Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Hunter-historian Kamookak joins voyage to Franklin's first-found ship

Can't wait to travel again with Louie Kamookak! He's the Inuk historian who pointed the way to Erebus? The first-found ship of John Franklin? Louie will revisit that site in September while sailing Out of the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. You can find out more about this looming adventure by going here. I'm excited because I remember an August afternoon in 1999, when Louie sailed his twenty-foot motorboat south along the west coast of Boothia Peninsula. He had two southerners with him, two Qallunaat -- myself and an Arctic antiquarian named Cameron Treleaven.
Two evenings before, from Gjoa Haven on King William Island, with a stiff north wind creating white caps and billowing spray, we had thumped our way fourteen miles across Rae Strait. We had come to the west coast of Boothia to honour fur-trade explorer John Rae and the only two men who could keep up with him -- Inuk William Ouligbuck and Ojibway Thomas Mistegan. With us we had brought a plaque of weather-resistant, anodized aluminum that we had screwed to a slab of Honduran mahogany.
The plaque relates how in 1854, after hauling sledges through gale-force winds, blowing snow and bitter cold, Rae and his two best men built a cairn to mark his discovery of what would prove to be the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage.
Having camped out on Boothia, located the ruins of that cairn (see photo), and erected the plaque beside it, we were returning to Gjoa Haven. Louie said that, before recrossing Rae Strait, he wanted to investigate a spot he knew, where sometimes he found good hunting. We entered a small bay, hauled the boat up onto a beach, and climbed a sandy ridge to scan the horizon. Nothing. But then Louie pointed and whispered: “Caribou!”
A big-horned animal, almost invisible against brown earth and scree, stood in profile more than one hundred metres away. Louie fell to one knee, put his gun to his shoulder, and fired. Nothing happened. I felt bad that he had missed. But then, after what seemed minutes, the caribou dropped down dead in its tracks. I could hardly believe it. We raced across the tundra. Louie was ecstatic: “Straight through the heart!” He said a blessing, then skinned that dead caribou, put the carcass across his shoulders and staggered with it back to the boat. Heaving it into the stern, he said: “Meat will last all winter.”
As we pounded back across Rae Strait, I reflected that Louie Kamookak -- historian and hunter -- is just the latest in a long line of remarkable Inuit. I haven't been on the water with Louie since that day. So I'm excited about September. Louie won't be hunting caribou. But I imagine he'll share a few thoughts when we reach the site where Erebus lies eleven metres beneath the surface.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Dead Reckoning goes orange thanks to hard-fought Facebook battle

So there you have it. Orange has won out over blue. The choice was difficult, the battle hard fought. But in the end, our scientific Facebook poll delivered a decisive result: 61% orange, 39% blue. And this on well over 200 votes! If the Brexit debacle or the 2016 American election had produced such clear results, imagine how much happier all of us would be. But I digress. I will reveal, only now, that the main reason I offered this image to designer Alan Jones was that I loved that bright, bold, eye-catching orange. The most popular opposing argument to emerge in our rigorously conducted poll, the idea that blue is more representative of the Arctic, would have carried greater weight if Dead Reckoning set out to reiterate and reinforce the conventional saga that in fact it seeks to challenge. I know, I know: some of you will be disappointed. Let me assure you that, come September, the book will be made available to all at the same low price, regardless of how you voted. 

Saturday, March 18, 2017

'Franklinistas' are surfing an Arctic tsunami


Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition, by Paul Watson. M&S, Penguin Random House, 384 pages, $34.95.
Minds of Winter, by Ed O’Loughlin. House of Anansi, 481 pages, $22.95.

