In 1750, Thomas Gunn, along with three friends, join the Hudson's Bay Company and sail from Stromness on the Orkney Islands of northern Scotland to York Factory fort on Hudson's Bay. They believe they are starting a new and exciting life in what is called Rupert's Land, but tragedy follows them, striking for the first time on the ship. At the fort Thomas finds his older brother, Edward, who had joined four years earlier. He also meets Little Bird, sister of Edward's wife, and her family. Could this be love?
During the first year Thomas takes part in the goose and duck hunts, the fishing, the woodcutting, Guy Fawkes Day, the Christmas celebrations, and the burial of a friend. He also deals with the snowfall, the cold, the boredom, and a suicide, and learns how to survive in the lonely and sometimes inhospitable land.