we have some very fertile land up here!
How did you first learn about the Frank Slide? And why was it important for you to include the disaster in Ben and Liza’s story?
I lived in Calgary for 17 years before moving to Nova Scotia, and the Frank Slide was pretty well-known around there. I remember going to the Frank Slide Interpretive Centre years ago, but I don’t remember being all that affected by the story. I was a young mom at the time, and I think I was more distracted with watching my kids than I was about taking it all in. When I started writing this book, I realized the Frank Slide was right around the same time as the gold rush, and though it was far from the Yukon, I knew I had to include it. I want to write about as much Canadian history as I can, and it made sense to include both these events in one story—tying them neatly together with the NWMP.
Can you tell us about one of the most interesting pieces of history that you learned in your research?
I was interested to discover that between 1896 and 1900, over a thousand amazing, unconventional women made it over the Chilkoot and White Passes and ended up in Dawson City. Considering the suffragettes were barely in the spotlight at that time, these women displayed a rare sense of adventure and courage. Most who set out on the voyage had no idea what they were getting into—to be fair, neither did their male counterparts—but they were determined. Journalist Annie Hall Strong claimed that she and many other women had contracted “acute Klondicitis.” Not all struck it rich like Belinda Mulrooney, but they found their way as wives, dancers, business owners (including saloons), actresses, prostitutes, writers, and even prospectors.
What are you working on next?
I am writing a story about the very important and timely subject of Canada’s British Home Children. Between 1869 and 1949, over 120,000 impoverished British children (from toddlers to teens) were taken from the filthy, overcrowded streets in and around London, Liverpool, Glasgow, and similar city centres and shipped to Canada as part of a child migration scheme to give the children better lives. It also cleared the Victorian streets of “gutter rats,” boosted a young Canada’s population, provided extremely inexpensive farm labour, and put money in the pockets of the organizations arranging their transport. As part of their indenture contract, the children were to receive food, lodging, and education, among other things, but many never did. The majority of Canada’s British Home Children were treated as slaves, suffering terrible abuse and even death. Most Canadians regarded the children as human garbage. Many of them spent their adult lives in silence, too ashamed to tell even their families about their childhoods. But thanks to the surge in interest in genealogy through online sites like ancestry.ca, the descendants of the British Home Children are digging up the truth, and it has now been estimated that approximately 12% of Canadians are descendants of British Home Children. And yet, few of us have ever heard of these children. I aim to change that!