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John A. Macdonald made mistakes . . . because he had lost Thomas D'Arcy McGee




Again this morning, on CBC radio, we heard the now familiar attack on John A. Macdonald: how in building the Canadian Pacific Railway, and not incidentally laying the foundations of Canada, Macdonald mistreated the native peoples. There is no disputing the allegation. But I would suggest, and do so in Celtic Lightning, that this was a direct result of the disaster that happened on April 7, 1868. 
That was the date on which, after participating in a late-running session in the House of Commons, the most eloquent democrat ever to emerge from the Irish diaspora was ambushed on the steps of his Ottawa rooming house. Thomas D’Arcy McGee was shot to death by a Fenian sympathizer. In Celtic Lightning, I speculate about how different Canadian history might have been if D’Arcy McGee had escaped assassination. I write:
"Historian Christopher Moore reminds us that D’Arcy McGee had outlined a plan 'for a separate province to be set aside for the native nations on the plains of the far North West. He had begun to imagine a new country where none existed.' 
How would McGee have responded to the Indian Act of 1876, which set up residential schools and aimed to assimilate indigenous peoples? He did have the ear of Macdonald. And given that he was a champion of minority rights, and had envisioned the emergence of a separate province for First Nations peoples, he might well have sought to subvert that Act. 
"Also, McGee was staunchly Roman Catholic. He had led the battled against Orange-Order intolerance. How would he have responded to the judgment against Louis Riel? Would he have been able to prevent the hanging?
"Richard Gwyn has described John A. Macdonald was 'the one irreplaceable man' of Confederation. I would suggest, rather, that he was 'one irreplaceable man.' To my mind, and from the perspective of today, there was one other. In retrospect, we can see that Macdonald needed D’Arcy McGee. One of the great tragedies of Canadian history is that a Fenian assassin removed the Irish statesman before he had finished his work. "
Above all, that work would have included a much different relationship with the First Nations peoples.



Ken McGoogan
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Haven't we forgotten the French? In Celtic Lightning?


The question is fair enough. In writing Celtic Lightning, and exploring the origins of Canadian nationhood, did I neglect a crucial element? Given that I am one-quarter Quebecois, with pur laine roots stretching back to the early 1600s, I could hardly forget Canada's French Fact. But I also view myself as a realist. And I can no longer cling to the cozy old narrative of  how Canadian
nationhood arises out of a French-English rapprochement. Yes, I refer to the Confederation Story, which highlights the political alliance between John A. Macdonald and George-Etienne Cartier.
Few people appear to have noticed, but that narrative is dead. It ended with a whimper on Nov. 27, 2006. That was the date when, under Stephen Harper, the Canadian House of Commons passed a resolution recognizing that “the Quebecois form a nation within a United Canada.” Basically, one partner has withdrawn from the rapprochement. We have gone through a divorce. What? Are we supposed to keep telling the same old story of a happy marriage?
If the Quebecois constitute a distinct nation, what happens to the rest of us? What happens to the idea of Canadian nationhood? We find ourselves driven to engage, yet once more, with that perpetual Canadian question: Who do we think we are? One answer, currently fashionable, is that we should embrace our identity as a Metis nation. Alongside that idea, Celtic Lightning presents a numbers-based alternative. It suggests that we recognize our Scottish and Irish heritage as seminal.  
Celtic Lightning emerges out of the view that Canada is postmodern: one state, multiple identities. It also recognizes that of those 29 million Canadians who do not identify as Quebecois, almost one-third claim Scottish or Irish ancestry. By celebrating “Celtic” heroes and heroines as having played a crucial role in establishing this country's bedrock values, the book recognizes a forgotten dimension of Canadian nationhood. 


Ken McGoogan
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Celtic Lightning strikes: 'engaging, readable, entertaining, overdue'


Reviews turn up in Toronto, Glasgow, Winnipeg, & Victoria . . .
The Globe and Mail: "Celtic Lightning is engagingly personal. We follow McGoogan and his wife as they travel enthusiastically throughout Scotland and Ireland, from Grace O’Malley’s Connemara and Jonathan Swift’s Dublin to the Dumfries of Robert Burns, and even to the St. Andrews castle where John Knox was captured and sent to France as a galley slave. . . . [McGoogan argues that we should] look carefully at the great figures in Irish and Scottish history, because, in his prologue’s fighting words, they 'shaped the values on which we have built
a Canadian nation.'  This poses two great challenges. The first, obviously, is to blend the two strands of history, Irish and Scottish. This, he achieves brilliantly. . . .The range is fascinating, from Robert the Bruce to The Chieftains, and he avoids a strict Irish-then-Scottish rotation. For example, “Democracy” features the lives, and the Canadian influence, of Sir John A. Macdonald, Thomas D’Arcy McGee, John Knox, Robert Burns, Daniel O’Connell and Charles Stewart Parnell. The reader will find it hard to argue with his specific proposal that McGee and Macdonald formed a vital link in creating Canada, and his general belief in the importance of Irish and Scots to the country. -- Douglas Gibson 

 The Scotsman"[McGoogan] describes Celtic Lightning as 'cultural genealogy,' an exploration of the values and ideas that Scottish and Irish immigrants took with them from their homelands. . . . The result is as engaging mixture of history, memoir, and travelogue as McGoogan explores his own Scots-Irish roots and visits historic sites across Ireland and Scotland . . . . There is no disputing his bottom line. The sheer number of Burns statues, Irish pubs and other trappings of Celtic culture in Canada offer compelling evidence that values and ideas can cross oceans -- and the centuries."  -- Dean Jobb

The Winnipeg Free Press: “Like a latter-day Pierre Berton, Ken McGoogan would like history to be fun. Celtic Lightning is his latest effort at carving a niche for himself in the field of 'pop' history, bringing a delectable dish of thoughts and anecdotes and just enough facts to make us feel a little wiser. . . . . McGoogan credits British author Richard Dawkins for the 'cultural genealogy' idea that pervades the thinking behind Celtic Lightning. But the engaging prose, which made books like Lady Franklin's Revenge so readable, is McGoogan's own, enlightening as it entertains." -- Dave Williamson

The Victoria Times Colonist: “
The way we think, as well as the things that we say and do, are influenced by the forces around us. The early European arrivals in Canada planted the seeds, certainly, and helped shape our government and our way of life . . . . McGoogan’s work takes a long overdue look at the forces that helped to shape this land.” -- Dave Obee

(Photos of Oscar Wilde and William Wallace statues by Sheena Fraser McGoogan)
 
 
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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