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The Art of Fact:

An Introduction to Writing Non-Fiction

ONLINE COURSE!!! For those who have registered, the syllabus has gone up.

Instructor: Ken McGoogan / University of Toronto / School of Continuing Studies

Ten weeks starting Jan. 21, 2013

The hallmarks of Creative, Literary or Narrative Nonfiction are truth and personal presence. The genre includes subjective and objective streams, and encompasses memoir, autobiography, biography, history, adventure, travel, and true crime. The writer of nonfiction employs memory, imagination, analysis, and research, and adapts literary techniques from fiction, journalism, and the essay. This craft-oriented course aims to enhance your ability to tell true stories.
Textbook: The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism, edited by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda. (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-684-84630-6)
Ken McGoogan
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First we took Manhattan . . .


What a time we had in New York City!
I gave my keynote on Return to Rae Strait and surprised even Matthew Swan with some of my revelations.
I don't think he realized that, with Louie Kamookak,  I visited Rae Strait in the High Arctic for the first time back in 1999. We erected a plaque to mark the spot where John Rae discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage.
Matthew, who runs Adventure Canada, goaded me into launching my talk by singing a couple of verses of Northwest Passage, the classic tune by Stan Rogers. He compounded his sin by hauling half a dozen rowdy types up front to join me for the chorus. This extravaganza was a first for the Explorers Club, one of the premier venues in New York, and I have paid good money to suppress the video tapes of that performance.
The Arctic Art of Sheena Fraser McGoogan proved a sensation. She brought three paintings, sold one, and left one to be auctioned at a looming Explorers Club event. We walked many streets, saw lots of art, spent a few bucks, and even hosted a soiree at our condo in the Upper East Side. We are plotting a return.

Ken McGoogan
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New Jersey ten, UPS zero



Lots of nice people live in New Jersey. We got to know quite a few of them while we stood in line for two hours outside the UPS office. There was the woman who, after she learned that we were Canadians, and also that we had a cab waiting, insisted that we should move to the front of the line. (Her position was not unanimously held.) And the other woman who, when she learned that UPS would not take cash or a credit card for the surprise “customs” duty, stepped up, appalled, to write a cheque for us (and was willing to accept our American $$$ cash in exchange). Also, I liked the folks who laughed at my jokes while we waited.

On the other hand, UPS maybe slipped a bit in my estimation. We got two packages to their office in Toronto by noon last Friday. Paid $240 up front for the sending, and understood that would cover the cost of delivery. The packages did not leave until the following Monday, but I am sure there is a good explanation for that. And they did arrive in New Jersey, and were brought to the correct address by late Friday (i.e. today).

Alas, UPS did not leave the packages there, because the youth who was home alone did not have the cash on hand to pay that surprise “whatever” duty. So they took the packages back to the UPS depot, which is closed all weekend, but where we could pick them up 830 to 930. Alas, sixty or seventy people got the same message. And there were two good-spirited but desperately over-worked people holding down the desk. So we got to know the New Jersey folks in line with us. Quite well. The New York cabbie was cool, too, especially when we promised a handsome tip.

My take-away? Yay, New Jersey! UPS, not so much.
Ken McGoogan
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Anglo-a-no-no: Enough, already!


From Canada's History magazine
By Ken McGoogan
 The “Anglos” made headlines again this autumn.
The Quebec election made it inevitable: how would the “Anglos” vote? Could the “Anglos” make a difference? As it turns out, the answer was a qualified yes: the separatist Parti Quebecois was held to a minority victory.
Meanwhile, I found myself wondering how contemporary English-speaking Quebecers feel about being called “Anglos.” Most of them have Irish or Scottish roots, and historically, the Irish and the Scots have often been at loggerheads with the English.
Full disclosure: I grew up north of Montreal in a French-speaking resort town. Every summer, when the population exploded, I became one of “les Anglais” — an “Anglo.” This troubled me. I was one-quarter French Canadian, for starters, and in winter, when I wasn’t at school, I hung out with French-speakers. Also, I had no English roots. How could I be an “Anglais?” It felt wrong.
But I knew little history. I could not disentangle linguistic and ethnic confusions. Only now do I begin to understand my discomfort, and to reflect that it might be widespread. Consider Quebec’s demographics. In 2011, only 3.3 per cent of the populace claimed English heritage, while 8.2 per cent — more than twice as many people — claimed Irish (5.5) or Scottish (2.7).
Nationally, the emphasis shifts, but the story remains the same: English origins, 21 per cent; Scottish, 15 per cent; Irish, 14 per cent. Maybe we should speak not of English Canada, but of Celtic Canada?
To lump together Canadians of English, Scottish, and Irish heritage, and say they are “British” in origin, is to forget that history transports emotional baggage.  Many Canadians of Scottish heritage, for example, retain collective memories of the Highland Clearances of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. . . . As the Clearances were to Scotland, so the Great Famine was to Ireland -- a watershed event that launched a diaspora. . . .
[To read the rest, pick up Canada's History magazine, Dec. 2012-Jan. 2013.]
Ken McGoogan
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Saturday Night at the Explorers Club in New York City




That is when the climactic event happens, Dec. 1: yours truly giving a talk called Return to Rae Strait.
It draws on my book Fatal Passage. I'll talk about explorer John Rae and visiting Rae Strait, where he built a cairn marking his discovery of the final link in the Northwest Passage. After my talk comes a screening of the docudrama Passage, which is based on my book.

