What is the significance of the title Four Degrees Celsius?
I learned so much about ice, snow and weather conditions of the North, while writing the story, and to my amazement, four degrees Celsius is the optimum temperature at which water molecules slow down and begin to form ice. The formation of ice plays such a prominent role in the story it was a natural thought to somehow use it the title. When we were trying to come up with a title, Michael asked me at what temperature does ice form, and so there we had it: Four Degrees Celsius.
Cruickshank wrote the diary during the search in 1929, where has the diary been since then?
Andy was a prolific writer, and during his life in Canada, he wrote to his family in England continually. These letters were kept and given to my grandmother, and then passed on to my mother. My Aunt wrote her book (The Spirit of the Yukon, Caitlan Press) about Andy’s life using these letters, but it seemed strange to me that there was never a diary about the search. It was in 2008, when my mom was going through a box left to her by my grandmother, that she pulled out a yellowed envelope and inside it was the diary Andy had kept during the search. After 79 years, we were reading the words he had carefully written.
What prompted you to write the story?
Once I had both Richard Pearce’s dairy and Andy’s diary I knew I wanted to write the story for my family. I thought it would be a keepsake for my mom and Aunt and document what happened during the four months from September to December of 1929, for my kids. While researching and writing, my friend was reading and carefully editing my rough drafts and said “You need to get this to a publisher.” I wasn’t too receptive at the time, but Marti kept encouraging and so I sent out the submission, and didn’t wait long. When I got a phone call from Mr. Barry Penhale, of Natural Heritage Books, Dundurn Press, I was really nervous, but onwards we went. In Andy’s diary he wrote that he hoped to write the story one day. He didn’t write it, but reading his words gave me a nudge, and Marti helped me to make the leap.
Ostensibly a rescue story, Four Degrees Celsius nonetheless ties together a number of themes related to Canadian history. Was this part of your original intention in writing the book, or did these themes just emerge as you were writing?
Good question….I knew the MacAlpine search was the greatest search and rescue in Canadian history, to this day actually, and I knew it was a story about the opening of the north for the mineral resources, but I had no ideas the historical icons of Canada also played a role, the RCMP, the Hudson’s Bay Company, and the aboriginal people, well, let’s just say they played a huge role in outcome.
You show very clearly that the members of the MacAlpine Expedition were singularly ill equipped for the journey they made—yet somehow they survived, not only physically but emotionally. How do you account for this?
There is no doubt in my mind that the Cogmollock Inuit families kept the Dominion Explorers alive. They gave food, built shelters, and most importantly knew the location of the nearest post, and where the men would need to go. Physically they were kept nourished, to the best of the Inuit ability, but mentally they were supported by knowing the Inuit knew the way to safety, knew when the ice was ready and the direction they needed to travel. The Dominion Explorers also helped themselves by giving each man a job to do, and therefore a purpose. This also assisted in their emotional well-being.