Edith Iglauer, an American writer who became a leading chronicler of Canadian life and culture, most notably through precise and intricately detailed profiles in the pages of the New Yorker magazine, and in a best-selling memoir about her romance with a salmon fisherman, died Feb. 13 at a hospital in Sechelt, near Vancouver, B.C. She was 101.
She had pneumonia, said her son Richard Hamburger.
Ms. Iglauer (pronounced EEG-lao-er) was a dual citizen who straddled American and Canadian literature, with the avowed aim of teaching each side about the other.
“I am not just an American journalist writing about Canada for Americans,” she wrote in “The Strangers Next Door,” a 1991 collection of her articles, “but a Canadian journalist writing about America for Canadians as well. . . . I want them to know and respect one another as much as I do.”
Ms. Iglauer spent much of her career as a staff writer at the New Yorker, where she wrote lengthy profiles of Arthur Erickson, one of Canada’s most renowned architects, and Pierre Trudeau, the country’s long-serving prime minister and father of its current head of government, Justin Trudeau. She was also a contributor to magazines including Harper’s and the Atlantic.
After the Trudeau story was published, Ms. Iglauer invited him to dinner on a whim. Surprised when he said yes, she was even more taken aback when he brought along a guest, singer and movie star Barbra Streisand. (“She said she had already eaten,” Ms. Iglauer recalled in an essay, “and she nibbled at the soggy raspberries and chocolate cake.”)
“She was equally comfortable with Supreme Court justices, orchestra conductors from Cleveland and Inuit fishermen who had just recently emerged from the Stone Age,” said Ms. Iglauer’s book publisher and editor, Howard White of Harbour Publishing. Ms. Iglauer, he added, was a master of “kindly interrogation,” someone who “could find out people’s secrets without pain. She didn’t hammer it out of people; she made them want to tell her.”
She was perhaps best known for her coverage of subjects that were remote, obscure or generally overlooked, including the commercial fishing industry on Canada’s western shores, the art of Native Canadian sculptor Bill Reid, the construction of a winter road above the Arctic Circle, the New York mounted police and the years-long process by which the foundations for the World Trade Center were laid in Manhattan.
Her characters were frequently hardscrabble frontiersmen with poetic souls, loggers and fishermen and truck drivers who “eat and drink like Henry VIII,” as she put it. Few were more compelling than John Daly, whom her son described as “the last of the gentlemen salmon fishermen.”
He had been fishing alone for four decades when, in 1973, he met Ms. Iglauer through a mutual friend, while she was in Vancouver on a reporting trip. She soon fell in love, married and moved aboard his 41-foot salmon troller, the MoreKelp, which she later described as “the single most uncomfortable fishing boat in British Columbia.”
Her years on the boat formed the seeds of a best-selling memoir, “Fishing With John” (1988), in which Ms. Iglauer recalled mornings spent reading poetry, trips to the shore to forage for berries, a dip in a hot spring and an early incident in which she yelled at the boat, demanding that it stop rocking and stand still, and was told by Daly, “Good, good. You’ll make an excellent fishwife.”
The memoir was shortlisted for the Governor General’s Award for nonfiction, a leading Canadian literary honor, and adapted into a TV movie in 2000, starring Jaclyn Smith and Tim Matheson.
Its writing, Ms. Iglauer said, was partly an act of grieving. Daly had died in 1978, about four years after they met, suffering a heart attack while dancing at a family gathering in Manitoba. His death had come just as suddenly as their marriage.
Daly, Ms. Iglauer recalled, had called her late one night soon after they met, when she was back home in New York. “I’ve just bought a wooden toilet seat that I think will fit very well on top of that pail on the boat,” he said. “It’s sky blue, and I paid $8.50 for it.”
“Lovely,” Ms. Iglauer replied. “But it’s two o’clock in the morning. What about it?”
“What about it?!” he said. “Marriage! That’s what.”
Edith Theresa Iglauer was born in Cleveland on March 10, 1917. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father was executive vice president at the Halle Brothers department store. She graduated from Hathaway Brown, an all-girls private school in nearby Shaker Heights, Ohio, and received a bachelor’s degree in political science from Wellesley College in 1938 and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in 1939.
Ms. Iglauer began her career writing articles for the Christian Science Monitor and the Cleveland News, then joined the Office of War Information’s radio newsroom, where she ran the Scandinavian and religious desks and covered first lady Eleanor Roosevelt’s weekly news conferences.
In 1942 she married Philip Hamburger, a writer for the New Yorker. When the magazine sent him to the Mediterranean to cover World War II, Ms. Iglauer went as well, filing dispatches from Yugoslavia for the Cleveland News. Back home, she focused on raising their two children, waking at 4 a.m. to write before her sons went to school.
Tiring of city life, she escaped from New York by means of dog sled, which she used in 1961 to ride into the Arctic Circle on assignment for the New Yorker. Her subject, the first “Eskimo cooperative society” (designed to help native peoples transition into modernity), formed the basis of her first book, “The New People” (1966), updated and republished as “Inuit Journey” (1979).
By all accounts, Ms. Iglauer maintained a close relationship with William Shawn, the New Yorker’s longtime editor. But Ms. Iglauer “was quite outspoken about pointing out that the New Yorker at that time, and the journalism world in general, was a very entrenched old boys’ club,” said White.
“And she was given assignments to Canada, or found that she could get assignments to Canada, just because nobody else at the New Yorker was terribly interested.”
Ms. Iglauer’s deepening fascination with the Far North led her to Yellowknife, a town in the Northwest Territories where she met John Denison, the overseer of a highway crew that built a 325-mile road each winter, connecting remote communities via byways built from frozen rivers and lakes.
Ms. Iglauer’s first marriage ended in divorce in 1966. Her third husband, Franklin White — a trucker, logger and pioneersman turned writer, who was also the father of her publisher, Howard White — died in 2015.
Survivors include two sons from her first marriage, Richard Hamburger and Jay Hamburger; and two grandsons.
“When I was 12, our school librarian gave me a copy of Tolstoy’s ‘Anna Karenina’ by way of introduction to the great Russian novelists,” Ms. Iglauer said in 2006, accepting an honorary doctorate from the University of Victoria in British Columbia. “From then on I wanted to write fiction, but events in the real world have been so compelling that they defy imagination. True happenings cry out for that special treatment we call creative nonfiction.”
“I think of creative journalism as making true stories readable,” she added. “The still small voice of truth is what I hear when I am writing.”