OK, OK, lots else will be happening, too.
All the details can be found here:
http://www.explorers.org/index.php/events/detail/nyc_the_explorers_club_polar_film_festival


But notably:
Additional films and video clips will be shown throughout the building on Saturday and
Sunday. Original paintings by Sheena Fraser McGoogan and Inuit artwork from Look North
Gallery will be on display, and DVDs and books will be available for sale.
Other highlights include:
Friday, November 30, 2012:
5:30p – 6:30p Reception
6:30p Inuit Welcome – Opening Ceremony by Aaju Peter
6:45p John Houston introduction and screening of “Diet of Souls“
Saturday, December 1, 2012 – Celebrating Antarctica Day:
9:00a-10:00a Registration and Continental breakfast
10:05a Stefan Kindberg – Introduction to Antarctica
Events happen all day . . .
5:30p – 6:30p Dinner break / Reception in library
6:30p Ken McGoogan – "Return to Rae Strait" and screening of John Walker’s
docudrama based on Fatal Passage . . . followed by Q&A


Sunday, December 2nd, 2012 – Arctic Films
10:30a Stefan Kindberg – Introduction to the Arctic
1:30p Feature film/documentary “Chasing Ice”
2:00p Aaju Peter – Introduction and screening of film/documentary “Tunniit: Retracing the Lines
of Inuit Tattoos,” followed by Q&A
3:45p Alan Nichols, Explorers Club President – Thank you address



Ken McGoogan
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Roald Amundsen: The Last Viking . . .


In the Globe and Mail of Nov. 17, our hero reviews the new biography of Roald Amundsen, called The Last Viking. Author: Stephen Bown. Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre . . .

By Ken McGooogan
In 1905, when he was preparing to sail out of Gjoa Haven in Canada’s High Arctic, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen buried a few artifacts beneath a cairn. Those artifacts, among them a photo of a scientist who had taught him how to locate the moving North Magnetic Pole, are now held at a museum in Yellowknife. And visitors to the Inuit settlement of Gjoa Haven, so named by Amundsen in honour of his ship, the Gjoa, can see the remains of the observatory sites from which Amundsen took magnetic readings.
The explorer spent two winters based in that harbour on King William Island while becoming the first explorer to navigate the Northwest Passage across the top of North America. He belongs crucially to the history of Canada’s Arctic exploration, and yet, as Stephen R. Bown remarks in The Last Viking, most books treat Amundsen almost exclusively in the 1911 context of the “race to the South Pole.”
That so-called race, which found Amundsen becoming the first to reach the Earth’s southernmost point, while British explorer Robert Falcon Scott died trying, makes for an admittedly gripping story. And Bown does it justice here. But he also demonstrates that, as a polar explorer, Amundsen achieved more in the north than he did in the south. He not only led the way through the Northwest Passage, but traversed the Northeast Passage along the Russian coast, and flew an airship over the North Pole.
Bown surmises that Amundsen is not better known in the English-speaking world because much written material was available until recently only in Norwegian. In The Last Viking, he fills in many empty spaces. Who knew, for example, that Amundsen enjoyed lingering love affairs with three married women? He was about to marry one of them, recently divorced, when in 1928, at the age of 55, he flew north to help rescue an Italian explorer, and was never seen again.
Amundsen emerges from these pages as an obsessive, lonely figure: idiosyncratic, principled, misunderstood. Bown admits that he could be arrogant and impatient, but usually turns up mitigating circumstances and makes a good case that the explorer deserved better treatment than he received.
The author shows that Amundsen succeeded in reaching the South Pole because of what he learned in the north. As a boy, he became enthralled with his fellow Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen, who made the first crossing of the Greenland icecap and then traversed the Arctic by exploiting the drift of the pack ice. From his native Norway, Amundsen also took up skiing, honing his abilities as a youth by undertaking ambitious (and dangerous) cross-country expeditions.
From the Inuit, with whom he shared many adventures while based at Gjoa Haven, Amundsen learned above all how to travel across ice using dogs and dogsleds. This expertise he brought to his South Pole expedition. Comparisons may be odious, but really: Scott could barely ski, brought ponies to the Antarctic instead of dogs (!), and was driven to man-hauling sledges, known to be killing work.
Bown notes that, thanks to some trick of the British psyche, Scott became a romantic figurehead, the embodiment of heroic but doomed struggle, “the man who snatched victory from the jaws of death.” Half a century before, the same magic convinced the world that John Franklin and his men, tragically lost in an impassible region of the Northwest Passage, had somehow “forged the last link with their lives.” Amundsen proved otherwise.
Bown never does explain how the Norwegian learned what route to follow through the labyrinthian passage, though the explorer himself credited John Rae with pointing the way: “He discovered Rae Strait, which separates King William Land from the mainland. In all probability through this strait is the only navigable route for the voyage. … This is the only passage which is free from destructive pack ice.”
Throughout, Bown writes from the lofty, distancing heights of the fair-minded historian, eschewing creative non-fiction. As a result, The Last Viking does not transcend its genre. Yet the work is sharp-eyed, thorough and convincing, and constitutes a significant addition to the Arctic canon.
Ken McGoogan has written four books on Arctic exploration. Dec. 1, his talk at the Explorers’ Club in NYC will be Return to Rae Strait.
Ken McGoogan
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Time for a Confederation of Canadian Writers?


What we need here in Canada is a Confederation of Canadian Writers.This is not my idea, but I like it. Merilyn Simonds, chair of the The Writers’ Union of Canada, has been marking TWUC’s 40th anniversary by meeting union members across the country. In Toronto the other night, she mentioned that Calgary authors have voiced the idea of “one big union” comprising writers’ groups. I’m calling it a Confederation.
Why do we need it? Because there are any number of issues that effect not just book writers, like those represented by TWUC, but freelance writers of all kinds. And in Ottawa, nobody is listening. They can’t hear us.
Writers used to be able to spread their taxable income over a period of years. That is long gone and should be brought back. In the House of Commons recently, a private member’s bill to make a certain amount of royalty income tax free -- something the province of Quebec already does -- went down in flames. Look at copyright legislation. Look at freelance rates. Nobody wants to pay the writer. On almost every issue, writers are getting killed.
Maybe if we spoke in one loud, clear voice, we could make things change.
Think about it. Every year, more than 17,000 writers receive cheques from the Public Lending Right Commission -- and those are just authors who have published books. How many writers produce other kinds of works: plays, filmscripts, travel articles, ebooks, make your own list.
Maybe it’s time for a Confederation? The Writers’ Union of Canada. The Canadian Authors’ Association. The Canadian Association of Journalists. The union des ecrivaines et ecrivains quebecois. Crime Writers of Canada. The League of Canadian Poets. The Playwrights’ Guild of Canada. The Professional Writers’ Association of Canada. The Writers’ Guild of Canada. This list is not exhaustive. Add your own names.
Think about it. The Federation of B.C. Writers. The Alberta Writers’ Guild. The Quebec Writers’ Federation. The Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild. The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia. The Manitoba Writers’ Guild. You get the idea. At a wild guess, the writers’ groups and organizations across this country must represent at least 40,000 or 50,000 writers. What if we could channel that concentrated energy through a single, articulate entity -- a Confederation.
Could we make a difference? If you think so, spread the word: Confederation.
Ken McGoogan
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Our Hero brings John Rae to Explorers' Club





