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Irene Baird’s ‘North and South’ in The Climate of Power

  • Joan Sangster
Couverture de                Volume 23, numéro 1, 2012, p. 1-354, Journal of the Canadian Historical Association

Corps de l’article

When Irene Baird’s last novel, The Climate of Power, was published, she told an interviewer that “the way to write the great Canadian novel” was to “get away from Canada.” [1] In her professional and personal life, Baird had already attempted to follow this maxim, travelling and living abroad in Latin America, the United States, and Britain. The Climate of Power, which was written in a flat in London, England, was inspired by her civil service experience and trips to the Canadian north, a space that proved to be just as foreign, different, and awe-inspiring for Baird as any trip abroad. [2] Irene Baird’s work as an information officer for the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development (DIAND), [3] and her frequent trips to the Arctic over a decade had a profound effect on her thinking and literary production. Her experience of ‘going north’ was at once personal, cultural, educational, and intellectual, resulting in the publication of The Climate of Power, along with a number of poems, short stories, and travel commentaries published in a government-sponsored publication, North/Nord.

This article explores the production and publication of The Climate of Power, a novel offering social and political commentary on the “contact zones” [4] of ‘north and south’ in Canada through Baird’s account of the Ottawa bureaucracy and its engagement with the Arctic. Taken as a fictionalized rendition of the civil service in the 1950s and early 1960s, The Climate of Power is a revealing window into the “space of colonial encounter” [5] between white settler and northern Indigenous peoples: the geographical, social, and historical zone in which cultural difference, policy experimentation, and unequal power were acted out. While crafted primarily as a satirical exploration of the internal machinations of the Ottawa bureaucracy and its policies in the North, the book also inadvertently reveals much about the gendered nature of the Ottawa bureaucracy, a decidedly masculine space of power.

Irene Baird’s writing has been studied, and lauded, as an exemplar of modern-realist Canadian fiction, [6] or assimilated into the collective oeuvre of the popular front, literary left in Canada. [7] Yet, the book she is best known for, Waste Heritage, a Depression-era novel of labour rebellion, resurrected in the 1970s as part of the “canon” of great Canadian literature, [8] is something of a political anomaly in her literary career, certainly in terms of its assumed left-wing sympathies. [9] There are some links between her novels, one of which was her tendency to write primarily through the voices of men. This was no mere accident: Baird’s role as breadwinner in the family, her love of travel in unusual or risky environments, her aspirations as a novelist, and her enthusiasm for northern exploration were goals that, in her lifetime, might have been coded masculine. Baird’s northern travel not only provided her with the opportunity to transcend the narrow gender expectations of the time, but also with a storehouse of memories which later nourished her depiction of Ottawa and the Arctic in The Climate of Power.

What connections we can assume between history and literature has long been debated by historians. Before the professionalization of history, both literature and history shared an interest in narrative form and “the art of presentation and argument,” [10] in discussing the human condition, or speaking to supposedly universal truths about the relationship of individuals to society. [11] Nineteenth century novelists were still lauded as great historians; Frederick Engel’s famous comment that he learned more “realistic history” from Balzac than other sources, is a case in point. [12] Even modern, twentieth century literary theorists such as Raymond Williams saw some synergy between the ethical and moral imperatives of history and literature, and social historian Richard Cobb wrote eloquently about fiction’s ability to convey the “texture,” feeling, speech, movements and attitudes of life in the past. [13]

Yet, as a disciplinary enterprise, history distinguished itself from fiction: historians marked out a difference between “what happened” and “what might have happened,” [14] between imagination as one element in historical writing [15] and an operating principle in fiction, between the historian’s assessment of historical evidence and the novelist’s ability to abandon reality. Positivist historians like Peter Laslett expressed concern that literary evidence could not be easily quantified, corroborated, compared, or verified as representative, using the historians’ accepted tools of the trade. [16] Such devotion to empiricism was rejected in subsequent post-structuralist writing which challenged the accepted notion that fictional texts are distinguishable from historical contexts since, according to Hayden White, the latter are themselves “fictive.” [17] Instead, historical writing should be analyzed as fictional narrative shaped by rhetorical tropes, in which rationality and realism are less possible than a contingent relativism, or, in Roland Barthes’ view, myth and history have become interchangeable.

White’s radical collapsing of the boundaries between fiction and history has not become common practice in history writing, though it has encouraged a more skeptical (though debated) view of the “incommensurability” and indeterminacy of history. [18] As Richard Price’s trenchant critique of “postmodernism and history” suggests, there are reasons to maintain disciplinary boundaries between history and fiction, evidence and imagination, yet this does not negate the use of fiction as a valuable historical source. [19] Literature, argues James Smith Allen in a study of history and the novel, cannot be “pilfered” indiscriminately as a “storehouse of details” about the past, and historians need to take into account the ideological, subjective, poetic, impressionistic elements of fiction (though the same could be said for travel writing, often used as a source). [20] However, novels can offer insight into the “mental world” of a particular group or era, and this may be so for “lesser” novels, as much, or even more than those designated literary ‘greats’. [21] Despite the different intensions and methods of fiction and history, novels may be a “sensitive medium” that can reflect or relay the attitudes, ideas, or the reigning Zeitgeist of a particular time. [22]

Although Climate of Power was never a best seller, Baird’s style, writerly intentions, imagined audience, and her previous research, are all important considerations in assessing the book as a historical source. Baird was indeed part of a modernist realist tradition, and both she, and those who praised her work, noted her particular talent at first-hand observation. Her journalistic eye and her ability to relay, with acuity, the human landscape of an event or an era, were lauded in the case of Waste Heritage[23] With Climate, she wished to weave a tale that addressed issues of human conflict and frailty, as much as mundane details of life in the civil service, but she hoped to create a story that would have resonance for her reading audience, and perhaps encourage questions, already alluded to in her other writing, about northern development. Her ability to create ‘fictional believability’ was as much a concern for her as for the critical readers of her manuscript at Macmillan. Moreover, although she left few letters behind, at least one (cited below) indicated that she enjoyed casting a rather sardonic, but analytical eye on the Ottawa scene. To be taken seriously, Baird needed to create some sense of authenticity, and she undoubtedly considered her years as a civil servant part of the long research process behind her book.

Becoming a Civil Servant

Baird arrived at northern travel in a happenstance way. Unlike others who dreamed from an early age of northern expeditions of discovery, Baird was required to cover northern themes through her job with the Information and Editorial Division in the Department of Mines and Resources, later the Department of Northern Affairs and Natural Resources, and finally the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development. Baird’s civil service career was not unrelated to her earlier writing, but the route to Ottawa was somewhat circuitous.

