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.


Friday, December 23, 2016

Gjoa Haven highlights this Adventure Canada voyage


DAY FIFTEEN -- Gjoa Haven

The people of Gjoa Haven welcomed our on-board Inuit singers as if they were rock stars. Come to think of it, they ARE rock starts. Susan Aglukark has an international reputation and following, so the screaming was no surprise. But young Kelly Fraser was also accorded a tumultuous reception. This happened in the gymnasium at the high school, and it was wonderful to see. Joyous and moving. Some staffers, not mentioning any names, and certainly not confessing, found themselves wiping away tears.
Before the show, about half the voyagers trekked out to the hilltop memorial dedicated to Roald Amundsen, who spent two winters here while becoming the first explorer to navigate the Northwest Passage from one end to the other. Those years: 1903-06. 
Amundsen stayed in Gjoa because he was taking readings to locate the North Magnetic Pole, and mounds on the hill overlooking the town indicate where he built observation stations.
Passengers appreciated displays of traditional Inuit ways. Several bought carvings, and Mari-Hill Harpur was thrilled to purchase a stone bear after talking with the artist and his family. For some, seeing old friends was a major highlight of the visit, and in my case, getting to share a few laughs with Louie Kamookak, Inuk historian and fellow traveller, proved memorable. I keep insisting that he's an elder now, but he denies it. Says he's not old enough. Capturing all this on camera: Sheena Fraser McGoogan.


Beechey Island graves testify to the demise of the Franklin expedition


[Beechey Island is the most visited historical site in the Arctic -- and with good reason. Last September, we got snow. In 2017, when we sail Out of the Northwest Passage, we will call in there once more.]

DAY TEN-- Beechey Island
 Sixty or seventy beluga whales stole the show at Beechey Island. We floated among them in zodiacs as they fed amidst the small icebergs beneath the island’s stupendous cliff face. This was the grand finale of the visit. We had landed near the graves and found the island blanketed in a couple of inches of light snow. We climbed the slope on Beechey to a series of four headstones, three of which mark the graves of sailors from the Franklin expedition.
They died here in 1846, and after burying them with due ceremony, Franklin and 125 men sailed south down Peel Strait to meet their own fate. The fourth headstone marks the grave of a sailor buried here in 1854, a man from Robert McClure’s ship, the Investigator.  He had been rescued from that vessel, which lay trapped in Mercy Bay on Banks Island, but was already so sick that he did not survive.
After viewing the graves, first discovered in 1850, passengers hiked slightly more than one kilometer along the shore to check out Northumberland House. Searchers built it in 1852-53 from the wreckage of an old whaling vessel. Several memorials and markers here are tangential. But we saw the Franklin cenotaph, which stands over a marble slab sent here by Lady Franklin to honour Joseph-Rene Bellot.
In 1853, Bellot had volunteered to lead a small party north from Beechey Island to where British Captain Edward Belcher was wintering. As Bellot proceeded, the ice edge broke off and left him stranded, floating, with two men on an ice floe. Undaunted, he built a snowhouse in which to shelter. Early in the morning, he stepped outside alone . . . and was never seen again. He had slipped and disappeared into the frigid waters. Later that day, the floe drifted to shore and Bellot’s traumatized companions jumped off to safety.
In front of the slab at Beechey, rusted tin cans from the Franklin expedition form a cross on the ground. At the rear of the cenotaph, we saw a wooden two-by-four etched with lettering: J.E. Bernier / 1906. Canadian Joseph Bernier visited here during his multi-year expedition to assert Canadian sovereignty over the entire Arctic archipelago.
Then came the belugas! We had climbed into zodiacs anticipating a short cruise among icebergs scattered along the cliff face. Suddenly, there they were, cavorting all around us. Veteran voyager David Freeze was driven to declare that he had never seen anything like it.

 DAY TWELVE -- Fort Ross

Early in the morning, having sailed eastward through Bellot Strait, the Ocean Endeavour reached Prince Regent Inlet. Starting at nine in the morning, we went ashore in zodiacs to visit Fort Ross. The site, so named by the Hudson’s Bay Company, comprises two weather-beaten wooden buildings. Erected in 1937, this was the HBC’s last-built fur-trade post. It proved so hard to reach that the Company shut it down in 1948, after two HBC men received no communications or supplies for three years.
Both HBC buildings have seen better days, but one of them, originally a storehouse, has been maintained. Inside we found the old familiar stove, table, chairs, and bunk beds. Inuit hunters from Taloyoak frequently shelter here. The second building, originally the manager’s house, is about thirty metres north. Polar bears have repeatedly ransacked the place, leaving broken windows, peeling wallpaper, wrecked armchairs, and scratches on the ceiling.
The HBC named this site in honour of John and James Clark Ross. Starting in 1829, they spent four winters trapped by the ice of Prince Regent Inlet. The two Rosses and their men hauled whaleboats past this location from the southern reaches of the Inlet. In August 1833, they managed to sail the boats out into Lancaster Sound and flag down a passing whaler. During the second winter, in 1831, James Clark Ross had sledged overland and marked the site of the Magnetic North Pole on the west coast of Boothia Peninsula.
Besides the two buildings, Fort Ross boasts several sites of interest. The first, to the southwest of the storehouse, is a series of stone-covered graves which contain the remains of several Inuit who worked with the HBC. The second is a sturdy memorial slab erected in 1979 by the descendants of Francis Leopold McClintock. A third feature of the site is McClintock’s Cairn, which stands at the highest point on a rocky ridge behind Fort Ross.
In the winter of 1858-’59, anyone standing beside that cairn would have been able to see the Fox, locked in the ice and battened down for the winter; and also a magnetic observatory roughly 200 metres from the ship, “built of ice sawed into blocks,” McClintock wrote, “there not being any suitable snow.” From here, travelling by dogsled, McClintock visited the west coast of King William Island, as specified by John Rae, and found the Victory Point Record left by the Franklin expedition.