Our Hero is looking forward to giving a talk called Return to Rae Strait at the Explorers' Club in New York City. It happens Saturday evening, December 1, as part of the club's inaugural Polar Film Festival. This past August, for the first time in 13 years, Ken revisited the site where he erected a plaque in 1999. It marks the spot where explorer John Rae discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage. Ken will also introduce Passage, a feature-length docudrama based on his award-winning book about Rae, entitled Fatal Passage. Polar adventurer Stefan Kindberg organized the three-day festival. It will include a traditional welcome by Inuit culturalist Aaju Peter; filmmakers John Houston and Jon Bowermaster introducing their latest documentaries; and a screening of Jeff Orlowski's film Chasing Ice, which captures a multi-year record of the world's changing glaciers. Besides books and DVDs, displays will include Inuit art and Arctic paintings by Sheena Fraser McGoogan.
Ken McGoogan
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More Arctic Journals of John Rae . . .


An expert review here of . . .
The Arctic Journals of John Rae
Selected and Edited by Ken McGoogan

Victoria, BC: TouchWood Editions, 2012
312 pp. , $19.95

Reviewed by Russell A. Potter

The welcome publication of the journals of Dr. John Rae, the man who filled in the last crucial blanks in the northern coastline of North America, now fills a notable blank on the shelves of history; his is the last personal narrative of a major explorer during the search for Sir John Franklin to be published, one hundred and fifty-eight years after the latest events it recounts. There is considerable irony in the chief reason for this delay, which is doubtless that Rae searched too well, uncovering things that the British Admiralty, and large segments of the British public, would have preferred remained covered up. His accounts of Inuit testimony as to Franklin's men resorting to cannibalism shocked the sensibilities of the day, and were vociferously denied not only by Charles Dickens, but by many others in more recent times, despite the clear forensic evidence since gathered which has proved this testimony true.  Rae's own words still speak most capably in his defense, and we must be grateful to Ken McGoogan and TouchWood editions for bringing them back to us in a beautiful and compact new edition.

The format of the book, though, may be a bit confusing at first to some readers; it opens with several passages from the "lost" section of Rae's autobiography, missing from the manuscript at the Scott Polar Research Institute, then partially recovered by McGoogan in a series of extended quotations in David Murray Smith's compendium of Arctic voyages. Smith's commentary and sections of Rae's text are given together, which makes for somewhat jarring transitions between the rather pompous language of Smith, and the plain speaking of the intrepid Orcadian. There can be gleaned, however, from these pages, some items of considerable interest to the armchair Franklin searcher of today, particularly in Rae's extended comments on the paucity of wood amid the Inuit he encountered. Rae believed that this was clear evidence that they had not found either of Franklin' ships as of 1854, which would effectively date the finding of the ship at Oootjoolik to after that point; certainly by the time McClintock encountered the Inuit near Booth Point in 1859, wood was remarkably abundant.

The second, and largest section of the book contains Rae's full account, published in his lifetime, of his first Arctic expedition in 1846-47; while it of necessity contains nothing about Franklin, it is remarkable to consider how well and (for the most part) how comfortably Rae lived off the land, at the very moment when Franklin's men, holed up in their frozen ships, were contemplating that same land with fear, so dependent were they on stored provisions . . .

For the rest, click here.


Ken McGoogan
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Why John Rae and NOT Sir John Franklin


So folks are (still!) debating the accomplishments of John Franklin and John Rae over at Russell Potter's blog, where I have been driven to offer the following thoughts . . . .:http://visionsnorth.blogspot.ca/2012/09/a-navigable-northwest-passage.html

Greetings, Russell.
Nicely done. But we do not yet see eye to eye.
We agree, I think, that John Rae discovered Rae Strait. We agree that Victoria Channel, running to the west of King William Island, was perennially blocked by ice in the mid-19th century. We agree that Amundsen sailed through Rae Strait when he became the first to navigate the Northwest Passage. And that he did it in the Gjoa, which had a draft of just over 10 feet.

You mention the size of the Terror. But what of Franklin’s lead vessel, Erebus, which had a draft of 13.8 feet?
You allude to the “extensive shoal area in mid-channel (Rae Strait) of 5.5 to 18 metres.” But 5.5 metres equals 18 feet. That leaves plenty of clearance for Erebus.

As Captain Thoomey states, even massive ships with drafts of 8 metres (26 feet) could “technically and theoretically” pass through Rae Strait and the adjoining channels. And the Hanseatic, which went aground in Simpson Strait, has a draft of 16 feet -- considerably more than 13.8.

But my claim does not hinge on John Franklin and his ships. It is this: That John Rae discovered the only Northwest Passage navigable by ships of the mid-19th century. So, yes, as argued above, the Erebus could have made it. But also we have the Fox in which Leopold McClintock sailed in 1857. The Fox had a draft of 11.5 feet -- scarcely more than the Gjoa.

As you know, the reason Franklin turned west instead of east when he reached the tip of King William Island is that he had an Admiralty map indicating that the eastward channel ended in Poctes Bay. McClintock had learned from Rae that “Poctes Bay” was really a strait. Had McClintock not been thwarted at the eastern entrance to Bellot Strait, he would probably have completed the Passage in 1857-59.