Born Irene Todd, she had immigrated to British Columbia from England with her upper middle-class parents in 1919 at the age of 19; a few years later, she married Robert Baird, an engineer, with whom she had two children, Ronald and June. When Ronald was young, she worked for two years at the exclusive Vancouver St. Georges Anglican private school, one of the only female teachers on staff, until she left in 1933 due to the pressures of caring for her family as well as working outside the home. [24] While she and her family originally led a fairly privileged middle-class lifestyle, this altered by the end of the decade: during the Depression, her husband lost his job and was unable to support the family, and her own parents’ financial resources, which might have cushioned her and the children, were also tapped into. By the early 1940s, Irene Baird became the family breadwinner.

After the publication of Waste Heritage in 1939, journalist Bruce Hutchinson recommended her for a freelance position with the Vancouver Sun. For just over a year, she wrote a column on the editorial page, “What Really Matters,” comprised of cultural, political, social, and sometimes more light-hearted comment, until she was offered a job with the National Film Board (NFB) by its director, John Grierson. [25] She moved to Ottawa in 1942 to take up the NFB position, and shortly afterwards to New York City where she worked for the NFB under the auspices of the Canadian legation to the United Nations (UN). The NFB then sent her to Mexico in 1944, where she also served as the information officer in the Canadian embassy, receiving rave reviews for her work from the chargé d’affaires and the ambassador, well-known diplomat Hugh Keenleyside. Keenleyside and his wife became life-long friends, though Irene’s ties to Hugh were particularly important, and close enough that she trusted him to make discreet inquiries in Canada for her when she tried — unsuccessfully — to secure a Mexican divorce from her estranged husband. [26]

Baird’s Mexican interlude ended precipitously when she was dismissed in 1947, in part due to budget cuts, but also due to a behind-the-scenes smear campaign by the Minister of Revenue, also responsible for the NFB, J.J. McCann, one of Canada’s most ardent anti-communists. [27] He mistakenly assumed Baird was a communist and used his influence to have her removed, though this had nothing to do with Waste Heritage[28] Hugh Keenleyside, who had recently returned to Ottawa as Deputy Minister of the Department of Mines and Resources, [29] was able to help her secure a position as an information officer in his department, despite McCann’s objections directly to the Prime Minister, accompanied by negative innuendo about Baird and Keenleyside’s relationship. The fact that Keenleyside gave preference to female applicants in this job contest was extremely unusual for the time; the federal civil service had a well entrenched “gender order” in which “men were superior and women were subordinate,” relegated to “occupational ghettos” [30] of secretarial/clerical positions, and always pressed to resign on marriage. Although some women found new roles during World War II, a “male breadwinner” model was re-imposed afterwards, as the Civil Service Commission told departments to “clear their staffs” of married women. [31] However, it was Baird’s imagined politics, not her marital status, which led McCann to persist for three years in blocking the conversion of her job to a permanent position. Keenleyside’s behind-the-scenes lobbying finally paid off in 1950 when the Treasury Board relented and gave Baird the job security she so desired, not the least because she now supported both her parents and her children. [32] By this time, Keenleyside had left Ottawa for other diplomatic posts, first at the UN and then in Chile, and Baird too spent some time on a UN educational mission to South America before returning to Mines and Resources, a department which took in a broad range of responsibilities, including the publication of scientific research reports, wildlife, tourism and travel, forestry, water resources, the national museum, parks, engineering and construction, as well as northern administration. [33]

In 1962, Baird was promoted to head of the information division, the first woman to take on such a role in the federal government. However, she was loath to advertise her achievement as a ‘feminist first’: “I don’t believe in the feminine mystique and all that rot, and we don’t need to be aggressive. We need to be well qualified,” [34] she told a newspaper interviewer when she retired in 1967. Her views on gender roles were somewhat contradictory; for example, she might speak publicly to a women’s group about the importance of “taking care of the men in the family,” [35] but she herself lived a more unconventional, independent life, very much on her own terms. Like her mentor, Keenleyside, she was a progressive thinker interested in reform, but she also held individualist ideas about merit and achievement — the latter not surprising given her class background. Her individualism, coupled with a desire for adventure and new experiences, proved a good combination for northern travel. She was not afraid to take risks and prove her intellectual abilities and physical stamina, yet she did not laud her feats publically as a ‘first for women,’ which would have not endeared her to those she worked with.

The Climate of Power

In 1964 Hugh Keenleyside wrote to Baird, complimenting her on a poem she had just published in North; she replied, with some regret, that “a package” of her poems had just been rejected by McClelland and Stewart. “I don’t have an agent now and don’t have much time for writing,” she lamented, though “writing still gives me more of a sense of achievement (of something concrete) than anything else I have ever done.” [36] While working for the government, Baird published a number of travelogues in North/Nord, most dealing with the eastern Arctic, as well as some short stories and poetry, which continued to appear after her retirement. Baird’s travel pieces were usually positive in outlook, celebrating the North as a frontier of new development, and employing familiar tropes: the sublime beauty of a silent and mysterious land, the spiritual north, the north as a site of risky exploration, and the austere land as the ‘master of men,’ not the other way around. [37] Like other southern travelers, Baird sometimes dichotomizes the traditional Inuit/north and modern white/south in her writing, though in contrast to other authors she does not always make this synonymous, in a pejorative manner, with the civilized south and primitive north. [38]

While these travel narratives did not look at the unpleasant underbelly of Canadian incursions into the Indigenous North, her poems and short stories did. Her poetry developed themes of contrasting and conflicting southern and northern cultures, and exposed the strains in Inuit-white relations; some invoked scenes of tragedy and alienation that pointed a critical finger at the superiority of southern whites who did not recognize the value and fragility of Inuit culture. She also stressed the importance of preserving Indigenous culture: in her poems, she urged the Inuit to “stick to your roots,” “keep their own things,” and respect their elders amidst this confusing clash of cultures. [39]

Baird’s northern trips, as well as her public relations management of the northern portfolio, left her with a rich archive on which to draw for The Climate of Power (Climate). Her familiarity with the inner dynamic of the civil service provided all the fodder she needed for her final novel; indeed, one event in the book clearly approximated her earlier travel piece, “A Working Journey,” describing the trip she took with other bureaucrats to inspect local projects, such as new housing in Pangnirtang. [40] Because Baird took mental notes on the job, one wonders if some of the personalities in Climate came perilously close to her former colleagues. Her British publishers raised the “danger of libel” from the very beginning of the publishing process, and their Canadian counterparts followed up by soliciting an opinion from their lawyer. The publisher’s disclaimer on the opening pages of Climate, which stated that “all characters and the situations [in the book] are imaginary,” was likely recommended as a legal safeguard. [41]