The Ocean Endeavour sailed west from Fort Ross through Bellot Strait. At around 3:40 p.m. we passed Zenith Point on Boothia Peninsula, the northernmost point on the North American mainland. Most voyagers were up on deck as we travelled through the strait, which is 23 miles long, just over 2400 feet wide, and 35 metres deep in the middle. A mad sextet marked the occasion by building a human cairn. Maybe you had to be there.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Voyaging through history in the Northwest Passage

Looking back at our 2016 voyage Into the Northwest Passage, I find myself driven to juggling dates. Why? Well, because I love this image (left) of Dundas Harbour, which Sheena shot on Day Nine, and I think it deserves pride of place!

DAY NINE -- Dundas Harbour
Under grey skies, we landed zodiacs on the rocky beach in Dundas Harbour at ten in the morning. A scattering of people headed off to a Thule archaeological site, but most made for the historical RCMP post, long since abandoned. It faces southwest over Bernier Bay, so-called in commemoration of a 1906 stopover by Joseph Bernier, who planted Canadian flags throughout the Arctic.
At the RCMP site, several buildings remain standing: a detachment building (two-person living quarters), a separate house for Inuit hunters, two latrines, a couple of storehouses, and a dog corral. The main residence, which is marked by considerable graffiti, contains a few bottles and several books, the strangest of which is probably Dog Crusoe and His Master by Robert Michael Ballantyne.
The RCMP erected these buildings in 1923 to establish Canadian sovereignty over the north. On a hill overlooking the site stands a white-fenced cemetery containing two old graves marked by new gravestones. Buried here were constables Victor Maisonneuve (1899-1926) and William Robert Stephens (1902-1927). The first committed suicide, the second died while hunting.

The HBC rented the outpost briefly in the 1930s, and the RCMP maintained it until 1951, when it moved to the less isolated Craig Harbour. The Canadian Coast Guard maintains the cemetery. In 1944, during the return voyage of the St. Roch through the Northwest Passage, Henry Larsen called in here.
Afternoon took us into Croker Bay, where more than sixty voyagers piled into seven zodiacs to take a close look at Croker Glacier. A late afternoon fog lent an other-worldly air to the outing. And then came the polar plunge, when the bravest (craziest?) among us tested themselves by leaping or diving into the balmy, iceberg-cooled waters of Croker Bay.

FLASHBACK TO DAY SEVEN – Etah
The magic moment came when fifteen muskoxen, readily visible from Brother John Glacier, got spooked and ran hard across the cliff face. Forty or fifty of us were hiking along near the glacier front when this happened, and we all stood marvelling at the sight. We didn’t know what had scared them, but we were glad they ran in the direction they did, and not down the hill towards us. We resumed our trek along the glacier front, and a couple of staffers hurried ahead to check the final stream, to see if we could cross. They found a small river, recognized that crossing was impossible, and launched us on our return journey, back the way we had come.
The day had begun with a 5:30 wake-up call. Soon after 6:30, we were into the zodiacs and roaring down the spectacular Foulke Fjord that leads to Etah. In the mid-1850s, when Elisha Kent Kane got trapped in his wooden ship forty or fifty miles farther north, the Inuit who lived here became his allies. They helped him and his men survive two winters of dark, cold, scurvy, and amputations. (You can read all about it in Race to the Polar Sea.)
Today, Etah is essentially a hunting camp. We had enjoyed a 40-minute zodiac ride down the 12-kilometre-long fjord, admiring the cliffs and the wildlife – muskox, arctic hare, and gyre falcons. Later, returning to the ship, many trekkers also spotted a few seals. Here at Etah, we reached our “farthest north” for this voyage: 78 degrees, 22 minutes north. We were 27 miles from Canada, directly across from Cape Isabella on Ellesmere Island.