As for Joseph Conrad, well, I am a huge admirer of his work. But he died in 1924, and his assessment of Franklin strikes me as outdated, even quaint. He is right that Franklin is famous for his “professional prestige and high personal character.” But as I demonstrated in Lady Franklin’s Revenge, both of those were fabricated by Jane, Lady Franklin. Conrad is right that persistent efforts “to ascertain his fate advanced greatly our knowledge of the polar regions.” But again, those efforts came courtesy of Lady Franklin.

I hope, Russell, that you will repent, and that you will accord John Rae the recognition he deserves as discoverer of the only Northwest Passage navigable to ships of the mid-19th century. But I will not hold my breath.

-- Ken McGoogan
Ken McGoogan
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The Arctic Journals of John Rae



The book is "selected and introduced" by yours truly.
Copies have just arrived. To me, they look splendid --
very handsome indeed.  

Ken McGoogan
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300,000 to gather in Ireland . . .


DUBLIN MIXES GUINNESS, JOYCE, AND THE STONE AGE
Ireland
by Ken McGoogan

300,000 people are set for the Gathering in Ireland. Some will be tracing their ancestors. Others will come to see the monasteries, or to follow in the footsteps of the writer James Joyce. Many will make their way to the Guinness Storehouse, where visitors journey through the 250-year history of Guinness and finish up in the Gravity Bar, free pint in hand, looking out over the City of Dublin.
Ireland is getting set for 2013. Every town, village, and hamlet looks to be preparing for The Gathering, a year-long celebration of all things Irish. Tourism Ireland is anticipating that more than 300,000 visitors will turn up, among them tens of thousands of Canadians. If you intend to become one of them, I�ve got good news for you, and maybe a few ideas.
My wife, Sheena, and I recently spent three weeks rambling around the Emerald Isle, our third visit in past few years. We had been hearing that Ireland was in the doldrums as a result of the recession in Europe. So what surprised us most was the vitality, energy, and good humour.
We started in Dublin, where Grafton Street has become a pedestrian mall. On any afternoon or evening, here we encountered a carnival atmosphere: people going both ways in streams or else standing in circles, entranced by one of the jugglers, musicians, comedians, or acrobats. At the foot of Grafton, we had no trouble finding the risque statue of that fictional fishmonger Molly Malone. The locals call it �the tart with the cart.� Turns out every statue and even the new Spire has a nickname, though most are unprintable.
A couple of blocks east, the pubs in the colourful Temple Bar area were invariably heading for lift-off at what usually we consider bed time. The same was true even of the uptown pubs around St. Stephen�s Green. But, hey, we were on holiday, we love Irish music, and sure, we gravitated to O�Donohue�s on Merrion Row. The liveliness would keep growing, apparently, until 2 or 3 in the morning.
Having decided to splurge on one fine meal, we headed for Hugo�s Restaurant, kitty-corner across the street from O�Donohue�s (yes, that was how the night began). To continue reading on website Travel Thru History, click here
Ken McGoogan
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Online Course in Creative Nonfiction



That online course I teach through the University of Toronto?
I call it The Art of Fact: An Introduction to Writing Nonfiction.
It runs ten weeks, starting September 17, and sounds like this:

The hallmarks of Creative, Literary or Narrative Nonfiction are truth and personal presence. The genre includes subjective and objective streams, and encompasses memoir, autobiography, biography, history, adventure, travel, and true crime. The writer of nonfiction employs memory, imagination, analysis, and research, and adapts literary techniques from fiction, journalism, and the essay. This craft-oriented course aims to enhance your ability to tell true stories. We will explore point of view, scene-making, flashbacks, fat moments, personal presence, and something I call The Rolling Now. The instructor (c'est moi) will introduce a concept or technique and provide examples and illustrations. Participants will apply that idea in an exercise, and share assignments and exchange feedback through a Discussion Board.
You could learn more here: Creative Nonfiction Online.

Consider yourself invited!


T
Ken McGoogan
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Making history in the High Arctic


Okay, this was last year. The story turned up on that fabulous website Travel  Thru History. Next week, another voyage begins. Stay tuned. . .


