Latest Loyie, Brissenden book to hit shelves soon

Chris Clegg
For the Lakeside Leader

It has been almost five years since award-winning author Larry Loyie passed away, but his work continues.

Loyie’s partner, Constance Brissenden, just completed Wild Waters, Inside a Voyageur’s World, published by Indigenous Education Press in collaboration with It will be available on book shelves by the end of March.

“It was a huge undertaking…almost five years after Larry died,” says Brissendon.

“I was intimidated, but COVID-19 came along and I thought, what’s my excuse? I have all the time to finish it, all the research and history books in place, our outline, and the first chapters written.”

“I sat down and finished it over the course of 2020,” Brissenden says.

To begin research for the book, Loyie and Brissenden were successful in applying for a Canada Council for the Arts grant for Hudson’s Bay Company research.

“We spent a year doing the outline based on Peace River, a Canoe Voyage from Hudson’s Bay to Pacific by Chief Factor Archibald McDonald, and then wrote about half,” she says.

Research was a huge part of the writing journey for the pair.

“We were fascinated by history. Around 2010, we came across the [McDonald’s] book in the Northern Lakes College Library in Grouard.”

It was only the beginning.

“We found more research at the archives of La société historique et généalogique de Smoky River in Donnelly, as well as High Prairie & District Museum and the Peace River Museum & Archives,” says Brissenden.

Much of the historic novel is set in Alberta. Tomma, Larry Loyie’s Haudenosaunee [Iroquois] four times great-grandfather signs his first contract as a voyageur with Gov. George Simpson and the Hudson’s Bay Company in 1828. Simpson decides to challenge the fierce Fraser River at Hell’s Canyon to see if it could be a shortcut to the coast.

The book starts in Lachine, Quebec, where the voyageurs sign up. It follows Chief Factor Archibald McDonald’s diary across Canada to places like Fort Chipewyan, Peace River, and Fort Dunvegan.

The voyage is seen through Indigenous and Canadien [French-Canadian] eyes. Tomma must decide: what kind of a future does he want for himself?

Voyageurs have been characterized as tough, uneducated, fighters, and proud to be paddlers.

“Larry believed they were much more,” says Brissenden.

“The new country of Canada was built on their backs.”

In Wild Waters, Loyie shows that people in 1828 had the same thoughts, goals, observations, and ambitions as today. The world they were up against was very different from today, but they were not vague figures in history. They were real people of many backgrounds, Indigenous, Canadien [French-Canadian] and Europeans.

Loyie and Brissenden travelled across Canada and into the USA to visit forts and historical fur-trade locations.

“Fort Dunvegan was an eye-opener,” Brissenden remembers.

“We were walking on ground that Tomma had walked. Larry was searching for his ancestors. They can still be found at forts like Dunvegan.”

During their summer visit to Fort Dunvegan in 2013, Loyie met one of his cousins from Moberly Lake, BC. The cousin, now in his eighties, was living in Grande Prairie and on a day trip with the seniors. The Elder confirmed that Tomma was a great-grandfather to them both.

“What a coincidence that we were all at Fort Dunvegan on the same day,” Brissenden says.

“It was an amazing meeting for Larry.”

Because of his six residential school years, Loyie lost touch with most of his relations and set about finding them. During his later years, he reconnected with many.

“Finding Tomma, and making his connections back to 1828, was one of the most satisfying discoveries of his research,” Brissenden says.

The book will be for sale at the High Prairie & District Museum and elsewhere in the area by April 15.

The fifth anniversary of Loyie’s passing is April 18, 2021.

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