DAY EIGHT – Grise Fjord
A wave of laughter rolled through the afternoon audience when, halfway through the docudrama Passage, Inuit statesman Tagak Curley showed some impatience when teaching an actor playing explorer John Rae how to build an igloo. The film, based on my book Fatal Passage, marked a move to Plan B.
We had intended to visit to Grise Fjord on Ellesmere Island, Canada’s northernmost civilian settlement. In the 1950s, the Canadian government relocated three Inuit families here as an assertion of sovereignty over these environs, and today, about 165 people, mostly descendants of those displaced from northern Quebec, continue to reside here.
Stormy weather prevented our landing, and one adventurous staffer, musician Kevin Closs, took a dunking near shore after helping to deliver some gifts to the community. We did manage to clear Canadian customs by bringing aboard two officials, and then, after lunch, shifted to the film in which Rae emerges as a singular champion of the Inuit and Charles Dickens stands revealed as . . . . something else.
Towards the end of the film, our fellow voyager Tagak Curley manages to elicit an apology from a great-great-grandson of Dickens for the great author’s racist accusations. Earlier in the day, Curley had given a talk on the evolution of Nunavut, which encompasses 140,000 square miles of land. He traced the complex political negotiations that settled the Inuit land claims agreement and then the boundaries of the new territory.
That territory includes Grise Fjord, which was named by explorer Otto Sverdrup. At 76 degrees 24 minutes north, the village is 1544 kilometres from the North Pole. The original settlement, known as the Old Village, was located nine kilometres away, on an exposed point that can be reached only by water.The town moved when the RCMP arrived in the 1960s. Susan Aglukark had written a special song focusing on the relocation. Before resuming the voyage, Adventure Canada paid the community the agreed sum for the presentation the people had prepared, and also set out a collection box for donations from passengers.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Quick hits from voyaging in the Northwest Passage


A couple more quick hits (excerpts) from our 2016 Adventure Canada voyage Into the Northwest Passage . . .

 DAY FOUR – Karrat Fjord

At around 12:30, with the sun shining bright, the Ocean Endeavour entered one of the most spectacular fjords in Greenland. Karrat Fjord is almost 100 km long. We sailed up it to within 1.5 miles of Karrat Island, where we anchored among a field of icebergs. They came from an ice river called Rink’s Icebrae, which calves icebergs into the water from the Greenland Ice Cap, emitting the occasional cracking sound.
To land, voyagers split into three groups: long hikers, medium walkers, and beachcombers. About thirty people, led by the tireless Laura Baer, reached the top of a high ridge. The rest of us enjoyed the spectacular view along the edge of the plateau, and visited archaeological sites that included a Thule encampment and a 20th-century cemetery. This last comprised forty or fifty graves and a scattering of worn wooden crosses that lay on the ground. The only completely legible name was that of Hans Thomasen, though another cross bore the name Anna, and also a date: 1944.
Probably, the Greenlandic people of the nearby settlement used this place to bury their dead. That settlement, called Nugatsiaq, is west of the island at the foot of the mountain on the far shore of the fjord. Several staffers recalled seeing that settlement on a previous visit, though today, because of the icebergs, it became visible only to those on the high ridge. More than one visitor remarked on the silence and peacefulness of the island.  And for most voyagers, the return to the ship by zodiac involved a special treat as we wended among icebergs that sparkled in the sun.

DAY SIX – Kap York

Passenger Lorne Pendleton, noting that we could not see the Robert Peary obelisk because of the fog, suggested that the 28-metre memorial was cloaked in “a shroud of shame.” We were riding back to the ship in a zodiac after doing the alleged “medium walk” around a small lake.
Pendleton was alluding to a couple of facts that had been revealed yesterday at recap. In 1897, Peary had arrived here in a steamship. He hired all the able-bodied Inuit in the vicinity, and then made off with several massive chunks of a 10,000-year-old meteorite, which he sold to the Museum of Natural History in New York.
Peary also brought six Inuit to that metropolis. Four of them soon died. One (a young man) was shipped home, and an eight-year-old boy named Minik stayed behind, fooled into thinking that his father’s body had been buried with respect. In truth, scientists had defleshed that body and put the skeleton on display.
Later, Peary claimed he had reached the North Pole when he had not. None of this prevented the explorer’s family from memorializing him at Cap York with this giant needle, which is topped with a massive “P.”  (Pix by Sheena Fraser McGoogan)

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

To recall sailing the Northwest Passage is to dream of doing it again



[Last year, with Adventure Canada, Sheena and I sailed Into the Northwest Passage. Next year, in September 2017, we will reverse our route and sail Out of the Northwest Passage. Some of our stops will be different, but others we simply cannot miss -- among them Ilulissat, where a river of ice produces the largest icebergs in the northern hemisphere. To remember is to anticipate.]

DAY 3 — SUNDAY, AUGUST 28, 2016

Whales! Voyagers saw humpback whales during a spectacular, two-hour Zodiac
ride among the icebergs of the Ilulissat Icefjord. The cavorting sea mammals
provided the highlight of the day for most voyagers, though several were
mightily impressed when they saw an iceberg calve off from the front of the
icebrae.
For some, the day’s highlight came earlier, after a short Zodiac ride and a long
hike through the town of Ilulissat. Walkers proceeded then along the boardwalk
to a hilltop vantage point that looks out over the ice-choked fjord. The ice-river,
which flows form the Greenland Ice Cap, is believed to have spawned the
iceberg that sank the Titanic. It flows at a remarkable twenty to thirty-five
metres per day, and calves off eighteen to twenty million tons of ice daily—or
over twenty billion tons each year.
The Ocean Endeavour had arrived at Ilulissat in a worrisome fog. But as passengers disembarked and started through town, the fog lifted and the day
turned sunny and bright. Ilulissat itself, with a population of 4,000, is the most
visitor-oriented centre in Greenland. But two other passenger ships were in the
harbour, and taxis to and from the start of the boardwalk were few and far between. Also, because today was Sunday, several of the shops opened later
than they might have—though several passengers managed to return to the ship carrying bags.
A number of people found time to visit the museum, which is devoted to explorer and ethnologist Knud Rasmussen. With his fifth Thule Expedition, he showed that the Inuit , scattered now from Greenland to western Canada and beyond, even into Siberia, constitute a single people.
Later, after dinner, Susan Aglukark picked up this theme with a stellar
presentation mixing song and story. She talked of how her parents’ generation bore “the brunt of the burden of change.” They were the last born into
traditional Inuit ways, she said, noting the psychological effects of rapid change,
and of no longer growing up deeply embedded in an extended family.