CANADIAN VOYAGE MAKES HISTORY
Greenland
by Ken McGoogan

None of us expected our voyage to make history, not when we boarded the Clipper Adventurer in Kugluktuk (Coppermine), near the west end of the Northwest Passage. True, our cruise was billed as an expeditionary adventure. But we numbered roughly one hundred and twenty, most of us were over sixty, and we were sailing in comfort if not luxury: white linen tablecloths in the dining room, a well-stocked bar in the forward lounge, and a staff of expert presenters that included scientists, Inuit culturalists, and authors Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood.
Hundreds of ships had plied these northern waters since the early 1800s, when the British Admiralty began to chart the Arctic archipelago while seeking a trade route across the top of North America. So nobody even dreamed of achieving a first of any kind. We forgot that climate change has made a difference. We did not anticipate that this year, the Arctic would have the second lowest extent of sea ice in recorded history. We did not expect that, according to the American National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the pack ice would reach its least extent just as we arrived in northwest Greenland.
But on September 10, one day after it did so, we sailed into Rensselaer Bay, where in the mid-1850s, explorer Elisha Kent Kane spent two terrible winters trapped in the ice. And three days after that, as on Day Thirteen of our voyage we approached the island town of Upernavik, I went to the bridge. As the staff historian, I needed to announce the surprising news.
By now, everybody on board knew that we had reached a latitude above 79 degrees. We had achieved a �farthest north� for Adventure Canada, which regularly runs voyages like this one into the Arctic. Everybody knew that, although a number of explorers had travelled by dogsled in this region, very few ships (if any) had entered Rensselaer Bay since 1853, when Kane got trapped there in the Advance. And everybody knew that in 1855 -- decades before Ernest Shackleton made his name with a spectacular, small-boat voyage in the Antarctic -- Kane led sixteen men in an extraordinary, 980-kilometre escape along the Greenland coast.
What drove me to the bridge was that our voyage had just become the first to trace Kane�s escape route from Rensselaer Bay to Upernavik, where Danish settlers welcomed the explorer, and now their posterity welcomed us.
Nobody would describe this as an epochal achievement. Nobody would call it Big History. Yet those of us on board found it thrilling, even though we had done the deed in a double-hulled, state-of-the-art ship that dwarfed Kane�s vessel: the Clipper Adventure is four times as long as the Advance (101 metres compared with 26) and thirty times as heavy (4,376 to 144 tons).
Our voyage had begun with a reversal. Originally, out of Kugluktuk, we had been slated to sail west and then north through Prince of Wales Strait to Winter Harbour on Melville Island. There, in 1818, explorer Edward Parry spent a signal winter, and in 1909 Joseph Bernier asserted Canadian sovereignty over the entire Arctic archipelago.
But satellite imagery showed Captain Kenth Grankvist that a small patch of heavy ice blocked Winter Harbour, and other stretches looked problematic. So we turned east from Kugluktuk and followed the southern or coastal route through the Passage: Coronation Gulf, Victoria Strait, Bellot Strait, Prince Regent Inlet, Lancaster Sound.
The change gave us extra time. We hoped now to sail north through Smith Sound into Kane Basin. Perhaps we could reach Etah on the west coast of Greenland, situated at a northern latitude of 78 degrees 18 minute 50 seconds. Etah was as far north as Adventure Canada had yet ventured along �the American route to the Pole.�
During our first attempt to enter the Sound, however, on Day Nine, we ran into heavy weather and retreated behind some Greenlandic islands to calmer waters. The storm passed, and on Day Ten, under clear blue skies, we sailed through Smith Sound . . . all the way to 79 degrees 3 minutes 45 seconds. We had set an Adventure Canada record.
More importantly, as I told anyone who would listen, we were now north of Rensselaer Bay (78 degrees 37 minutes), where Elisha Kent Kane survived his two-year ordeal by forging an alliance with the Inuit of Etah, 80 kilometres south. We sailed into that Bay -- Kane named it after his ancestors -- and dropped anchor.
While most voyagers went ashore in zodiacs to explore beaches and ridges, five of us -- an archaeologist, a geologist, an artist-photographer, an outdoorsman, and an author-historian (yours truly) -- spent three hours searching small rocky islands for relics of Kane�s expedition. We found what I believe to be the remains of his magnetic observatory. And from the zodiac, prevented from scrambling onto slippery rocks by a receding tide, we spotted what I believe to be the site on �Butler Island� where Kane buried the bodies of two of his men.
Probably, those bodies are still there in the rocks, preserved by the permafrost. Nobody is known to have disturbed them. Certainly, Inuit hunters have roamed this area, and in the early 1900s several explorers -- among them Robert Peary, Frederick Cook, and Knud Rasmussen -- led dog-sled expeditions in this region. But all these had their own objectives.
Ice conditions here have always been difficult and unpredictable. And in recent decades, recorded visits have been few. A 1984 article in Arctic magazine describes a study undertaken by scientists who helicoptered in from the American airbase at Thule to investigate the long-term decline in the caribou population. And an exhaustive archaeological study of northwest Greenland by John Darwent and others, detailed in Arctic Anthropology in 2007, turned up 1,376 features, including winter houses, tent rinks and burials -- but sought and discovered no bodies in Rensselaer Bay.
But at this location in 1855, Kane abandoned the Advance (we found no trace of the ship). He and his men spent one month (May 17 to June 16) transporting supplies and hauling three small boats 80 kilometres south across ice to Etah. On the Clipper Adventurer, sailing through open water and occasional icebergs, we covered that distance in a single night. Next morning, after an eight-kilometre zodiac ride into the spectacular Foulke Fiord, we went ashore at Etah.
In Kane�s time, Etah was a permanent Inuit settlement, home to several extended families. Today, it serves as a temporary hunting camp. We stayed six hours and hiked to Brother John Glacier, a natural wonder that Kane, oblivious to Inuit nomenclature, named after his dead sibling.
Here at Etah, having reached open water, Kane said a fond farewell to his Inuit allies. With sixteen men (one had perished along the way), he piled into tiny boats and began a 900-kilometre voyage to Upernavik. He and his men spent seven weeks in those open boats (June 19 to August 6), battling blizzards, icebergs, and near starvation.
On the Clipper Adventurer, dining variously on Greenland halibut, veal marsala, and braised leg of New Zealand lamb, we retraced Kane�s perilous voyage in two days. We called in at Cape York, where the explorer overcame a last great barrier of protruding shore ice, and from there gazed out over open water.
On arriving in Upernavik, today a bustling town of 1,100, we explored the buildings, now a museum, where Kane and his men stayed for a month before leaving on a Danish supply ship. We had lost nobody to scurvy or frost bite. We had suffered no amputations. But many of us found ourselves marvelling anew at the great escape of Elisha Kent Kane. And we savored the knowledge that, as the lucky first voyagers to retrace his escape route from start to finish, we had in a modest way become part of exploration history.






Photo Credits:
Contemporary photos are by Sheena Fraser McGoogan. The map is courtesy of Bill Bialkowski. Historical photos come from the personal archive of Ken McGoogan
Ken McGoogan
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Irish archaeologist shows way to Viking site


"As archaeologist Ned Kelly stood in a field sixty kilometres north of Dublin," the article begins, "describing how the Vikings founded a “longphort” or fortress-settlement at this spot nearly 1,200 years ago, I realized that he was talking about the ancestors of many Canadians, including possibly some of my own. Kelly, keeper of antiquities at the National Museum of Ireland, led the expert team that recently discovered this long-lost Viking site."
The writer is yours truly. The magazine is Canada's History, August-September issue. The piece continues:
"When we strode across this greening field near the town of Annagassan, on the Irish coast south of Dundalk Bay, we were walking atop the covered remains, yet to be excavated, of a citadel, a stone rampart, and many ancient workshops and houses. Because the site was established early in the Viking Age (841 A.D.), and has remained buried beneath farmland for more than 1,000 years, 'Linn Duachaill' -- the name means 'pool of the beast' -- is probably the most important longphort ever discovered. From here, according to the Annals of Ulster, Scandinavian sea-farers conducted inland raids within a radius of 125 kilometres."
For the rest, which is really, really, really interesting, pick up a copy of the magazine, which is now turning up on magazine racks. Oh, and there's a short video you might want to catch.

