Life of Pierre-Esprit Radisson subject of Bush Runner

Picton Branch of the Prince Edward County Public Library. (Desirée Decoste/Gazette Staff)

Bringing authors in to speak is one of the most important kinds of programming we do at the Library. It’s exciting to be able to hold up local voices and welcome writers from all over the country.

On Sat. Nov. 16 we’re happy to be hosting Mark Bourrie—author, historian and journalist—whose new book Bush Runner chronicles the life of Pierre-Esprit Radisson.

Known to some as the first European to explore the upper Mississippi, and widely as the namesake of ships and hotel chains, Pierre-Esprit Radisson is as writes Mark Bourrie, as “an eager hustler with no known scruples.” Kidnapped by Mohawk warriors at the age of fifteen, Radisson assimilated and was adopted by a powerful family, only to escape to New York City after less than a year. After being recaptured, he defected from a raiding party and crossed the Atlantic to beginning a lifetime of seized opportunities and frustrated ambitions.

A guest among First Nations communities, French fur traders, and royal courts; witness to London’s Great Plague and Great Fire; and unwitting agent of the Jesuits’ corporate espionage, Radisson double-crossed the English, French, Dutch, and his adoptive Mohawk family alike, found himself marooned by pirates in Spain, and lived through shipwreck on the reefs of Venezuela. His most lasting venture as an Arctic fur trader led to the founding of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Sourced from Radisson’s journals which are the best first-hand accounts of 17th century Canada Bush Runner offers a fresh perspective on the world in which he lived. For Bourrie, it was important to publish Radisson’s story as a direct challenge to the colonial-historical narrative that so many Canadians are used to hearing.

“I wanted to attack the notion there was empty land in Canada,” he says. “You look at the Mohawk, people who are wealthy by any standard of that time. They own land and they farmed land. They have big surpluses, they have currency. They have a government that works and collects taxes, does public work, distributes land, engages in diplomacy, treaty-making and record-keeping. That is a full-blown society by the standards of that time and the standards of now.”

For Bourrie, Radisson is first and foremost a phenomenal storyteller, offering a valuable and rare glimpse into 17th-century North America. “He’s very human. There are all kinds of good things about him. And there are all kinds of things about him that are really bad,” Bourrie says. “I like his toughness, I like the fact he didn’t quit. He’s rather sociopathic and that’s intriguing, I hate to say. I think he would have been a really captivating person to know.”

Bourrie will be joined by Dr. Thomas Harrison for an interview style discussion of the book. Tom is a farmer, lawyer and long time County resident who interviewed David Frum at our fundraiser last year and moderated the panel at Dave Meslin’s talk in June.

For history buffs, lovers of Canadiana, or anyone who enjoys a good read, this is an afternoon not to be missed!

Join us at the Picton Library on Nov. 16th at 2 p.m. This event is a fundraising for the Picton build and tickets ($25) are available at

-Barbara Sweet