Journalistic debacle embroils legendary jockey Sandy Hawley . . . .

So the quest began when I chanced upon a photo of the legendary
jockey Sandy Hawley and me. I remembered the image (right) as having appeared in the Toronto Star when I was working at that newspaper. But it came with a date -- June 26, 1973 -- that to me seemed wrong. I said as much in a Facebook posting, and thought no more about it. But a musician friend, Kevin Closs -- who hails originally from Manitoulin Island, and has produced a number of superb albums -- fell to wondering. He popped a couple of terms into a search engine and bingo! turned up a yarn (left) that had appeared, complete with photo, in the Globe and Mail . . . dated May 23, 1974. Now that, I reflected, that rings more true. As to how the other date got entered, well, for that I had no answer. But I worried: what would Sandy Hawley think? One possible way to avoid such disasters in future soon suggested itself, when an apparently unrelated posting turned up on the wall of another FB-friend. That was when, thanks to my long long long experience, I recognized that this whole journalistic debacle -- publishing a wrong date! -- could have been avoided with a childhood Christmas gift that someone never received. See below. It comprises a lockable journal, two bottles of Glitter Glue, ten confetti flowers, and much else. Think about it, people.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Art of Fact means Creative Nonfiction course is only a click away

Word is that Our Hero is offering an online course in Creative Nonfiction through University of Toronto. It's called The Art of Fact: An Introduction to Writing Non-Fiction, and it kicks off January 30, 2017. To see if it's right for you, read on below. To register, click here.

About the course:
This online workshop aims to enhance your ability to tell true stories by using techniques from both fiction and journalism. Taught by renowned author Ken McGoogan, it focuses on learning tricks of the trade that can be variously applied rather than on developing a particular work-in-progress. Narrative non-fiction draws on memory, imagination, research and analysis, and encompasses memoir, autobiography, biography, history, adventure, travel and true crime.
What you’ll learn:
· Understand the genre of creative or narrative non-fiction.
· Identify and develop storytelling techniques to use in your work.
· Emerge with a few short pieces of creative non-fiction.

About the instructor:
Ken McGoogan is the author of more than a dozen books, among them four bestsellers about Arctic exploration: Fatal Passage, Ancient Mariner, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and Race to the Polar Sea (all HarperCollins Canada). He has won the Pierre Berton Award for History, the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize, the Canadian Authors’ Association History Award, the UBC Medal for Canadian Biography, and an American Christopher Award for “a work of artistic excellence that affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” His recent books include Celtic Lightning, 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, and How the Scots Invented Canada, and he has also published three novels.
Before turning mainly to books, Ken worked as a journalist for two decades (Toronto Star, Montreal Star, Calgary Herald). He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ryerson and an MFA in creative writing from University of British Columbia. Ken has served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, and is a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Explorers’ Club. He has taught writing for more than fifteen years, and won an award for teaching excellence from the University of Toronto (School of Continuing Studies). He also teaches in the MFA program at University of King’sCollege in Halifax. Ken sails in the Northwest Passage as a resource historian with Adventure Canada. In 2017, he will publish Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of Arctic Discovery. More at www.kenmcgoogan.com.






Monday, November 21, 2016

Chasing the Irish Pirate Queen around the Aran Islands

Hats off to James McQuiston, editor and publisher of The Celtic Guide, a superbly professional magazine that reflects his passionate interest in Scotland and Ireland. The December issue (click here) features contributions from throughout the Celtic world. They include an excerpt from my latest book, Celtic Lightning: How the Scots and the Irish Created a Canadian Nation, which has just appeared in paperback (HarperCollins Canada). That excerpt begins as follows . . . .