One similarity in all Baird’s novels was her inclination to speak through the lives of men. However unconventional Baird was in her own life, she was not interested in innovating with female heroines or probing the psyche of exceptional women. Still, the men featured in The Climate of Power were a far cry from those in her famous novel, Waste Heritage; her earlier book looked at the dispossessed underclass, while The Climate of Power explored a more privileged group, civil servants running the government behind the scenes. Baird’s focus was less on the top public servants setting the agenda, the “Ottawa men” lauded by Jack Granatstein, and more on those a step below, though both groups shared common characteristics, including WASP backgrounds and unpretentious, respectable, middle-class lifestyles. [42]

During her time with the government, Baird had to be discreet about her views of these men, but in a personal letter to Hugh Keenleyside in 1955, she expressed some amusement, if not cynicism, about her experience in the Ministry of Mines and Resources. She hinted at her own boredom with the “safety, comfort, [and] security” of the civil service, and chatted about the current political situation, including the recent visit of Clement Atlee and the Dominion Provincial conference. The Ottawa scene “seemed comfortably becalmed,” she noted, adding that the Korea crisis had the potential to overshadow all other events. Within her own department, there was little money for non-military projects: “the Department is being slowly drained of blood … and without the Bureau of Mines, there is little in our shop which bears directly, or even indirectly on defense. For the time at least, the military will have most of the housekeeping money to spend in the north.” Writing press releases about projects that involved teaching “twenty-five Eskimo at Burwell how to cure fish,” she lamented, “seemed rather fatuous” at this point. [43] Baird likely knew her view of the ministry had some resonance for Keenleyside since he had already left his post as deputy minister, privately disenchanted after the appointment in 1950 of a new minister, Robert Winters, whose conservative outlook and autocratic manner made it difficult to promote a progressive, reform-minded agenda. [44]

Baird portrayed her fellow employees as overly concerned with their comfortable sinecures, too focused on their bureaucratic lives, a theme that describes some of the civil servants in Climate. Commenting on those around her who “yelled with anger and pain” about an increase in hours that was paired with an increase in wages, she told Keenleyside: “I don’t want to utter a heresy, but must honestly state that if there is another class in any country that works more reasonable hours for better returns, I should like to know what and where.” What is perhaps most revealing are her pithy and sardonic comments on the ministry’s higher-ranking bureaucrats who she saw as adept primarily at negotiating their longevity. Her departmental chief clearly knew how to stay in power, but out of trouble, as he was “embedded in Ottawa, as he always has been, pensionable whatever, waits daily to do as he is bid, like a sensible fellow.” Her chief’s “ceiling” or boss, “Mr. J,” was not likely to “fall on him,” and even if her chief was entirely lacking as a leader, she observed with a certain resignation, he “isn’t being paid to lead.” She imagines him as rather colourless, always “paying his bills promptly,” while others below him are “adrift” or even asleep: “the rest are, so to speak, old men, women and children, so, short of the A bomb, what would disturb them?” [45]

The Department of National Projects

There was no direct equivalent in these descriptions to George McKenna, the central character in Climate, but some of the supporting actors in her book exhibit the complacent inertia she attributed to her fellow civil servants in her letter to Keenleyside. In Baird’s imaginary Department of National Projects (DNP) in The Climate of Power, George McKenna is a senior civil servant nearing retirement age who does not want to retire, thereby letting go of the reigns of bureaucratic power and leaving the job which has so clearly defined his identity. Highly dedicated, but a tad arrogant, George sincerely believes he is indispensible to the government; he thrives on the meticulous performance of his job (and likely did pay his bills on time) and takes immense pride in his ability to solve problems, offer astute advice to the deputy minister, and run an efficient department. As Christina Newman observed in the late 1960s of this “Establishment” generation of bureaucrats, their most fitting self-description and epitaph would be: “HE SERVED HIS MINISTER WELL.” [46] George also prided himself on keeping in close touch with civil servants in the field, in this case, administrators posted in the north. Unlike most of his confrères, George had spent considerable time in the North, and was honestly concerned about the welfare of the Inuit, even if this concern was shaped by a decided paternalism.

George, however, was being undermined by a younger, ambitious bureaucrat hungry for power, Roy Wragge. Roy wanted George’s job — badly. He was a modernizer, intent on making George look like a dinosaur, and he was catching the approving eye of the political higher-ups, such as the deputy minister, whose primary concern was usually protecting the Minister, Peter Brock, from criticism. Baird was undoubtedly depicting an internal power play she had witnessed, commented on in later years by journalists; the “older Establishment mandarins,” noted Christina Newman, were challenged by a younger cadre of men better able to manage the “complex, proliferating problems of governing Canada.” [47] Baird is more equivocal in her rendition of this contest for power. With mocking wit, she depicts the tensions, not only between the young modernizers and older power holders, but also between the political minister and the career civil servants, as well as the shifting alliances among the civil servants; she outlines machinations over a concern as petty as who will have control over the departmental newspaper subscription. Only the civil servant who knew “no one wanted his job badly enough to sink a knife between his shoulder blades,” [48] was secure in these superficially courteous, but dangerous corridors of power. “Ottawa,” Baird recounts in Climate, “was a capital where politics and the establishment were the main occupation, tending to make small men larger than they were and talented ones appear like statesmen and geniuses.” [49] As one of the publisher’s assessors of the manuscript put it, “our author surveys the corridors of power in a mood affectionate, but highly acid.” [50]

George’s undoing came on a number of fronts. His prideful obsession with his own reputation led to a disastrous public mistake. Enraged over false rumours about government incompetence causing a flu epidemic in the northern hamlet of Glasgow Bay, circulated purposely by a disreputable and small-minded Opposition MP, Sheldon Watkins, and a rather unscrupulous reporter for the Toronto Sun Times, Hal Hawks, George physically attacked the journalist in a fit of anger at a chance meeting. The meeting was not chance enough: there happened to be cameramen on the scene who captured it for TV. George was placed on forced leave, but on his return, is included in a trip north with the minister’s entourage. The minister sees this trip, in part, as a public relations enterprise, but it is Roy Wagge who is most disagreeable and cynical. Roy is little concerned with the Inuit’s well-being and suggests they could be moved anywhere in the North. He sees their culture as a lost, dying cause:

They’re hardly competent to judge the merits of one place or another. As for their culture that is being destroyed anyway …. In a year or two the children will be looking down their noses at the places their parents few up in. Museums can take care of the rest. [51]

However stubborn and self-obsessed, George actually knows the North, cares about the ministry projects for the Inuit, and has some respect for their culture. However, George’s pride, his hatred of Roy, and his fear of being cast aside become his second undoing. George, Roy, and an Inuit guide, Kunu, are on a boat trip in turbulent waters, with Roy, ever the confident braggart, standing up brandishing a gun that he barely knows how to use, ignoring George’s advice to sit down. In a split second of murderous anger, George rocks the boat so Roy falls into the icy water. Roy disappears in seconds.

