The museum didn't really need a full-time attendant. Any idiot could see that. But they paid me to be there every day from ten to six all the same. The idea was that in hiring me they'd get a twofer, a security guard and a docent, bundled. I'd protect the displays against sticky fingers, and answer any questions that came up about the collection. They were sadly mistaken if they thought I'd be able to give knowledgeable answers about the objects in the display cases, although I might have misled them a bit on that score at the interview. I did take Canadian history pre-Confederation in university like I'd written on the application form. I just neglected to mention that I'd slept through it. The cold fact is that I was a blank on the fur trade, the voyageurs, and the Hudson's Bay Company's involvement in the whole megillah. Didn't know scrimshaw from scrambled eggs.

Then one day in came this kid with his mother. Mum was just my type, by which I mean she had cleavage you could suffocate in. She was trying to engage her son in this little educational side-trip when all he wanted to do was shop for the new swimming goggles and flippers she'd promised him and head for the pool. He put up a whiny protest but she was one of those teacherly mothers, the kind who sees every encounter as a golden opportunity to pack some more factoids into junior's brain pan. My own mum had the same MO so I knew he'd have to suck it up and let the didactic ritual play itself out. There was no escape hatch.

She asked me all sorts of questions about portaging canoes and grading pelts and I threw together some bogus answers out of spit and twigs to impress her. And it worked. She swallowed my explanations lock, stock, and barrel. But then the kid's bullshit meter started bonging like we were at a level crossing. Turns out his class had just finished a unit on the fur trade and he proceeded to rip my answers to shreds. Fort William wasn't on Lake Ontario, it was on Lake Superior. It wasn't the Hurons who came out on top in the Beaver Wars, it was the Iroquois. Need I go on? Being one-upped by some brat in front of his foxy mother, well, it's a humbling experience for a guy.

So while I was busy licking my wounds, didn't it happen again. People complain endlessly about the quality of the schools in this town, but they seemed to be getting something right. Anyway, this second kid who came in, not only did he bad-mouth my theme-park version of the fur trade, he had the added nerve to mock the mannequins, arrogant twerp. Now they may have been crummy mannequins, chipped and geriatric, but they were my crummy mannequins. It was as if you saw your sister surrounded by schoolyard bullies. Imagine you agreed with them totally that she was butt-ugly and a slut. You'd still rise up to defend the family honour and hammer them into the ground, wouldn't you?

To make a long story short, colliding with those two smart-mouth kids at the museum was all it took for the place to trap me in its spell. I was hooked. Looking at the displays through my new rose-coloured glasses, the hokey dioramas took on an air of Louvre sophistication and the moth-eaten top hats seemed to be wondering where they'd lost track of Fred Astaire.

The new me had a helluva lot of catching up to do so I overhauled my work routine which until then had amounted to counting down the minutes till clocking-out time and picking my nose. Now, in the lengthy intervals between visitors I tore through every book on the museum's shelves and there had to be a few hundred, easy. Trouble was, each one I finished left me with tons more unanswered questions. I appealed to Zach to let me double dip on his university library card and in a rare spurt of fraternal good will he agreed. Soon I was borrowing dissertations and archaeological tracts from McGill to fill in around the edges. One night in my bedroom I Googled up the fur trade. In three seconds flat it shot me back twenty-four million hits. Right then and there I made it my life's mission to work my way through every last one. I was a man possessed.

Even though I still had a good way to go, it only took a few months of non-stop application before I could at least answer any question the museum patrons threw at me, even the most arcane. No one could trip me up. I was the trivia king of the Hudson's Bay Company. I re-christened myself curator. My official job description of caretaker just didn't cut it. Who'd notice anyway? Or care? Enough of the letters coincided, so that if you said it fast, with a bit of a slur, you could hardly tell the difference.


Benjie Gabai serves out his days as caretaker of The Bay’s poky in-store fur trade museum, dusting and polishing the artifacts that fuel his imagination. When he learns his museum is about to be closed down, scattering his precious collection to the four winds, he hatches a plan that risks bringing his voyageur illusions lapping dangerously up against reality.


  • Winner, Best Book Cover Design at the Alberta Book Publishing Awards 2018


Praise for My True and Complete Adventures as a Wannabe Voyageur:
"As Canadian as a canoe, this heart-warming and hilarious story of friendship, fraud, and the power of the imagination is for anyone who's ever felt as if they don't fit in. "
~ Cassie Stocks, author of Dance, Gladys, Dance, winner of the 2013 Leacock Medal for Humour
"Calling all Canadian fiction lovers, if you're looking for a light-hearted and very endearing book full of Canadiana and absurd storylines, then this book will tickle your fancy. "
~ Worn Pages and Ink blog