Off the south coast of Ireland, in choppy seas, we sailed around Skellig Michael, a rocky island that rises, volcano-like, seven hundred feet into the air. We marvelled to think that, for centuries, Christian monks lived in beehive meditation huts near the top, and would reach them in the wind by clambering out of their coracles and climbing six hundred stone steps, narrow, steep, and often wet. We were circumnavigating Ireland with Adventure Canada, Sheena and I, going ashore once or twice a day in Zodiacs. Off the west coast, on Inishmore in the Aran Islands, where children learn Gaelic as their first language, we debarked and followed a rugged footpath uphill to Dun Aengus, a ritual site from the Bronze Age. Here one of us determined that, yes, we could terrify ourselves by lying on our stomachs, crawling to the edge, and looking straight down to where, a hundred metres below, white waves smashed into the black rock face.
But the most evocative moment of the circumnavigation of Ireland came on Inishbofin, which is located north up the west coast, off Connemara. As we rode from our ship to the dock at Inishbofin, eight or nine people to a Zodiac, we passed Dun Grainne, the remains of a fortress used in the 1500s by the legendary Pirate Queen “Grainne” or Grace O’Malley. Born into a powerful west-coast family, O’Malley rejected the traditional roles available to females. She became a skilled sailor, gained control of a merchant fleet, and conducted trade as far away as Africa. Her enemies denounced her as “the most notorious sea captain in Ireland,” and complained that she “overstepped the part of womanhood.”
The Celtic tradition that produced O’Malley—that of the dauntless woman, latterly known as feminism—has never been short of exemplars. Besides the Irish Pirate Queen and the Scottish Flora MacDonald, saviour of Bonnie Prince Charlie, there was Maria Edgeworth, who has been called the Irish Jane Austen. She kicked down doors through the early 1800s. And later that century, after seeing Irish tenants evicted from their lands, the activist-actress Maud Gonne inspired William Butler Yeats and thousands of Irish nationalists.
In Scotland, the first champion of Scottish independence to be elected to the British House of Commons was a woman, Winifred Ewing, leader of the Scottish National Party. Five years later, in 1972, and in that same hallowed house, a twenty-year-old Irish MP, Bernadette Devlin, delivered “a slap heard round the world” when the Home Secretary claimed that on Bloody Sunday, British troops had shot more than two dozen unarmed protestors in self-defence. Having witnessed the massacre – 13 died that day, and one later -- Devlin crossed the floor and slapped his face.
In this unbroken Celtic tradition of “overstepping women,” which extends backwards to Saint Brigid of Kildare (451–525) and forward to its flowering in the contemporary world, Grace O’Malley came early. In June of 1593, as she sailed up the River Thames to meet Queen Elizabeth I, she would have known little about what her privateering English counterparts were doing. Walter Raleigh was organizing an expedition to discover the Lost City of Gold in South America. Martin Frobisher, having conducted three expeditions to North America, was plundering ships off the coasts of France and Spain. Francis Drake, circumnavigator of the world, was ranging around North Africa, the Caribbean, and South America, seizing booty wherever he found it.
Grace O’Malley, commander of a fleet of galleys and several hundred sailors, had sailed from the west coast of Ireland to seek the removal of the ruthless Richard Bingham, the English-appointed governor of Connaught. Bingham was the one who had denounced her as “a woman who overstepped the part of womanhood,” and labelled her “the most notorious sea captain in Ireland.” She sought the release from Bingham’s jail of a half-brother and of her son, Tibbot. Also, she hoped to secure the right to maintain herself “by land and sea,” by which she meant forcibly collecting “tax” from any ships that plied the waters she patrolled. The merchants of Galway were allowed to do this: why was she prevented?
To read the rest click here . . . and then pick up a copy of the book, available in better bookstores everywhere. (Pix above by Sheena Fraser McGoogan.)


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Art connoisseur snaps up Sheena's painting as she hangs her show

An artist's work is never done. Here we have Sheena Fraser McGoogan this afternoon at Art Square Gallery in the heart of the Six. She was just finishing the hanging of her solo show, Mountains and Icebergswhich runs from today through Nov. 28 opposite the Art Gallery of Ontario. We rented a van this morning, loaded 'er up, and accomplished the drive from the Beaches along Dundas without incident. Art Square doubles as a cafe, and I've got to tell you, a number of people expressed excitement. One bearded, middle-aged chap arrived and had a quiet bowl of soup while we hung.
He then took a wander and ended up pointing:  "I'll buy this one." It was a colorful painting of Upernavik, Greenland. Turned out the buyer is a bit of a connoisseur and owns a number of works by David Blackwood. Anyway, Sheena's grand opening is Thursday, Nov. 17, from 6 to 9 p.m. Art Square is at 334 Dundas Street.  Maybe see you there?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The night Leonard Cohen taught me that Magic Is Alive

This photo finds Leonard Cohen out front of his Montreal house in 1977. At that time, I was living just a few blocks away, and I would walk past every once in a while, hoping to catch sight of him. I never did. A few years later, however, I got to spend an evening with him. I tell the story in my book 50 Canadians Who Changed the World. Here is an edited excerpt: 