Ken McGoogan
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Where Elisha Kent Kane spent two Arctic winters


The June issue of Up Here magazine contains a piece about visiting the spot on the coast of Greenland where explorer Elisha Kent Kane spent two years trapped in ice. Written by yours truly, it begins . . . .

At last I could see how it unfolded. From where I stood, on a small rocky island off the northwest coast of Greenland, I could see where, one May afternoon in 1855, an expedition leader fixed a final message to a post near the gangway of his ship. Elisha Kent Kane, age thirty-five, posted that message to explain to any searchers why he was abandoning the Advance and “in case we should be overtaken by disaster.”

Now, 156 years later, in my mind’s eye I watched as Kane joined his men, all of them starving and suffering from scurvy, some of them unable to walk because of frostbite, and set out to haul three small boats eighty kilometres over ice to open water. I could not help but see this because for three years, while researching and writing a book called Race to the Polar Sea, I had immersed myself in the life of this resourceful doctor. And as I stood there, watching his departure unfold in the distant past, I felt engulfed by a great wave of sadness.

This surprised me. I had expected euphoria. This was the place, after all. And I was the first here. No other author-historian had reached this spot. Four years before, when on the outskirts of Philadelphia I became the first biographer to wander through the house of Kane’s grandfather, I had felt a rush of satisfaction. And when, at the home of a Calgary antiquarian, I became the first to peruse a long-lost journal Kane had written while trapped aboard the Advance in this very location, I could hardly contain my excitement: this was it, the real thing!

Why, then, this wave of sadness? My unpreparedness had to be a factor. I hadn’t expected this voyage to take me anywhere near Rensselaer Bay, as Kane named this desolate location. I was sailing as a lecturer with Adventure Canada. Ice conditions had forced a change of itinerary. Instead of sailing west and north out of Kugluktuk, our ship, the Clipper Adventurer, had followed the coastal route eastwards into Baffin Bay. . . .

(for the rest, track down the June issue of Up Here)
Ken McGoogan
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The Arctic Journals of John Rae






So here's an enticing book that has just gone to the printer: The Arctic Journals of John Rae. The finished work will surface in September. Before that happens, I will sail Into the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada, bent on leading a zodiac-sortie to the spot where John Rae discovered the final link in the Passage.  He built a cairn there in 1854, and in 1999, with a couple of friends -- one of them Louie Kamookak of Gjoa Haven -- I erected a plaque at that location. If you're keen, the expedition may yet have a few vacancies. Tell them I sent you!


Ken McGoogan
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Ireland's Islands



Ireland's Islands. The Aran Isles, the Skelligs, Inishbofin, Tory Island. What, with Irish music all the way? Yup, it was quite the adventure.
Ken McGoogan
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Did someone mention Irish music? Here's a 4:30 video I put together featuring the versatile Daniel Payne and Matt Malloy of the Chieftains. Some I shot at the Cliffs of Moher, but most happens at Matt Malloy's pub in Westport on the west coast of the Emerald Isle. Payne was sailing as a musician with Adventure Canada and I was on the voyage thanks in part to Tourism Ireland.

Ken McGoogan
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We're looking for Arctic history in the wrong places



The June issue of the Literary Review of Canada finds Yours Truly responding to an LRC article published last month under the headline What Does Franklin Really Mean? This August, sailing with Adventure Canada, I am hoping to return to the site that marks John Rae's discovery.

Adriana Craciun is right to question the wisdom of devoting a national historic site, location yet to be determined, “to a failed British expedition, whose architects sought to demonstrate the superiority of British science over Inuit knowledge.” We Canadians are looking for Arctic history in all the wrong places.
Instead of obsessing over two ships that disappeared in 1845, we should develop a national historic site commemorating the triumphant discovery of the final link in the Northwest Passage -- an achievement that relied on Inuit methods of travel, and that involved a Scot, an Ojibwe, and an Inuk.
I tell the story in my book Fatal Passage. In the spring of 1854, acting on behalf of the Hudson’s Bay Company, and after wintering above the Arctic Circle at Repulse Bay, Dr. John Rae led a small party across Boothia Peninsula, bent on completing the mapping of the northern coast of North America. By delineating that coastline between known points, the intrepid Rae hoped to establish or invalidate the existence of a navigable Northwest Passage.
Hauling sledges through gale force winds, blowing snow, and bitter cold, Rae and his two hardiest men -- the Ojibwe Thomas Mistegan and the Inuk William Ouligbuck, Jr. -- travelled Inuit-style, building snowhuts as they went, and eventually trekked north along the west coast of Boothia Peninsula. On May 6, 1854, the three arrived at a promontory that Rae named Point de la Guiche (latitude 68 degrees 57 minutes 52 seconds).
Standing there, looking out over a channel covered by “young ice,” Rae realized that this waterway, which connected two locations accessible by sailing ships, would be ice-free and open during the summer. He was staring out over the final link in the Northwest Passage.
Half a century later, when the Norwegian Roald Amundsen became the first explorer to navigate the Passage, he sailed through this channel and named it Rae Strait. In the epilogue to Fatal Passage, I describe how, in 1999, with two fellow adventurers (one an Inuk), I travelled to Point de la Guiche and there erected a plaque to mark the achievement of Rae, Mistegan, and Ouligbuck.
Forget about searching for two long-lost ships and commemorating what Craciun rightly calls “the tragic uselessness” of the Franklin disaster. Canadians should focus instead on building a national historic site to mark the discovery -- by the Scot, the Ojibwe, and the Inuk -- of the final link in the Northwest Passage.

Ken McGoogan
Toronto, Ontario
Ken McGoogan
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A Discovery of Vikings



The next issue of Canada's History magazine will feature a piece I've written about the Viking roots of Canada. To whet your appetite, I've created a four-minute video, A Discovery of Vikings. Here we find Dr. Ned Kelly, keeper of antiquities at Ireland's National Museum, talking about locating what promises to be the most spectacular Viking site in Europe.
Ken McGoogan
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Scots to Elora, coals to Newcastle?


