Lillian Alling

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Lillian Alling was an Eastern European immigrant to North America who, in the 1920s, attempted a return by foot to her homeland. Her recorded journey started in New York and went westward across Canada, then north through British Columbia, the Yukon, and then west again through Alaska, and then possibly across the Bering Strait to Russia.[1]

Lillian Alling crossed from the state of New York into Canada at Niagara Falls on Christmas Eve 1926. When the customs official asked her the routine entry questions, she answered them fully stating her last place of residence was Rochester, New York, she was a Catholic, she was 30 years old, and had been born in Poland. [2]

In 1927, Lillian travelled across Canada and made it to Hazelton, British Columbia. After a brief arrest and stint in jail, Lillian headed north again.

The following is an excerpt from Calvin Rutstrum's book, The New Way of the Wilderness (1958):[3]

Starting out again, she hiked along the Telegraph Trail, over the wild mountain passes, finally reaching Dawson where she worked as a cook, purchased and repaired an old boat, and in the spring of 1929, launched it into the waters of the Yukon River right behind the outgoing ice reaching a point east of the Seward Peninsula. She abandoned the boat for overland travel, reaching Nome and later Bering Strait.

An excerpt from Susan Smith-Josephy's book Lillian Alling: the journey home (2011) gives one possibility for Lillian's fate:[4]

In spite of strained relations between the US and the Soviet Union in 1929, the Native people of both countries still travelled regularly across the strait each year from June through November--when the water was usually ice-free--in order to trade and buy supplies. This traffic was either ignored or undetected by authorities on either side of the strait.

Travel between the two countries was common, and it would have been quite normal for someone to pay for a passage across the Strait. However, what happened to her once she reached Soviet Russia remains unknown.

Fictionalized works[edit]

Alling's story provided the loose inspiration for Cassandra Pybus's travelogue Raven Road (2001) [5] and for Amy Bloom's novel Away (2007).[6]

In 2007, the Vancouver Opera announced they had commissioned an opera based on Lillian Alling's story; composed by John Estacio, with a libretto by John Murrell, it premiered on 16 October 2010.[7]


  1. ^ Smith-Josephy, Susan (2011). Lillian Alling: The Journey Home. Extraordinary Women. Caitlin Press Inc. ISBN 978-1-894759-54-0.
  2. ^ Smith-Josephy, Susan (2011). Lillian Alling: the journey home. British Columbia: Caitlin Press. ISBN 978-1894759540.
  3. ^ Rutstrum, Calvin (23 August 2000). The New Way of the Wilderness: The Classic Guide to Survival in the Wild. Fesler-Lampert Minnesota Heritage. University of Minnesota Pres. ISBN 0816636834.
  4. ^ Smith-Josephy, Susan (2011). Lillian Alling: the journal home. British Columbia: Caitlin Press. p. 203. ISBN 1894759540.
  5. ^ Pybus, Cassandra (2001). Raven Road. Australia: University of Queensland Press. ISBN 0702231665.
  6. ^ Bloom, Amy (2007). Away. USA: Random House. ISBN 9780812977790.
  7. ^ Lederman, Marsha (15 October 2010). "Lillian Alling: Vancouver Opera's mystery woman". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 5 December 2018.

See also[edit]