“Magic is alive,” Leonard Cohen wrote in an old favorite incantation. “Many poor men lied. Many sick men lied. Magic never weakened. Magic never hid. Magic always ruled.” Those short sentences, which appear in a passage from his novel Beautiful Losers, have resonated through his life. I give you an illustrative incident that occurred in Alberta in 1984. I was working as books editor and columnist at the Calgary Herald. As such, in that far distant world, I interviewed a lot of touring authors. Usually, I would meet them at the office. Some I would take to lunch, and with a few, I would try for dinner.
So when Cohen was passing through town, promoting a poetry book called Book of Mercy, I arranged through his publisher to meet him for dinner in the downtown hotel where he was staying. I arrived a few minutes early and realized that the restaurant was all wrong: white linen table cloths, hovering waiters, and a couple of businessmen eating alone. Deadly. Instead of entering, I waited at the entrance. Cohen arrived seconds later. We shook hands and, as we stepped inside, we exchanged a glance. Like Cohen, I had come of age in Montreal, and had a taste for smoked-meat sandwiches. “We would have to jump into my car,” I said. “But I do know a bistro that might work?” Cohen said, “Let’s do it.”
Before we left, he wanted to collect something from his room. This proved to be a portable tape recorder and, in these pre-digital days, a cassette tape of songs he would be putting on his next record album. With these in hand, we jumped into my old beater and drove across the Bow River to an eatery called Flix (now long gone). Decorated with old movie posters, it boasted “Montreal smoked meat sandwiches.” We ate three of these between us and drank too much red wine as we talked about his book and I scribbled notes. Wolfing down fries, Cohen shook his head: “That other place would’ve killed us.”
He talked a bit about Book of Mercy, but was more interested in sharing his new songs. I happily put on the earphones and, as we ate and drank, listened to half a dozen tunes destined for Various Positions. I remember Dance Me to the End of Love and Hallelujah, and being especially taken with The Law: “There’s a law, there’s an arm, there’s a hand.” The evening was already unforgettable. 
At when point, after he had talked about travelling around Europe by bus, and moving day and night, I asked him, “Don’t you find that, well, a bit gruesome?” He grinned and said, “The more gruesome it gets, the better I like it.”
 As we prepared to leave the restaurant, Cohen visited the washroom. On his way back, a waitress stopped him. I saw her hand him a slip of paper. He glanced at this note and reacted with excitement. After a while he broke off and returned, looking crestfallen. I asked if everything was all right and he said, “Yes, yes. I’ll show you something outside.”
Out front of Flix, Cohen handed me the note he had received. It began, “Dearest Leonard.”
Here you have to know, as any serious Cohen fan does, that in 1966, the troubadour spent a few weeks in Edmonton, 280 km north of where we now stood. One wintry night during a blizzard, he arrived back at his hotel and found two young women with backpacks sheltering in the doorway. They had hitchhiked across Canada and run out of money. Cohen insisted that they stay in his hotel room. He gave them the double bed and they quickly fell asleep. He sat in the armchair and, as he looked out at the storm, found himself humming a tune.  He picked up his guitar and wrote Sisters of Mercy. Apparently, this was the only time he ever produced a song without sweating over every word. “When they awakened in the morning,” he told biographer Ira Nadel, “I sang them the song exactly as it is, perfect, completely formed.”
Eighteen years after that incident, out front of Flix, Cohen showed me the note written and signed by one of the original Sisters, Lorraine. Neither of us had registered anyone else in the restaurant. The note said that the other Sister, Barbara, was living in San Francisco. Shaking his head, Cohen said, “Why didn’t she come over to the table?”
“Maybe she saw that we were working?”
“She didn’t want to intrude!” He slapped his forehead. “What delicacy!”
But what astonished me, as I told him, was that she ended up in Flix on a week night at precisely the same moment as we did. And we had arrived so utterly by chance. I shook my head: “Magic is alive.”
I was quoting, of course, from Beautiful Losers, which has rightly been described as “by turns historical and surreal, religious and obscene, comic and ecstatic.” One writer called it “the most radical (and beautiful) experimental novel ever published in Canada.” I had marveled over it in 1966, when it appeared, and all these years later, I couldn’t help myself. I asked Cohen, more than once, when he might give us another novel. He remained noncommittal. But when I pulled up in front of his hotel to drop him off, and we were shaking hands, I gave it one last try: “So you’re going to write another novel?”
“Yes,” he said. “I’m going to do it.”
“Fantastic!” But, yes, I wanted more: “When are you going to start?’
He took a beat and, straight-faced, answered: “I'm going to start tonight."
For a second, he had me. But then I got the joke and burst out laughing. And Cohen laughed too, threw his head back and laughed, and we shook hands a second time, both of us laughing, and then, suddenly, he was gone. 

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Art show brings Northwest Passage to the Centre of the Universe


This is GRISE FJORD, one of the paintings that will turn up in MOUNTAINS AND ICEBERGS, Sheena's forthcoming solo exhibition at Art Square Gallery in Toronto. Sheena did a lot of new works this year, drawing on voyages in the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. Situated on Ellesmere Island, Grise Fjord (home to about 130 people) is the northernmost civilian settlement in Canada. It has an average yearly temperature of −16.5 °C, which makes it one of the coldest inhabited places in the world.
Art Square is in the Centre of the Universe (ahem) at 334 Dundas Street West, directly opposite the Art Gallery of Ontario. Sheena has 19 new paintings in the show, including seven that, like this one, measure 48" by 48" (four feet square). The show runs Nov. 14 to 28, with a grand opening on Thursday, Nov. 17, from 6 to 9 p.m. Circle that and come on down!

Friday, September 30, 2016

An Open Letter to Explorer John Rae On His Birthday

Dear Dr. Rae:

I write from the future to wish you Happy Birthday on the 203rd anniversary of your birth. What to report from 2016? Well, searchers have recently found the two lost ships of Sir John Franklin, Erebus and Terror. This has sparked renewed interest in the fate of the 1845 Franklin expedition.

On this subject, slowly we are winning the war to vindicate you and your Inuit informants, so shamefully slandered by Charles Dickens in your own time. I put that story on the record in Fatal Passage and Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and elaborated in an introduction to The Arctic Journals of John Rae and a foreword to a new edition of John Rae’s Arctic Correspondence. I will publish another Arctic book in 2017.