George’s final undoing came on the home front. A long-time bachelor, he was pressed into judging a civil service beauty contest a few years past and was inexplicably captivated with a contestant, Flo, an attractive ‘girl’ from the typing pool. She was young, luscious, and hungry too: for a good income, whoever was providing it. In the eyes of George’s middle-aged, sensible secretary, Miss Hazell, the match was an abomination. While Baird implies the secretary is in part motivated by jealously, she also makes it clear that George was bamboozled by Flo, a tawdry gold-digger with a shady past. When on his forced leave, George humours Flo by taking dancing lessons, and is tricked by the sleazy owner of Danilos’ dance school (a not-too-subtly named Miss Brazen) into paying for more lessons just for Flo, who is snuggling up the resident male (gigolo) dance instructor, Charlie Cruise, with whom she soon falls into bed. George is oblivious to his wife’s deception, despite the fact his secretary tells him that his wife is stepping out on him, meeting her lover at the Happy Hello Motel. It is George’s devotion to the vacuous and wily Flo, who is openly cuckolding him, that ultimately makes him a pathetic figure. When he finally realizes Flo’s infidelity, there is no way out of the marriage. With guilt grating on his nerves, he talks in his sleep, revealing the secret about Roy Wragge’s death to his scheming wife, who threatens to expose him. Their marriage becomes a prison of mutual blackmail and hatred.

George is relieved to be sent on one last trip north, where he feels useful and knowledgeable. However, he pushes himself to the limit, against the advice of Kunu, stubbornly striking out alone on the way back to the settlement in a snowstorm. As he is about to perish in the blinding snow, he imagines Roy’s ghost, “taking his revenge” by lying on him, pushing him deeper and deeper into the frigid snow. George is rescued by Kunu, but is completely debilitated, losing his feet to frostbite. The book ends with him being shipped home on a stretcher, likely to be forcibly retired, cast aside by the ministry, facing his tortuous marriage. The minister, Peter Brock, in contrast, is climbing the greasy pole of politics, moving on to a more prestigious cabinet post as the Minister of Power.

This was not the first ending Baird wrote. She initially had her protagonist, “George Forepaugh,” die in a head-on collision as he sped towards Toronto where his wife had absconded with her lover. However, this version, originally named Dinosaur, went through revisions after Baird’s literary agent in England first sent it to the British Macmillan. Their assessor, C.H. Derrick, found the car crash conclusion overly melodramatic and unsatisfactory. He recognized Baird’s ability to spin a pleasing, “slow sardonic” tale, but was rather condescending about her stature: “The book is full of things that would be serious faults in hands of less capable, less economical, less perfectly in command …. She’s a lightweight — not a ‘great’ novelist … but she knows how to keep the audience awake.” [52] Using his report, Baird made considerable revisions, including altering the ending, before it went back to Macmillan. Derrick liked the second version better since George is left crippled by frostbite, but alive in the Arctic, about to be sent home, “on stage, finally washed up … but with nothing whatsoever to look forward to and nothing to do” save to “snivel in the ruins” of his life. He also approved of Baird’s increased emphasis on the theme of northern development and Inuit marginalization. Although Derrick saw her critique of modernization as something of “a fashionable bandwagon — the Gadarene nature of technocratic progress and the ruining of the environment,” he nonetheless believed this theme would help sell the book. One senses that he saw the northern sections of the book through common tropes of colonial writing, for he posed this question very simplistically, more so than Baird had: “is it right and proper,” he asked, “that the primitive North, with Eskimos and outdoor heroes and the fine Spartan simplicities should be forcibly modernized?” [53]

If the British thought the romance of the polar setting would sell the book, the Canadian Macmillan was far less enthusiastic. Had the British not pushed, the novel might not have seen the light of day. A former Macmillan sales employee in Canada, Merrick Jarrett, did an assessment which treated Baird’s writing with some disdain, referring to it as “contrived and poor” in places, and needing a good editing, but he still thought it was a lively tale, publishable, with “commercial possibilities.” Besides, he noted, she was writing for an audience that did not recognize great writing: “for the most part these popular novels are execrably written. That does not make any difference because the people who read them have no taste.” He found the ending still somewhat unsatisfactory, as if Baird does not really know what to do with George as a washed up civil servant. Where Baird really soared, he admitted, was in her descriptions of the North: “some of the best writing in the book is about the arctic visits …. (and here Irene Baird’s writing fairly breathes the atmosphere and loneliness of the north).” Jarrett posed the issue of modernizing the Inuit less simplistically than the British assessor had, but he too thought this theme, along with her insider’s view of the power games in Ottawa, would make the book appealing: “all of us are interested in the Indian and Eskimo problem, that of assimilating their culture into ours … all of us are interested in what goes on behind the scenes in a major department in government.” [54]

Picking up on Jarrett’s offhand comment that the writing was often “contrived and poor,” Macmillan’s Canadian editor, Ramsay Derry, expressed reservations about publication, based on both the book’s theme and style. He found it “old fashioned and wooden,” and though he conceded it might have some of the “commercial appeal” of Arthur Hailey’s novel of Ottawa politics, In High Places, this was “dissipated by the fogginess” in Baird’s fictionalization of “the gov’t department, newspaper and political parties.” Nor was there enough “sex or associated passion.” The many civil servant characters became “muddled” and there was no one the reader could really “identify with.” [55] For him, the northern theme was mildly interesting, but not the drawing card that the British Macmillan had suggested. Perhaps the mysterious North was assumed to be more appealing to the British reader, yet too well trodden a theme for the Canadians.

Reluctantly, the Canadian publisher took the book, but Derry grumbled that they might not be able to “get rid of 1500,” and they were adamant that the title had to be changed. [56] Baird was happy to oblige, having come up with The Climate of Power months earlier. [57] The sister publishing houses then wrangled over a series of issues: concurrent publication in both countries, timing of release, royalties, the cover blurb, recognition of Macmillan Canada’s imprint, and, finally, the design of the jacket, probably the most irritating concern for the Canadians. Donald Sutherland, Manager of the Trade Department, and Ramsay Derry were extremely upset with the British cover design, an action picture of Roy Wragge falling from the boat. One memo, likely written by Derry, described it as “childish” and “juvenile,” then listed all the egregious mistakes in the picture: the time of year was wrong; the landscape and clothing were wrong; who was holding the gun was wrong; and, anyway, why give away “the climax of the novel”? [58] Sutherland told the British it looked like a cover fit for Chums[59] a boys magazine, and asked them to re-do it. The Canadians’ somewhat superior claim to expertise on questions of northern authenticity may have irked the British; they seemed bewildered and enthused that the picture was “full of movement and action, intensely dramatic and a real seller.” [60] Due to timing, misunderstandings as cables went back and forth, and the Canadian disinterest in paying for their own design, the original remained. To the British, what one wore in an Arctic winter or summer was less important than a picture that would sell the idea of drama and action amidst the arctic ice. [61]