The headline is telegraphic: “How quest for Northwest Passage turned into search for tragic hero.” It surfaced recently in The Scotsman, which was launching its 200th anniversary celebration with a series of “greatest stories ever told over the last two centuries.” Since the 16th century, so the story goes, explorers had been searching for a northern sea route to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the mid-1800s, after Sir John Franklin disappeared into the Arctic with two Royal Navy ships and 128 men, the quest for that navigable Northwest Passage developed a double focus. Now explorers sought to discover both the final link in the Passage and the fate of the lost Franklin expedition.
But already, with the word “discover,” we have sailed into contention and controversy. I have long argued that during a single 1854 expedition, with the help of the Inuit, explorer John Rae solved both great 19th-century mysteries. Having identified Rae Strait as the missing link in the Passage, he reported, correctly, that the Franklin expedition had ended in disaster, with some sailors resorting to cannibalism.
To Rae’s discoveries, scores of explorers, scientists, and historians – among them Leopold McClintock, Charles Francis Hall, and Frederick Schwatka -- have added nuance, detail, and clarification. Yet at least one scholar suggests that “the gravitational pull of the Franklin disaster” distorts our understanding of exploration history. In a 2016 book called Writing Arctic Disaster: Authorship and Exploration, Adriana Craciun insists that John Franklin made only a minor contribution to Arctic discovery. And she questions the wisdom of celebrating “a failed British expedition, whose architects sought to demonstrate the superiority of British science over Inuit knowledge.”
Craciun is probably right. And yet “Franklinistas” persist, driven variously by a yearning to discover some ultimate truth, by an ideological need to exonerate British imperialism, or by a hidden agenda, as Craciun suspects, to open the Arctic to the oil industry. Certain it is that the Canadian discoveries of Franklin’s two long-lost ships -- Erebus in 2014 and Terror in 2016 – have triggered a tsunami of Franklin-related books. Among them we find Franklin’s Lost Ship: The Historic Discovery of HMS Erebus; Finding Franklin: The Untold Story of a 165-Year Search; and Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Terror Expedition: Lost and Found (coming in July).
Caught up in this tidal wave, two new works establish highwater marks. In narrative nonfiction, we have Paul Watson’s Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition. An award-winning journalist, Watson was on the search expedition that located Erebus, and subsequently broke the news of the finding of Terror. His new book is a splendid achievement.
In the first two-thirds, he delivers a lively rendition of the old familiar Franklin story -- departure, disappearance, decades-long search extending ever onwards. He pays attention to Inuit place names, incorporates paranormal synchronicities, and brings key players to vivid life. The man can write. Yes, we hit a few glitches. The younger sibling of Eenoolooapik was not Ebierbing but Tookoolito. John Rae did in fact reach the Castor and Pollux River in 1854 before turning north. And the cook on the St. Roch expedition, Albert “Frenchy” Chartrand, died not in Gjoa Haven but in Pasley Bay on Boothia, where over his grave Henry Larsen built a cairn that stands even today. Small mistakes are inevitable in a work this size, and they don’t come close to threatening the book’s sweeping credibility.
The final third, highlighted by a sympathetic portrait of Inuk historian Louie Kamookak, contains much that will be new to most readers. It traces the evolution of underwater archaeology in Canada, notes the singular contribution of David Woodman, and culminates in the discovery of the two ships. Along the way, Watson offers much to inspire debate. Some will remain unconvinced by the author’s defence of those who, having located Terror, kept that achievement secret from their search partners for five valuable days. Others will dispute the notion that, if a few survivors did steer Erebus into a sheltered location, they somehow completed a Northwest Passage. Bottom line: Ice Ghosts is a notable contribution to the literature of polar exploration.
The same is true, in fiction, of Minds of Winter by Irish-Canadian author Ed O’Loughlin. Long-listed for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, this hugely ambitious novel touches on the Franklin expedition, but ranges widely through time and space. . . . To read the rest, click here and go to the Globe.
(Ken McGoogan, author of four books about Arctic exploration, will publish a fifth in September: Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.)