In Orkney, a new statue of you has been erected on Stromness Pier, with an inscription recognizing that you discovered (in the formulation of historian Tom Muir) “the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage.” Also in Orkney, after a long struggle, the John Rae Society has gained control of your birthplace, the Hall of Clestrain, and has begun work on restoring it and transforming it into a visitor centre.

I will end these words of congratulation (203 years and counting!) with a few words (edited for space) from my foreword to your Arctic correspondence: 



The polemical introduction to Arctic Correspondence, which runs almost 100 pages, illustrates the way the British establishment framed, controlled, and projected an “authorized history” of Arctic exploration. Its main author was Richard Julius Cyriax, an English medical doctor and fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, who rejected the fact that some of the final survivors of the Franklin expedition had been driven by starvation to cannibalism. He argues that “the religion, courage, discipline, and sense of duty of Franklin’s men would have prevented anything whatever of the kind described by the [Inuit].”
anticipated, many investigators have since added detail and nuance to Rae’s original findings. Those who came after McClintock but before Cyriax include Charles Francis Hall, Frederick Schwatka, and Knud Rasmussen. Those who came after Cyriax include David Woodman, Owen Beattie, Margaret Bertulli, and Anne Keenleyside. Woodman, author of Unravelling the Franklin Mystery, correctly wrote of McClintock that “the vague stories he collected . . . added detail to Rae’s account, but presented little that was new.” The list of those who have clarified the Fate of Franklin continues to grow. But as I wrote in Fatal Passage, “John Rae, not Leopold McClintock, deserves to be commemorated at Westminster Abbey as the discoverer of the fate of Franklin. Yet even that would right only half the historical wrong.”

Monday, September 26, 2016

Mountains and icebergs (exhibition) coming to downtown Toronto


Mountains and Icebergs, a solo exhibition of colorful acrylic paintings by Sheena Fraser McGoogan, will run from Nov. 14 to 28 at Art Square Gallery and Cafe in downtown Toronto. Sheena has traveled extensively in the Arctic, madly shooting photos for yours truly (even though she is first and foremost a painter. Besides the Arctic, she has also explored the Canadian Rockies and the Scottish Highlands, and has produced these paintings in response. The grand opening will be Thursday, Nov. 17, from 6 to 9 p.m., when the artist will be in attendance. Address: 334 Dundas Street West, opposite the Art Gallery of Ontario. Be there or . . . actually, be there and be Art Square.


Saturday, September 24, 2016

John Rae's childhood home set to become memorial visitor centre

The John Rae Society has finally purchased the Hall of Clestrain, the childhood home of explorer John Rae. The Society, created three years ago to restore the 18th century building, acquires entry to the Hall and surrounding lands as of Sept. 30 -- which would have been Rae's 203rd birthday.
The Society put down a deposit and has five years, interest free, to raise the rest of the money. It aims to make the home a fitting monument to Rae's feats of exploration in Canada. Andrew Appleby, society president, said that visitor facilities and interpretation will pay tribute not just to Rae, but also to the Inuit and First Nations who assisted him in his explorations. The Inuit, especially, "will be big on our priorities of interpretation."
In 1854, when Rae discovered the location of the final link in what would prove to be the first navigable Northwest Passage, he was accompanied by his two hardiest men -- the Inuk William Ouligbuck Jr. and the Ojibway Thomas Mistegan.
The Hall of Clestrain was built in 1769 by businessman Patrick Honeyman after he married. He and his wife travelled from the Orkney island of Graemsay to Edinburgh, where they admired New Town, then under construction. Clestrain is Georgian Edinburgh transplanted to Orkney. Rae was born in the Hall in 1813. The place was occupied continuously until 1952, when a storm ripped off its roof. The temporary roof built then has remained in place ever since. 
The Society is bent on reversing "the ravages of storms and too many decades on this wonderful 18th century architectural gem." As I wrote not long ago: "Because of John Rae, Clestrain is the most important heritage building in Orkney, and one of the most significant in all of Scotland. It will make a spectacular visitor centre. Hats off to the John Rae Society for persevering in making this happen."
Alistair Carmichael, member of Parliament for Orkney, hailed news of the purchase, noting that "the John Rae story is one that is close to the heart of many Orcadians. . . . The Hall of Clestrain is central to that story and it is right that it should be part of any lasting memorial to this great Orcadian and all that he did in his lifetime."
The John Rae Society is raising funds to complete the transformation, and those keen to support the project can do so by clicking here to their website. As Appleby put it, "Any sum, wee or vast, will be so very much appreciated." (Photos courtesy of Colin Bullen.)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Flashback to when W.P. Kinsella worked magic with Shoeless Joe

The passing of author Bill Kinsella, who died peacefully at 12:05 pm today, swept me back twenty years. I was working as books editor at the Calgary Herald, and wrote a yarn focusing on Kinsella's breakthrough moment. Others will write the obituaries and fill in the blanks. This is a personal hit that ran Oct. 5, 1996 under the headline Shoeless Joe gave Kinsella his freedom. The story began as follows. . . .