Our hero brought the Scots to Elora . . . and found they were already there.
Ken McGoogan
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Bob Rae at the Bookstore


So if you spotted Bob Rae at the bookstore, how would you react? Today at a Chapters/Indigo bookstore in Toronto, I wandered over to say hello, and to ask the one political question that has been eating at me. I had met the interim Liberal leader once before, at a Booklovers' Ball sponsored by the Writers' Development Trust, where we had ended up exchanging books. But I introduced myself anyway, and then I said, "Would you mind if I asked you a political question?" After all, I was accosting the man as he went about his private business in his blue jeans, business which at this point involved checking out the bookstore's selection of history and political science books. He said, "Sure, go ahead."And I said, "Is there any chance that the Liberals and the NDP will get together to deal with the current situation?" He knew what I meant. And Bob Rae said, "I wouldn't rule it out. But the initiative would have to come from the NDP. They're the ones in the driver's seat at the moment." So if anyone knows where Tom Mulcair shops for books, would you please let me know. I have a question for him.

 
  
Ken McGoogan
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McGugan's in Toronto



A fabulous new Scottish Pub just opened in Toronto. McGugan's is in the Leslieville district just a tad beyond walking distance from the Beach. I am lobbying owner Mary McGugan, a sixth or seventh cousin, to open a second location immediately.
Ken McGoogan
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Straphanger: Our hero shares thoughts on Rob Ford and transit


A few years back, while travelling around Amsterdam, I was struck by the speed and efficiency of the light-rail transit system. Next streetcar: 1 minute 30 seconds. And there it was.
In Singapore, the city that air conditioning built, I marvelled at the way subway-car doors lined up precisely with station-platform doors, the whole system designed to keep coolness constant everywhere.
In Switzerland, I shook my head in disbelief when I discovered that a cross-country commuter train could make front-page headlines by arriving two hours late.
Out of such experiences, writer Taras Grescoe built Straphanger. He had the smarts to apply himself systematically, leaving his Montreal home to test public transit in New York, Copenhagen, Paris, Los Angeles, Bogota, Moscow, Tokyo and several other cities.
To this extensive legwork, Grescoe added context, theory and a series of interviews with key players. The end result is a marvellous investigation of urban transit whose thrust is neatly summarized in its subtitle: Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile.
After rollicking through the prologue, the introduction and Chapter 1, which focuses on New York, I could wait no longer. As a resident of Toronto, which has been mired in a transit war since Rob Ford became mayor late in 2010, I skipped to Chapter 11, ominously entitled The Toronto Tragedy.
Call it a credibility check. Did Grescoe understand what was happening in this Ford-suffering metropolis? Did he appreciate that Torontonians had whirled off into a real-life Back to the Future and were fighting through a nightmare scenario featuring our own Biff Tannen?
Grescoe recognizes that Toronto “is in the grips of a culture war.” He says this wouldn’t matter much, “were it not for the long-term damage Rob Ford is capable of inflicting on the city.”
Yes, the author is talking about the mayor’s assault on Transit City, a plan that “would have added seventy-five miles of new surface rail routes.” It would have created 200,000 jobs, renewed the city’s fleet of trams, and “turned Toronto into the Strasbourg of North America – a city on the cutting edge of urban transit.”
In Strasbourg, Grescoe explains, a “tram revolution” has transformed a polluted, automobile-choked city into a commuter’s dream that attracts tourists to see “one of the most appealing city centres in France.”
With the opposite scenario threatening Canada’s largest city, Grescoe asks: “How did a guy like Ford happen to a nice place like Toronto?” He answers that “the rise of Ford nation, and the gridlock and transport paralysis that are sure to ensue, became inevitable when Toronto’s future was handed over to its suburbs.”
It’s a cautionary tale, he adds, “that should be more widely known – if only to prevent it from ever happening again.”
But wait. Since the day Grescoe wrote those words, two dozen city councillors have repudiated Ford’s declaration of war on affordable and efficient urban transit. Those councillors have put Transit City back on track. Grescoe has been keeping in touch, and notes that “Toronto may yet get the economical light rail … set out in the original plans for Transit City.” Either way, his 17-page Toronto chapter in Straphanger remains the best summary yet of what is happening here and why it matters.
That said, and the book’s credibility vindicated, I am delighted to travel the world with Grescoe. In 2003, in London, he tells us, Tony Blair’s government set up a public-private partnership to refurbish the Underground. This proved “a disaster” that pitted the people maintaining the tracks against those running the trains. After five years, the private builders “walked away, citing skyrocketing costs,” and a renationalized Underground is today back at square one.
In Paris, meanwhile, a newly elected mayor declared “open war on ‘the hegemony of the automobile.’ ” He turned a highway along the Seine into a sandy beach and introduced a bike-sharing program, and today the Paris métro and connecting lines constitute “the most ingenious and efficient urban transit network ever built.”
But in Europe, Paris does not stand alone. Any North American who has rambled the continent will identify when Grescoe writes, “Travelling around Europe was giving me an inferiority complex.” He’s talking not about the architectural glories and art galleries, but about the high-speed train network. Why, he wonders, “do the Europeans do urban and intercity transport so well? And why are North America’s passenger trains … so uncomfortable, so unreliable, and, to put it bluntly, such an egregious embarrassment?”
The answer, in brief, is the North American love affair with the automobile. Grescoe points to Phoenix as a worst-case example. He suggest that it is well on its way to becoming a ghost town. In years to come, he writes, “people will look at aerial photos of Phoenix and other capitals of sprawl and see all the parking lots, strip malls, and overpasses as the manifestation of a pathological addiction to cheap fossil fuels.”
In Los Angeles, perhaps surprisingly, the author sees positive signs. In the newly built Gold Line, he discovers “a textbook example of well-executed light rail … [that] makes even the newest city bus feel like the lurching, cramped, traffic-snagged, second-class ride that it is.” He reserves top marks, however, for Vancouver’s SkyTrain, “a force multiplier” that dramatically reduces car-dependency: “The Vancouver model,” he writes, “which puts high-density residential and retail right up against high-capacity transit, is emerging as the one to beat.”
Straphanger is comprehensive, insightful and well-written. Mark my words: Later this year, you will see it short-listed for non-fiction awards.
Ken McGoogan has gone straphanging in Paris, Rome, Hobart, Kuala Lumpur, Dublin, New Delhi, Colombo, London, Melbourne, Dar es Salaam and Glasgow, as well as in Canada and the United States. His 10th and most recent book is How the Scots Invented Canada.
Ken McGoogan
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Voyaging North at Arts on Queen



