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Our Hero explains why Canada abounds in 'overstepping women'


Our Hero turns up in "Talking History," a biweekly series happening over at the 49th Shelf.The series focuses on a wide range of topics in Canadian history, exploring the notion of history as a compelling form of storytelling of interest to large audiences.
Ken McGoogan
One of the most evocative moments of a recent circumnavigation of Ireland with Adventure Canada came as we arrived at Inishbofin, a small island off Connemara. As we rode from our ship into the harbour, eight or nine to a zodiac, we passed Dun Grainne, the remains of a fortress used in the 1500s by legendary pirate queen “Grainne” or Grace O’Malley.
Born into a powerful west-coast family, O’Malley rejected the traditional roles available to females and became a skilled sailor and a ferocious fighter. She gained control of a merchant fleet, conducted trade into the Mediterranean and North Africa, and, in an effort to rid western Ireland of a ruthless autocrat, visited Queen Elizabeth in London. Her enemies declared her “the most notorious sea captain in Ireland,” and complained that she “overstepped the part of womanhood.”
If contemporary Canada can boast few notorious female captains, the country abounds in “overstepping” women. In 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, I hailed a multitude of them: Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein, Alice Munro, Irshad Manji, Louise Arbour, Maude Barlow, Joy Kogawa, Deepa Mehta, Michaelle Jean, Joni Mitchell, Samantha Nutt...
But what struck me while circumnavigating Ireland was that all of these Canadian women, regardless of ethnic origin, can be seen as emerging from the same Celtic or Norse-Gaelic cultural tradition as Grace O’Malley. That tradition of audacious women also includes the Scottish Flora MacDonald, who in 1746, after the Battle of Culloden, risked her life to save Bonnie Prince Charlie. And it spins forward through time into Canada. Viewed culturally, O’Malley and MacDonald belong to Canadian history. They are Canada’s ancestors . . . .[TO READ THE REST, GO TO 49TH SHELF]
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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