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Dead Reckoning cover leaves author gob-smacked & thrilled

Any writer will tell you that, in the life of a book, one of the great moments is when you first see the cover. In this case, wow! Hats off to Alan Jones at HarperCollins Canada, who designed this cover for Dead Reckoning. The judges were unanimous, apparently -- the sales-and-marketing folks, editor Patrick Crean, and moi. And I, for one, am gob-smacked. How does he do it?
Six weeks ago, when I delivered a USB stick containing about 80 images to managing editor Noelle Zitzer, I said hello to Alan -- and drew his attention to one picture I especially liked. I had gleaned it from a large-format book, one of the glories of my personal library, published in 1877: Arctic Expeditions by D. Murray Smith. Alan liked the image, too.
He began working his magic, trying this variation and that, and also playing with other images -- with the fantastic end result you see above. OK, so this rendition is not final, final, final, if only because the Latin quotation is a placeholder. But it’s 97 per cent, near enough to count, and I am thrilled.
P.S. The book launches in September. Publicity director Colleen Simpson, literary agent Beverley Slopen.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Kerouac's Ghost tracks the King of the Beats into the Sixties

News flash: The newly revised, final final final edition of my novel Kerouac's Ghost has just become available via Print on Demand. Yes, you can still get the ebook. But if you prefer to peruse a physical artifact, voila: here it is from Bev Editions. For the rest, I offer incontrovertible evidence that I am an obsessive reviser: would you believe four published versions? AND that the first version emerged from Pottersfield Press in 1993. Not only that, here's a taste . . . .

Chapter 21:
Jack Says Don't Do It 

If human consciousness is a neural megalopolis, then a psychedelic trip is a chart-blasting earthquake. It reduces buildings to rubble, knocks out communications, plunges the city into wounded silence. And if that city is a San Francisco of the Psyche? If it straddles a major fault-line? On Mount Jubilation, the rush of Frankie's first acid trip brought me not only that Haight-Ashbury experience but my own psychic adventure in Newton Center, Massachusetts, where with Allen Ginsberg, in January of 1961, I visited Timothy Leary. The guru-to-be was still working as a psychology professor at Harvard, supposedly chasing down a cure for alcoholism.
Leary told me psychedelic drugs could work miracles. They could change the world. They made religious experience universally accessible. I popped his mushrooms and relived a nervous breakdown I had narrowly survived in the navy, when I had ended up in the psychiatric ward because I thought I could see inside people's heads.
That trip shook me to my foundations. But it did not raze me. And later that year, when Leary produced more mushrooms in Ginsberg's New York City apartment, I chewed a dozen or so. Leary took me walking through the snowy streets of the Lower East Side and we tossed a loaf of bread like a football. Then I started hallucinating—saw buildings toppling, people turning into cackling demons. The usual horror show, with everything happening on several planes at once. Every sentence Leary uttered contained five or six meanings.
 Next day, I awoke to myself—but I wasn't the same. It was the morning after an earthquake. In some sectors, the destruction was minimal. Elsewhere, nerve centres and filters had been knocked out. I was disoriented. If objects could change essence without changing shape, a simple chair becoming a golden throne, how then did I know what I thought I knew? Reality was provisional. Our modes of perception were conditioned responses. Anything was possible.
Despite my differentiated consciousness, and my thirty-nine years of age, psychedelic drugs had reduced me to pre-adolescence. And here's the worst of it: the effect stayed with me. Months after that second psychedelic trip, during a thirty-day drinking binge that brought me, red-faced and ranting, to an old favorite bar in Lowell, Massachusetts, I met a ne'er-do-well steeplejack named Paul Bourgeois, an ex-thief who had spent twelve years in jail.
After listening to me rave drunkenly that my ancestors included not only French Canadians but North American Indians, Bourgeois concocted an insane story that spoke directly to the drug-traumatized twelve-year-old in me. Bourgeois was Moon Cloud Chief of the Four Nations of the Iroquois. He had just returned from Prince of Wales Island near the North Pole, where 3,000 of our people, half-French, half-Iroquois, were starving to death. Trouble was, nuclear submarines were cruising beneath the polar ice cap, polluting the water and contaminating the fish. As Moon Cloud Chief, Bourgeois was en route to Washington to complain. What's more, we were cousins, he and I, because two of the four tribes in the North were named Kirouac and L'Evesque, Memere's maiden name.

Incredibly, I believed all this, even when I got sober. I wrote letters telling friends that soon I would be travelling north to join my Iroquois brothers. And I hung onto this fantasy for six months. Eventually, I brought Bourgeois home to Florida where, under pressure from Memere, he confessed the truth and made me listen. Nobody understood it—how a cheap con artist with an eye for beer money could snooker a famous author. But that was because nobody understood the destructive power of psychedelic drugs. . . .

