Going to Print with Alison McCreesh


Our Spring releases are coming up quick and we’re getting excited! First up will be Degrees of Separation: A Decade North of 60 by the insightful and talented Alison McCreesh, author of Ramshackle and Norths.

Over the course of a decade, artist Alison McCreesh lived, worked, and travelled north of the 60th parallel. Through a combination of autobiographical stories, drawings and sketches, Degrees of Separation offers an intimate and understated glimpse of the North as Alison experienced it. From frigid days spent killing time while stranded in the High Arctic, to the challenges of raising a baby in a small shack with no running water, it is one young woman’s personal experience of both passing through and of setting down roots.

Find out more in this Q&A with Alison McCreesh.


1. Degrees takes place over a decade of your life. One chapter was published as a pocketbook in 2021 but I know you were working on some of this back when you released Ramshackle in 2015. How long did it take to make this book?

The short answer is Much longer than I had planned! I wrote and drew a first test chapter – the one about staying on the Distant Early Warning Line Site in the High Arctic – back in the spring of 2019. I was starting nice and slow, laying the ground work. I had pretty clear idea of how I wanted to develop the project and of what the timeline would be. But then, in 2020, there was a global pandemic. Then, in 2021, I had a third baby. Then, in 2023, just as I was finally almost done, Yellowknife had to evacuate due to an oncoming wildfire.

It’s been a drawn out process, with periods where I worked in a really hard and focused way, and other long periods where the project had to be set aside. And then, of course, many stints where it moved along at what seemed like a snail’s pace, thrown into the mix of juggling self-employment and a young family. So really, I suppose the process spanned 4.5 years, which doesn’t actually seem that crazy for a book of this size, but really felt interminable as it was happening. You change a fair amount over the course of a somewhat tumultuous half-decade – it’s quite a challenge to have the same project in tow for that entire time!

2. As you mention, just as we were headed into the home stretch to get it to print the wildfires in the NWT meant you and the entire city of Yellowknife had to evacuate. Can you tell us what that was like?

It was a really smokey summer up here, marked by several community evacuations. Everyone was already on edge when it all came to a climax early August. Over the space of a few days, several different wildfires reached several different communities and the Northwest Territories descended in to crisis. It all felt chaotic and apocalyptic. For a while, telecommunications were down in the most threatened areas and nobody quite knew what was going on. And, meanwhile, the one road out to Alberta kept closing due to the flames, which added to the general anxiety. By the end of that same week, over 70% of the population of the NWT was under evacuation order, most people relocated well over 1000 km south of their home communities.

For our family, the 3 weeks we were gone from home went fine. Our old minivan held up, the three kids generally enjoyed the impromptu adventure and the two dogs – barring an impressive amount of stress-shedding in the first two days – took it in stride. Like with the COVID-19 lockdowns though, it was a situation where we were all in the same storm, but not all in the same boat. The sudden and extended mass evacuation was especially hard on those who were already vulnerable or who were already in precarious situations. We thought about that a lot. I still do.

3. The wildfires were partly a result of global warming. How impactful is global warming in the North?

The exact rate varies, but most scientists agree that the global north is warming up to four times faster than the rest of the planet. This isn’t news – up here, people have been seeing impacts of the climate changing for years – but it had been increasing more and more, faster and faster.

In the Canadian north, lots of communities are small and geographically remote. In many ways, they are really resilient places, but in others they are really vulnerable to changes to the environment. In the big obvious ways, like the more frequent and more intense wildfires or the spring flooding, but also in a whole slew of smaller, but also really impactful ways. Ways that increase the cost of living, that reduce food security, that hinder people’s ability to get out on the land, that increase community isolation.

For example, the annual barge delivery of fuel and goods being cancelled due to low water levels, community hunts made more dangerous by unpredictable ice and weather, winter road seasons made shorter by milder weather. Things like that. The threats and changes associated with climate change are much more noticeable and impactful when people’s lives are closely connected, and reliant, on the land and the elements

4. You travelled to many communities and countries north of the 60th parallel. Is the Northern experience universal? If not, how was it different?

In a way, there are quite a few commonalities and, definitely some shared issues, but I wouldn’t go so far as to say there’s a universal experience. There’s a really big variety of scenery, of weather, of politics, of languages, of cultures, of histories, of ethnicities and demographics – especially if you’re looking at the entire circumpolar north. You can go from a big industrial (big by my standards, anyway) town in Russia, to a cute Scandinavian village, to a windy Icelandic fishing town, to a fly-in only Inuit hamlet, to somewhat rough Yellowknife, then on to touristy mountainous Whitehorse, all on basically the same latitude. I tried to make sure Degrees of Separation highlighted some of that range. I think that’s something that’s often overlooked about the north: Just how vast and varied it is.

5. The first part of the book is Alison without kids and travelling free, and in the second part Alison is either pregnant or trying to get work done with a toddler. How has having children impacted your creative process?

I don’t know that having kids has impacted my creative process, per se. I mean, my work has changed and evolved over the past decade, but I feel that might just be from time passing and me changing and trying new things more than about having children thrown into the mix. This being said, having kids is a ton of work, so it has definitely impacted how much time I actually have for creative projects – and how I organize the time I do have. I’d really like to do a middle-grade book next, so I think that’s where the impacts of the kids on my creative process will really get a chance to shine!

6. And finally, did you ever fear for your life in one of those tiny airplanes flying through bad weather over the Arctic sea? Was the experience in the remote communities worth it?

In 2011, a regular passenger plane crashed upon landing in Resolute Bay, Nunavut. It was a horrific event for the small community, and it also shook everyone across the north. It was still front of mind for me when, in 2012, I was offered a job that would have me flying to all communities in Nunavut, including Resolute Bay. Up till that point, I had never really been afraid of flying, but the thought of small planes landing in bad weather on tricky landing strips really made me nervous.

As a friend pointed out though, planes fly all the time in the North – lots of communities are fly-in only – and for the very few and far between tragic events, there are thousands of safe trips. Somewhat reluctantly, I took the job and, as soon as I set foot on Baffin Island, I realized the stress of flying was totally worth it. Of all the flights I took over the course of those few years, I never did have any reason to genuinely fear for my life and I never regretted a trip to a small community – although I have to say, the tiny shaky planes I had to take in Northern Saskatchewan and Manitoba were definitely terrifying to me. Bouncing a few times on those unpaved landing strips? Shudder.



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