The above painting of a Scottish farm house, by Sheena Fraser McGoogan, forms part of a solo show called Voyaging North soon to launch in Toronto. A tenant-farmer ancestor of mine, one John McGugan (1726-84), lived in this house on the tiny island of Gigha. Voyaging North features a couple of dozen paintings of Scotland and the Arctic. They were spawned by two recent Adventure Canada voyages. In the north, Sheena was especially taken with the Greenland town of Upernavik. The launch happens on March 3 from 1 to 4 pm at Arts on Queen, 2198 Queen St. East, Toronto. The paintings will be displayed there through March
Ken McGoogan
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Your PLR cheque & bravo a l'UNEQ


Yes, your PLR cheque is in the mail!
That is so, anyway, as of Wednesday, Feb. 15.
This year, the Public Lending Right Commission is distributing $9.9 million among almost 18,000 Canadian writers for the use of their books through public libraries. I've just returned from Montreal, where UNEQ -- the Union des ecrivaines et des ecrivains Quebecois -- mounted a fabulous event to close a year-long celebration of the 25th anniversary of PLR (which is known in those parts as DPP / Droit de Pret Public). With the backing of the Canada Council, a variety of organizations came together at the spectacular edifice known as la Grande Bibliotheque to present what was essentially a highbrow variety show celebrating L'ecrivain dans la biliotheque. Leading writers and intellectuals joined forces with musical theatre folk to create a unique event highlighted by a revolving, three-person reading of passages and poems written by fifteen different writers. For me, it evoked l'esprit du Quebec. As chair of the PLRC, all I can say is merci . . . and BRAVO!
Ken McGoogan
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High Commissioner hails How the Scots Invented Canada


Scotland’s gifts to Canada

January 25, 2012
 Robbie Burns statue, Victoria Park in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. The statue was erected by the North British Society of Halifax in 1919. Sculpture by G.A. Lawson.
Robbie Burns statue, Victoria Park in downtown Halifax, Nova Scotia. The statue was erected by the North British Society of Halifax in 1919. Sculpture by G.A. Lawson.




By Andrew Pocock
January the 25th is Burns Night, an anniversary globally celebrated. It’s right and proper, therefore, to reflect for a moment on the Scottish contribution to Canada.
I was given a book the other day, modestly titled: How the Scots Invented Canada, by Ken McGoogan.
It points, not without evidence, to the seminal contribution made by Scots to Canada’s exploration, politics, economy, education and literature. It claims that almost 5 million Canadians, a goodly quantum, identify themselves as Scottish. That’s as large as the entire population of Scotland!
Early arrivals included explorers Alexander Mackenzie, Simon Fraser and James Douglas, pushing West and North, giving their names to mighty rivers and trees.
On the east coast, Scots landed at Pictou, and named a new Province: Nova Scotia.
Encouraged by Lord Selkirk and John Galt, thousands of Scots moved to the Maritimes and Upper Canada, in search of wide-open spaces, new lives and opportunities, and as much distance as possible from the Sassenachs.
In their wake came the nation-builders like Donald Smith, George Brown and perhaps the greatest of them all, Glasgow-born John A Macdonald, in whose Ottawa house British High Commissioners have lived for 80 years.
And Scots continued, in modern times, to contribute to Canada’s present and future.
They include the media guru and philosopher Marshall McLuhan, who introduced us to the concept of the global village;
The impassioned writer and naturalist Farley Mowat;
Alice Munro, winner of both the Booker Prize and the Governor-General’s Award;
And those Ken McGoogan calls “hybrid Scots”: including Bill Reid, the Haida-Scottish carver of monumental sculptures; John Diefenbaker, with a German name from his father, but a Scottish Canadian mother, whose destination was “one Canada”; and another Prime Minister, Pierre Elliott Trudeau, also the son of a Scottish Canadian mother. . . .
Let’s raise a dram, for auld lang syne.
Ken McGoogan
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Wade Davis tackles Mount Everest


Our Hero turns up today in the Globe and Mail, lauding the latest book from Wade Davis:

. . . Into the Silence is a complex, subversive work, a postcolonial refashioning of an imperialist adventure. Davis, a Canadian anthropologist and explorer, is rightly celebrated for introducing indigenous perspectives into the mainstream. Here, he continues that work while telling a terrific adventure story and affirming as sublime the hubristic madness of assaulting the highest mountain in the world “because it’s there.”


The familiar mountaineering story, man against nature, is here vividly rendered: the difficult treks to Base Camp, the struggles to locate a feasible route, the debilitating effects of altitude sickness, the cold, the fog, the wind-whipping snow, the frostbite, the avalanches, the slips and the tumbles, and the life-and-death choices that confront climbers at altitudes above 23,000 feet.


Davis paints an engaging portrait of Englishman George Mallory, the greatest mountaineer of the age, who emerges as brave and athletic but profoundly flawed. Probably we did not need to learn so much about his early adventures in homoeroticism. But the most meaningful revisionism here is broader and more political, in that Davis responds to the attitudes outlined in the first paragraph of this review. Specifically, he sets the record straight about two remarkable “colonials” – one Canadian and one Australian – who, in the countless retellings of the initial assaults on Everest, have received nothing like the recognition they deserve. . . . [To continue reading, click on the headline.]
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.

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