Editors at Macmillan Canada were not off the mark in their concern about the book’s success. Baird’s style was somewhat dated, some of her themes off the mark for the early 1970s. The book was heavy with dialogue, abrupt sentences, and the plethora of minor Ottawa characters could be confusing. Baird’s gentle and rather understated satire had a polite British flavor (though not a Pythonesque one), which was not sharp enough for some, and perhaps most important, even if Merrick Jarrett claimed he remained sympathetic to George throughout the book, George’s dilemmas were out of sync with the times. His struggle to remain the most upright bureaucrat serving the nation surely seemed rather old-fashioned to Canadians who had witnessed the 1960s youth rebellion, the Munsinger and other scandals, and Trudeaumania. [62] Perhaps most problematic, George’s personal life approximated something from a 1940s film template. Flo was too much of a caricature: the stereotypical, flashy, promiscuous gold-digger, empty-headed, conniving, using her sex appeal to get ahead. She fit the office gold-digger persona that had been a staple of cartoons, fiction, and film since the 1930s. [63] She wore too much rouge, loved red dresses, and had not the slightest interest in anything other than consumption. However, in the post-miniskirt era, was excessive rouge really that scandalous?

Once accepted for publication, Macmillan swallowed its lack of enthusiasm and promoted the book as both a moving “story of human frailty,” and one of political intrigue that “moved dramatically between the tensions of power in Ottawa and the mysterious one third of Canada within the Arctic circle that only a fraction of the world has ever seen.” Baird was presented as a seasoned Ottawa insider who had witnessed first-hand the jousting, not for “the rewards of money,” but rather for other “fierce intangibles — influence, prestige, high office, power.” Baird’s self-presentation in the promotional material fit with her individualist image as northern explorer and raconteur:

I was never happier than when I could exchange a seat behind a desk for a seat in any type of aircraft heading north … all the action in The Climate of Power that takes place in the far north relates to areas I have known first hand … a frantic encounter with a storm is based on an experience I had myself … if you’re lucky enough to come through something like that and only glimpse the precipice that lies on the other side, the experience equips you with an instant course in arctic survival. [64]

However Macmillan’s fears were fulfilled in reviews of the book — and lack of them. In Saturday Night, John Muggeridge savaged Climate, calling it the “literary whiteout of the season.” He mocked Baird’s “mixed metaphors,” claiming it was not clear if the author was being humorous or serious, and stated condescendingly that he hoped the book, with its bad writing, never fell into the hands of his “communication arts students.” He did recognize Baird’s take on political power was more British than American, while the descriptions of Flo and her set seem more American in tone (and, indeed, the “brazen” dance hall owner was from the United States). The northern theme was simply hackneyed to him: George McKenna, he noted sarcastically, “is on the side of righteousness. He favours the old good North. The Eskimo like him.” [65]

A more generous review, though still not a strong endorsement, came from Dorothy Body, who had lived in the North West Territories while working for the Department of Indian and Northern Affairs. The novel did not quite work for Body, in part because of the unconvincing and exaggerated sexual/domestic theme, but she recognizes that Baird’s depiction of the North “evokes an atmosphere that hits home,” and she suggests that Baird relays well the struggle for power which had unfolded 25 years ago in the ministry between the older, paternalists like McKenna and the younger technocrats, “the systems men.” However, Body, representing a different generation of socially-aware whites in the North, rightly points out that Baird underplays the government’s lack of consultation of the Inuit. To her, the real tragedy in the North was Ottawa’s absolute power over the lives of the Eskimo: “The relocation projects, the housing, the school — had it occurred to anyone to consult an Eskimo on these?” The triumph of the technocrats was short lived, Body points out, since Ottawa’s power was now being challenged directly by the Indians and Eskimo. [66] Baird hints at this imbalance of power, and at Inuit disenchantment with the government, but it is not a theme that dominates, again reflecting a book conceived in the 1950s rather than the 1970s.

These reviews stood in stark contrast to Baird’s hope to make a literary comeback. She became “agitated” and worried when the Canadian Macmillan did not send her a contract and, indeed, because they were worried about sales, they were bartering over small matters with their British counterparts. [67] Once Climate was to be published in Canada, she wrote to say how pleased she was to be back in the “stable” of Macmillan authors, and she was extremely cooperative with publicity, coming back to Canada to do interviews on her own dime when the Canadian Macmillan said they could not pay her way. [68] Baird assured Macmillan’s Nora Clark, who looked after promotion, that other than visiting her family in Vancouver, which could be “fitted in at the most convenient time,” [69] she was at their disposal. Baird wrote directly to the head of Macmillan, John Gray, thanking him for a Christmas card and also for taking her to lunch in Toronto. These small attentions were important to her and her chatty style in these letters was meant to give — purposely I think — the impression of old friends meeting again. Macmillan did set up interviews with the CBC, the Globe and Mail, and the Ottawa Citizen, but they did not seem to have a great impact. Nora Clark hosted a book launch at a fashionable Avenue Road address, and whether it was Baird or Clark who created the guest list, it was a who’s who of well-known journalists, artists, playwrights — the Newmans, Marian Engel, Mavor Moore, among others. [70] Macmillan did score a coup by securing an abridged excerpt of Climate in The Star Weekly, but overall, the book met Macmillan’s low expectations.

Nonetheless, Climate is a revealing historical piece, valuable for Baird’s impressions of the Ottawa bureaucracy, the contact zone of north and south, and her perceptive, if unintentional treatment of gender roles. Baird had a good eye for the manipulation and opportunism, the ideals and failed ambitions that shaped Ottawa’s political scene, and, despite her disinterest in women’s stories, also for the rigid gender order within the civil service. Climate is, surprisingly, one of relatively few fictional accounts of the inner machinations of Ottawa political life. Late nineteenth and early twentieth century Ottawa have tended to capture the imagination of fiction and non-fiction writers alike, and few women insiders have attempted to fictionalize the seamier side of modern politics and bureaucracy in the capital, with the exception of Judy LaMarsh’s A very political lady[71]