The breakout book. 
That's what most writers are chasing. 
If the first challenge is to get a book published -- no easy task -- the second is greater still: to publish that elusive breakout book. 
That's the one that changes a writer's life. That enables him to quit teaching English at the University of Calgary, for example, and devote himself to writing full-time. 
Most authors never write a breakout book. But W.P. (Bill) Kinsella published one in 1982: Shoeless Joe. The novel won the prestigious Houghton-Mifflin Award in the U.S., and then became the hit movie Field of Dreams
"It enabled me to stop working for anyone else," Kinsella said recently. "Since then, all I've done is write." Oops, not completely true: he did teach one semester at the University of Victoria. But let's face it: that was mainly to hang out with friends like writer-professor W.D. Valgardson. 
Kinsella was in Calgary to promote If Wishes Were Horses, his 22nd book. It's a wacky fantasy that mixes a bit of baseball with a lot of magic and brings back the heroes of both Shoeless Joe and The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. 
As such, it encourages a retrospective approach. Let's take it from the top. Born in Edmonton in 1935, Kinsella grew up on a bush-farm about 100 kilometres west of the Alberta capital. He didn't attend school until he was 10. But he caught up. In 1954, he graduated from an Edmonton high school, then did "all sorts of vile things." He sold real estate and life insurWance and advertising for the yellow pages, managed a retail credit agency, drove a taxi and, after moving in 1967 to Victoria, bought and ran a pizzeria. 
Kinsella had been writing all along, but it wasn't until the mid-seventies, after he'd picked up a degree in creative writing from the University of Victoria, that he started selling his stories regularly. 
In 1975, he published his first book of "Indian stories," focusing on fictional Indians living in Hobbema, Alta. Within four years, it had sold 10,000 copies -- and now it's passed the 50,000 mark. It has also been made into a movie. 
Even so, no breakout. Kinsella landed a job at the University of Calgary and began earning his living by teaching English. In 1980, he published a third book of stories: Shoeless Joe Jackson Comes To Iowa. The title story caught the eye of an editor in Boston, who encouraged Kinsella to turn it into a novel. 
"About a third of the way through the book," Kinsella says now, "I realized something special was happening. I wasn't surprised by anything that happened after that." 
What made Shoeless Joe the breakout it became? Kinsella doesn't hesitate: "Word of mouth." Originally, the publisher planned to print 10,000 copies in hardcover. The sales representatives loved the book, however, and talked the publisher into printing 25,000. 
Word of mouth led to the movie, and drove the mass-market edition, and sales now are "at least half a million," Kinsella says, "probably more." The novel "opened the door of international literature to me," Kinsella says. "A lot more people bought my books. My backlist sales (previous books) went up. I started doing a lot more public appearances." 
In Canada, he notes, universities will often pay an author as little as $200 to do a reading. American colleges and universities, by comparison, offer $2,000 or $3,000 -- "and I began getting quite a few of those." 
Kinsella also kept writing steadily. His 22 books (and counting) include seven Hobbema books, seven baseball books (including the new one), and eight books that fit neither category. 
Among his own works, "I like Red Wolf, Red Wolf." That book of stories is "my favorite of everything I've written. There are just some really good stories in there." 


Monday, September 5, 2016

John Rae sails on through confusion & nay-saying

So here we are at Beechey Island, wending our way towards Victory Point, Rae Strait, and Gjoa Haven. We’re on the Ocean Endeavour, we’re sailing with Adventure Canada, and when I turn to Wikipedia, I discover a bit of confusion in the entry on explorer John Rae. I read that “Ken McGoogan has claimed that Rae here effectively discovered the final link in the [first navigable] Northwest Passage,” although another Arctic historian (desperate to be recognized by name) “refuted that claim, citing the uncharted 240 km between [James Clark] Ross’s discoveries and Bellot Strait.”
Sorry, Wikipedia, but I demolished this purported refutation in a Polar Record rejoinder entitled “Defenders of Arctic orthodoxy turn their backs on Sir John Franklin.” Those who have done their homework know that I am no great admirer of Franklin. But I do acknowledge that in 1846, the good Sir John sailed south from Lancaster Sound to the northwest corner of King William Island. He established that channel as navigable to that location. Of that achievement, his men left tangible proof. Who in their right mind cares about an uncharted stretch of coastline that Franklin and his men sailed past? Talk about irrelevant.
In 1854, eight years after Franklin got trapped in the ice off King William Island, Rae gleaned from Inuit hunters what Sir John had accomplished. On that same expedition, Rae completed the work of Franklin. He recognized the final link in the Passage, the one Roald Amundsen would later use, and brought that news home. He discovered the short waterway, Rae Strait, that links the north-south channel established by Franklin and James Clark Ross with the coastal channel previously determined by Thomas Simpson and Peter Warren Dease of the Hudson’s Bay Company.
Rae built a cairn to mark his discovery of Rae Strait. – a cairn that has no place in the orthodox, Royal Navy version of exploration history, but that shines bright in the 21st-century rendition that recognizes the contribution of First Peoples. In 1999, with two fellow adventurers, I placed a plaque beside the remains of that cairn -- a homage to Rae and his companions, an Inuk and an Ojibway. Those who wish to know more should go here.
(Photo by Ginette Vachon.)