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Dead Reckoning takes us to the wreck of John Franklin's Erebus

To a crazy-busy 2017, the eagerly awaited, double-whammy climax will come in September. First, we go voyaging Out of the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. And this being a celebration year (something about Canada's 150th birthday?), we get to enjoy a special, spectacular treat. Assuming the weather behaves, we will don a dry suit and, accompanied by folks from Parks Canada, go snorkeling over the wreck of the HMS Erebus -- John Franklin's ship, which is just eleven metres beneath the surface. 
Don't take my word for it. Instead, try clicking here: As you can see, those on board will have "the rarest of experiences at the site of the recently-discovered wreck of HMS Erebus. Here we will be the first expedition voyagers allowed to snorkel the wreck, or for those not keen to get in the water, observe the wreck from the newly-constructed observation platform and via an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV)." Are you kidding me?
But wait: did I say double-whammy? Also in September, we will see the publication of Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage. But I will let HarperCollins Canada handle the reveal: "With this book—his most ambitious yet—Ken McGoogan delivers a vivid, comprehensive recasting of Arctic-exploration history. Dead Reckoning challenges the conventional narrative, which emerged out of Victorian England and focused almost exclusively on Royal Navy officers. By integrating non-British and fur-trade explorers and, above all, Canada’s indigenous peoples, this work brings the story of Arctic discovery into the twenty-first century. . . . [The book] encompasses such forgotten heroes as Thanadelthur, Akaitcho, Tattanoeuck, Ouligbuck, Tookoolito and Ebierbing, to name just a few. Without the assistance of the Inuit, Franklin’s recently discovered ships, Erebus and Terror, would still be lying undiscovered at the bottom of the polar sea."
Anyway, September. Double-whammy. Are you with me?

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Our Northwest Passage voyage reaches for the Beaufort Sea

[Here endeth this series about our 2016 Adventure Canada voyage. Next September, we sail Out of the Northwest Passage, bent on finding the Hand of Franklin (or at least visiting the location of the Erebus).]

DAY SIXTEEN . . . Cambridge Bay

We saw the wreck of the Maud, recently brought to the surface after 80 years underwater in Cambridge Bay. We zoomed over for a close look as we headed from ship to shore. A Norwegian recovery team brought the old ship to the surface not long before we arrived. With winter closing in, they would have to wait until next year to float the vessel to Norway, where they will restore it and display it.
Explorer Roald Amundsen had the shallow-draft Maud built in 1916, with a view to drifting over the North Pole. He brought it to the Beaufort Sea from the west, but in 1925, with creditors knocking at his door, sold it to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The HBC renamed it the Baymaud and used it as a supply ship until 1930, when it sank in Cambridge Bay.
Once ashore on this crisp Saturday morning, voyagers rambled the town until around 10 a.m. Most people checked out the Visitors’ Centre, or the Northern Store or Co-op, before heading to the Community Centre for some best-ever bannock and coffee. Then came an excellent presentation that included a fashion show, some fiddle music, and an Inuit sports demonstration that included our own Johnny Issaluk. Somehow, we managed to keep to a tight schedule, and by 1 p.m., the Ocean Endeavour was bound for Kugluktuk.
The highlight of the afternoon was a wide-ranging, 90-minute panel discussion presented by the six outstanding Inuit on board. They touched on everything from the need for increased infrastructure (for example, landing docks like the ones that exist in Greenland) to suicide prevention to cruise-ship tourism, which panel members stressed is most welcome, as long as it is carefully managed. 
DAY SEVENTEEN -- Kugluktuk

The seas were choppy, but everyone arrived safely at the wooden dock in Kugluktuk. Two buses carried us to Heathrow North, aka the Kugluktuk airport, where we boarded two planes and started for home. Just before we left, two flights arrived in Kugluktuk carrying passengers set to voyage Out of the Northwest Passage. We welcomed them to Heathrow with a rousing rendition of Stan Rogers’ classic tune, Northwest Passage. And then we went on our way.