Baird’s Ministry of National Projects was a predominantly masculine space in which power was negotiated, traded, and bartered for by men within a certain accepted code of clubby behavior. These “corridors of power” were rife with “stale cigar smoke and Victorian memories seem to have changed into a museum. More than a meeting place for distinguished men; it was a meeting place for old ones too.” [72] This history was precisely what George McKenna was clinging to; he loved the department’s august, long tables that, in “their mute, intimate way” were part of “the furnishings of power. Over tables like this one, cluttered with the traffic of negotiation (horse trading most of it), flowed the wash of documents that were the tools and charts of decision making.” Nostalgically, George recalled the “hard bargaining” he had done with the provinces:

Where every man around the table was a poker player because he had to be. You knew in advance which were the toughest horse-traders and sometimes they won and sometimes you did …. Then later everyone went out and had a drink. Except those who felt it might damage their bargaining position …. All of this was part of the climate of power. [73]

Muggeridge made fun of Baird’s metaphoric descriptions of Ottawa — the “world of tough, shining levers of power and delicate push buttons” [74] — but she did have years of experience observing a masculine culture of haggling, lobbying, and power broking. This was a work environment marked by the undisputed hegemony of men and a shared set of middle-class, masculine values stressing hard work, breadwinning, the cultural capital earned through education, professional know-how, and “reasoned expertize,” yet also one in which masculine competition, control, and aggressiveness could result in fierce power struggles and nasty territorialism. [75] For the most part, it was also a culture typified by a sense of ethnic and racial superiority to the government’s Indigenous ‘clients’ in the North.

Providing support roles for the men at the centre of power were the women on the margins. Baird’s fiction perceptively presaged what later feminists would identify as the gendered ordering of the workplace, in which secretarial and management jobs were defined by their feminine and masculine attributes, and the success of professional men rested heavily on the paid and unpaid labour of both secretaries and wives. [76] On the home front, wives of civil servants looked after the house and children; in Climate, they played background roles at best. [77] The wives of politicians had more to worry about: they secretly hoped their husband was not too attractive and charming on TV, as this could come to no good. [78] Baird makes this point rather circumspectly, but she may have known of politicians who had mistresses, an open but unstated Ottawa secret. In Climate, one of the outwardly respectable civil servants, and one of George’s supporters, wonders what his straight-laced colleagues would think if they knew about his mistress. At the very bottom of the social scale were the French-speaking cleaning ladies in the office who “chattered” [79] and hovered near George’s door after hours, musing on George’s situation in a language he did not understand. Indeed, the men in power were almost entirely English-speaking, save for one or two token francophones, though the wily Peter Brock knew his political future depended on his command of French, and so he had wisely married a French-Canadian woman.

Other than the office cleaners, most women working on Parliament Hill were clerical support staff: on the one hand, the ‘girls’ in the typing pool, like Flo, looking for a husband, and, on the other hand, a few older ‘lifers’ who had risen to the highest point they could, namely aiding the highest men in the ministry. George’s secretary fit this bill: she is a spinster, looking after a maiden aunt, representing the few women who managed to keep their jobs precisely because they were spinsters. Smart and perceptive, these experienced secretaries knew their place, but they were not without their own cynical reflections on the typically male behavior of their bosses. When George is angry with Roy one day, Miss Hazen ventures into his office for his signature and can immediately read the air; these powerful men seemed almost juvenile to her, as she reflects disparagingly, “no matter how high a rank he’s like all the rest when things don’t go too well for him.” [80] Instinctually, she understood the male power games going on around her and that they had a ‘trickle down’ effect. McKenna, she appreciated, was an old-style civil servant; he supported those working for him and was not interested in simply flattering the minister, but in providing sound advice. Roy was the opposite. When Roy temporarily took over from George, the atmosphere changed quickly. It was not just his importation of management consultants and use of unintelligible jargon like “crunch timing” that made Miss Hazen apprehensive, but the mood of competitive cannibalism that was materializing: “Fear” grew, the stress “crystallizing itself at [even a] humble level … the quiet jockeying for position. The apple polishers got to work and those with no temperament for court politics stood by to see which way the cat would jump.” [81] The dependable and loyal Miss Hazel feared she too would be cast aside by the modernizers since her fate was tied to that of her out-of -favour boss, George: “Miss Hazell felt like a woman at the bus stop on a winter morning watching all the buses she used to catch whizz by without stopping.” [82]

Interestingly, no reviewer of the manuscript or book mentioned Baird’s portrayal of gender roles in the bureaucracy, although this was precisely the period in which new attention was being focused on women’s inequality within the civil service. [83] Indeed, the male reviewers of the manuscript accepted without question Baird’s caricature of Flo, described by them as a woman “surpassing vulgarity, silliness, and sensuality,” and a “tawdry office-pool wife”; she was even presented in the promotional literature as a “silly, vulgar and promiscuous” wife.  [84] Since Flo came from a poor, barely respectable background, her portrayal in both the book and the reviews was shaped by a certain élitism, tinged with sexism.

In parliamentary politics, the hegemony of men in the affairs of state is taken for granted, though it is also clear that men sometimes govern without either knowledge or integrity. Baird’s picture of the minister is not completely cynical; he is ambitious, always with an eye to his image and future, but in the Arctic, when there is no press corps in sight, he asks some critical, intelligent questions. Still, the House of Commons was a different venue, a place where posturing, ignorance, ambition, and revenge could be played out by unscrupulous men. Sheldon Watkins, the ‘cowardly’ MP from Lemming Lake is a case in point. He makes common cause with the reporter not because he cares whether the Inuit are dying of the flu, but rather to score opposition points. Hawks, in turn, knows Watkins to be “unstable,” but publishes his gossip, disingenuously claiming it is a reliable source. Sheldon’s fellow MPs used him without much compunction for the truth; they “treated him like a joke” when they were in power, but now out of power, they appreciated his “nuisance value as a busybody” stirring up trouble for their opponents. [85] Baird’s picture of Sheldon is particularly unflattering, in part because he represented politicians who, after one visit to the north, become “instant critics” and advocates of Indigenous peoples, but only for political capital. However, she goes much further, also referring to sexual misbehaviour. It is possible that Baird had heard stories about administrators or missionaries who abused their power, and were simply moved around the north to avoid scandal, clearly at the expense of their Inuit ‘charges’: “At the time he quit his arctic teaching job it looked like raw deal, “but the truth was, in an isolated location where normal diversions were few, his interest in youth activities had been a little too sincere.” [86]

If Sheldon is the worst example of a white politician using the plight of Indigenous peoples to puff up his own reputation, he is not the only one. Other politicians were aware of Aboriginal peoples’ circumstances as a hot button issue, though Baird intimates they were more concerned with southern press coverage than northern lives. When rumours of illness at Glasgow Bay surfaced, the deputy minister warned Brock before a news conference that “at the moment adverse news affecting the Eskimo people can blow up a storm.” Brock wanted a quick briefing, since he was “in no mood for long-winded human interest stories.” He mused, in the time-honoured Canadian tradition, that the government might try claiming that the “foul up occurred before the last election, making it, in fact, an error of the previous government.” [87] His deputy minister was skeptical about simply blaming the opposition because “the public has become highly emotional about the Eskimos. Where lives are involved they don’t care which government it was.” Brock seemed somewhat concerned about these lives, but he knew little about the Arctic, not even realizing houses could not be built in winter, and his final comment was more disinterested. All he really wanted was to be able to tell the House of Commons that “action was taken,” with supplies flown into Glasgow Bay. What was actually done was of less concern: “I am interested in making the point that action has been taken. What happens to the shipment after it reaches Glasgow Bay … whether it rots on the beaches or is built into houses is a problem for your engineers. [88]

In the midst of this controversy about Glasgow Bay, Brock is challenged in the House of Commons by the smarmy Sheldon to visit the North. Brock takes up this challenge and Baird uses descriptions of this government excursion to relive some of the sounds, smells, and sights of the north that she had grown to love, and also to re-cast her previous promotional travelogues in a more critical tone. In her North/Nord travel narratives, produced with an eye to legitimating the government’s role in the north, she describes her plane trips north with hardy, venturesome men attracted to the promise of a new life on the northern frontier. In Climate, male chatter in the plane suggests a different story: a young Maritime lad hoping to make his fortune quickly just wants to be in and out, “I need the city. An’ the day my contract expires I’ll be on this plane heading back to Montreal with a sackfull of money.” What are you afraid of, his older companion asks, after all, “There’s nothing in the Arctic a man can’t take care of just so long as he stays drunk enough.” [89] Another senior civil servant on his first plane trip to the Arctic, far from being overwhelmed by the beauty of the north, finds it morbid and frightening:

With the sun blown out like a candle every detail of the landscape took on a bleak grey reticence …. [Hobbs observes] I couldn’t stand this country when the sun’s not shining …. [T]he arctic’s a place that could grind you up and swallow you without a trace. Wipe you out in a matter of minutes. It’s too big and empty for my taste. [90]

In contrast to these skeptical visitors, Baird uses her narrator’s voice, but also those of McKenna and the local government administrators, to convey the pleasures of northern landscapes. As one reviewer noted, Baird had a remarkable ability to capture well the likeness of small northern settlements and the land, “the ticky tacky” administrative buildings in “rainbow hues of colour,” the wind on the snow, “rushing off the ice like a witch with a broomstick,” the fiords seen from above, “sparkling with blue green fire.” [91] The joyful sense of community at the party held to celebrate the minister’s visit is no less fondly recalled, as an aging Inuit woman, a masterful accordion player, entertains, moving everyone to spontaneous dance. Smells are something Baird embraces as sentient memories. The community centre room where the dance takes place had the odor of seal, “the breath of the Arctic coast,” said Cliff Hemmings, the local government administrator, a “big burley Newfoundlander” who also loved the land: “it sickens some people but it never has me.” The smell, Baird wrote, “a leathery, fishy aroma as native to the arctic as charcoal and frying tortillas to Mexico, or the acrid waft of oil and gasoline to the streets of New York … the smell people made, with or without animals, living together in the same place for a long time. Deep recollected scents of places where you have been content.” [92] Side trips also elicit Baird’s memories of sharing gossip and tea with Inuit friends, with the news sometimes grim and tragic. In one settlement, a child has recently been snatched from his parents’ porch by a polar bear. The parents had four other children, but that did not make “their loss any less bitter.” McKenna was saddened, since he knew how “precious children were to the Eskimo,” even if they might appear to take it “more stoically … because risk was built into act of living …. Death was a thief springing out of the dark. Who could say what lay on the other side?” [93]

Baird uses the northern scenes to raise some of the concerns alluded to in her poetry, and sometimes to ‘make strange’ the south from a northern point of view. The gulf between white and Inuit is immense, and often invisible to whites, assured as they are of their own superiority. The Inuit are sometimes shocked by the inhumane practices of whites, such as “discarding” their older men like George, [94] and they are put off by southerners’ stubborn disregard of Inuit knowledge. Yet the Inuit use silence rather than hostile words to relay their views; realistically, they recognize that whites rarely listened to them. When the minister asks a local Inuit interpreter, Joanassie, about the housing problem, the latter responds without a sense of deference:

[He] took the Big Shots from Ottawa without excitement. Mostly they wished to talk more than to ask Eskimo questions. For most part they were poor listeners. More interested in talking about the Eskimo than to them. It was agreed their mouths were bigger than their ears. [95]

Baird, however, does not paint a one-dimensional picture of colonial masters and oppressive relations; from time to time, white characters in her story express intelligent concerns. In the fictional community of Netserk, for instance, Peter Brock tours a new school which the local administrator, Hemmings, was immensely proud of, and he immediately sees something Hemmings had missed in his sincere eagerness to provide modern education to the Inuit children. “Dismayed, after a critical scrutiny of the walls and the texts,” Brock asked:

what happened to the Eskimo culture? Don’t these kids have one visible object to remind them when they come to school that they have a culture of their own? Artists of distinction among their own race? Anything to remind them that it’s good to be born and Eskimo?

Hemmings admitted that the books did not: they were “school readers [with] bland narratives of blonde, apple-cheeked children, prize products of southern suburbia, with matching parents, grand-parents, and flashing traffic lights.” [96]

Baird also provides more jarring examples of social dislocation. After the party, Brock comes across a young Innu man, drunk, lying in the snow in tattered clothes. When he demands an explanation, Hemmings explains that he has come to Netserk from a small coastal settlement as it has the appeal of a “hell of a big place.” But there are no jobs for such youth and his mother and sisters are now alone. His father, who should be offering him guidance, is in Alberta jail for murdering his brother-in-law. “Ten years ago,” George mumbles, “this would not have happened.” [97] While his observation is in part a romanticization of the good old North, Baird is making the same point she did in her poem and story, “A Delicate Balance” and “A Learning Situation”: Inuit youth are caught between cultures, without economic and social resources to deal with the culture shock, and are in danger of falling into poverty, addiction and despair.

Perhaps most interesting are the references to the relocation of Inuit communities which took place while Baird was with the federal government. Relocation is questioned, not condemned, alluded to, but not discussed at length. The most callous statements on relocation come from the unappealing Wragge, who “found it incomprehensive that McKenna should allow his energies to be drained away by the life hazards of a pocketful of Eskimoes. Few more than could be contained, dogs and all, on a good-sized suburban parking lot.” [98] Other younger civil servants also did not see the point in keeping families where they grew up: one “found it difficult to be seized by a sense of urgency over an event taking place so far off in such a totally unautomated society.” He was sympathetic towards the well-being of the Eskimos, but “regarded the arctic as a godforsaken spot and failed to understand why they had not harnessed up their dogs a century ago and broken out. [He] could not have found Glasgow Bay on the map.” [99] McKenna, on the other hand, angrily tells Roy that people cannot be easily moved around:

But Glasgow Bay’s their home! They’ve hunted along those coasts for years. Move them to Netserk and you destroy their whole way of life. Destroy their culture, too. [100]

On McKenna’s second trip north, he reflects on the relocations that he had participated in, and it is a young pilot’s materialistic evocation of the ‘new’ North that makes him reconsider, if not regret, the earlier policy. On his way to the remote Gull Island, the pilot asks him why is he going there, since the island has no resources:

no one’s lookin’ for oil or openin’ up a mine on Gull …. There’s nothin’ goin’ on around there but people … hell, Mr. McKenna, everyone these days is talkin’ resources. There’s not much money to made out of people. [101]

McKenna’s reaction — “aren’t people important?” — suggests his humanity, but Baird is intimating something more: that government policy, shaped by economic motives, or the military concerns she wrote about earlier, led to the disintegration of Inuit lives and communities. McKenna reflects on his own certainties at the time of relocation and his realization now that he may have been wrong:

When the re-location project was planned it seemed to him that they had most of the answers. Move the people from areas where the hunting was exhausted to where it was good. Build houses, a school, create a community …. In the first year of its life the project had attracted families [from far away].

Yet McKenna realized now there was “a price tag on any action where decisions taken could as easily turn out wrong as right.” [102] The picture of the homeless, drunk teenager at Netserk flashed before his eyes, a reminder that this engineering of human lives did not go as planned. Many of his civil service colleagues thought some social dislocation was simply the “price of the better life” for the Inuit; whether the price was “booze, prostitution, the soiled buck,” they had to “learn to live [it],” and the “casualties” who did not make it would be simply tossed “into the arms of social workers.” [103] McKenna had rationalized relocation as a means of protecting culture and tradition, but he had a nagging sense this had not happened; it might have been better to keep people on Gull Island, a “haven where they were secure in the ways they knew.” [104]

Baird clearly has second thoughts about the relocations. Like her protagonist, she may have originally believed these decisions were made in best interests of Inuit. But we know now there were other concerns at play. Even granting some civil servants’ honest (but condescending) paternalism about the Inuit, military and sovereignty concerns also shaped the government’s policies. [105] There is a hint of this in Baird’s previous letter to Keenleyside when she lamented that only the military really mattered to the government’s northern policy. Her critique of the relocations in Climate is, however, not very forceful, and this might be another reason the book appeared dated in the 1970s. To be sure, there were critiques of government’s role in the north written in the 1950s; one of the best known was Farley Mowat’s The People of the Deer. However, by the 1970s, Aboriginal activists and white critics were thinking in new ways about the Indigenous North. By the late 1960s, there were far stronger political calls for self-determination, land claim demands, critical writing, and an Indigenous rights movements. The kind of cultural dissonance that Baird had captured in her poetry produced not only the despair and dislocation she laments, but also collective activism and resistance.


Baird portrayed an Ottawa in which women had few career choices and were largely divided into wives and secretaries, each in their own way reliant on men for their social status and economic security. TheClimate of Power not only put men at the centre of the story, but some of the secondary female characters are rather one-dimensional. While Baird’s portrait of Flo is dated, it also betrays dislike for women who make their way in life using their body not their brains, or at least, relying on scheming rather than achieving. Flo was Baird’s real life antithesis: a vacuous woman with no intellectual interests, and nasty to the end. While the middle-aged secretary has redeeming features, she is rather pathetic, a spinster wearing sensible suits who is secretly in love with her boss. Nowhere in the novel was there a woman like Baird, who commanded a significant professional job in the civil service for which she required political acumen, natural intelligence, and creative skills. Perhaps Baird was implying, even unconsciously, how isolated and unusual she had been in her job, but her novel is not a critique of gender roles. Baird’s work and northern travel permitted her a certain transcendence of gender conventions, and she was a woman who thrived on adventure, travel, and individual achievement. However, she did not advertise her accomplishments as ‘firsts’ for women, quite the contrary. [106]

Baird’s writing also reflects a vision of two worlds, south and north, modern and traditional, materialistic and spiritual, tropes that are common in other white travelers’ writing on the North. Her appreciation of the North was shaped not only by love of its sublime physical beauty, but also by a profound belief in the inherent value of Inuit culture and the importance of the Inuit “keeping their roots.” Through her depiction of Roy Wragge and his allies, she offered a critique of the ethnocentric contempt — shared by many bureaucrats — that many southerners secretly harboured for the ‘primitive’ northern Inuit, and she was also suggesting that what southerners saw as the forces of progress could actually be a dangerous threat to the Inuit culture, disrupting a delicate balance of social and physical relations between humans and the land. Northern economic development was inevitable in her mind, but the ‘integration’ of the Inuit into Canadian life had to be managed with care. [107] Despite George’s tragic flaw of pride and foolishness, his paternalism appears more attractive in Climate than the callous disrespect for the Inuit articulated by the young, brash modernizers in his department. Nonetheless, paternalism is not equality. Dorothy Body’s insightful review recognized that Baird’s north was part of the past: in the new North, First Nations peoples would claim their own rights, not trust in the care of others.

Baird’s insistence on the intrinsic value of other cultures may have been linked to her own identification as a writer and cultural producer. She did not want to be remembered as a number cruncher or policy analyst; she wanted to create and write about the creations of others. Near the very end of Climate, she has a French-Canadian northern administrator, LeDuc, speak in her voice; both might be considered outsiders in southern political circles of power, one because of her gender, one because of his language and ethnicity. Leduc celebrated the spiritual and mystical in Inuit culture, as Baird had, too, in her poetry. Opposing Leduc was McKenna, with his insistence on rationalism and pragmatism. In order to understand the Inuit, LeDuc tells a skeptical McKenna, one must listen to their legends and “what is lying down there among the roots of their culture.” He respects their spiritual beliefs and suggests tentatively that in the Arctic “there may be influences that go beyond our poor senses of sight and hearing.” Shortly after, McKenna’s dismissal of such “superstition” [108] is proven false by his own encounter with the ghostly spirit of Roy Wragge on his snowy misadventure. Like one of Baird’s poems, “Blow Spirit,” [109] the book ends with a question rather than a certainty, with an invocation to heed the spirits of the ancestors. While Baird’s designation of the Inuit North as more spiritual than the materialistic white south replicated common tropes about Indigenous peoples, her emphasis on their cultural self-preservation and the dangers of white colonial superiority suggest that, during her civil service years, she was developing a critique of the contact zone of north and south, fictionalized much later in The Climate of Power.

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