Thursday, July 20, 2017

Advance readers discover 'a brilliant reclaiming of history'

The advance readers are encouraging. Bob Rae writes: "Finally! A page-turning book about Arctic exploration that puts the heroism and leadership of indigenous people at the centre of the story." Ronald Wright calls it "a lively and gripping tale of heroism, folly and icy death . . . by highlighting the role of the Inuit, Dene and Metis, Ken McGoogan shows how the most successful white explorers were those who learned from the locals." Katherine Govier discovers "our national myth finally recast on our own shores . . . A brilliant reclaiming of history." Modesty, long known to be my bugbear, precludes my offering more extensive quotation. Dead Reckoning arrives in September.
In response to overwhelming popular demand (see comment below) I am adding two more advance bits: The legendary Peter C. Newman hails Yours Truly as "the ultimate guide to our last frontier." And the equally legendary Louie Kamookak writes: "This is Ken's best book yet. I am going to post a picture with all of his books so that he can show it around. I will even put on a seal-skin vest and tie."

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Opinionated? Moi? Q&A turns up in Celtic Life International

  
[The following is a shortened version of the original article.]

Prolific, profound, witty, and opinionated, Canadian author Ken McGoogan made waves recently when he suggested that Canada adopt Scotland as a new territory. Celtic Life International recently spoke with the scribe about his Celtic connections. 

What are your own roots? My roots are Scottish, Irish, and French Canadian. In Scotland, DNA research led me to meeting Jim McGugan, a long-lost “cousin” who lives in Arbroath; and from there to the island of Gigha in Kintyre, where our earliest ancestor is buried. In Ireland, I have tracked my ancestor Michael Byrnes to New Ross, County Wexford, where he was a contemporary of Patrick Kennedy, a forebear of American president John F. Kennedy.

Why are those roots important to you? Tracking my roots drove me to scrambling around on Cruach MhicGougain in Kintyre, and to having many other fun adventures. The process not only gave me a whole new sense of self, but inspired two books: How the Scots Invented Canada and Celtic Lightning: How the Scots and the Irish Created a Canadian Nation. Unearthing my own roots inspired me to conceive of what I call “cultural genealogy.” Canadian intellectuals hunker down with geographers and sociologists. That’s a mistake. We assume geography’s limitations and cease investigating our collective past at the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, like genealogists, we should keep sleuthing. This nation’s history crosses the Atlantic. And, given that nine million Canadians trace their roots to Scotland and Ireland, it does so more often to those two countries than to anywhere else.

From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges facing Celtic Canadians today? I see Celtic culture in Canada as egalitarian, pluralistic, and progressive. So I worry about the emergence onto the world stage of a powerful right-wing partnership led by Theresa May and Donald Trump, or the Tories of Little England and the Republicans of the ‘Wild Wild West.’ I worry that, together, they might create some great libertarian beast and set it slouching towards Canada.

Are Celtic Canadians doing enough to preserve and promote their heritage? Not really. In my own small world, that of books and authors, we have regressed. Once upon a time, Canada and Scotland shared a writers-in-residence program. One year, a Scottish writer would come to Canada for three months. The next, a Canadian writer would spend three months in Scotland. One of the founders of that program told me recently that we Canadians were the ones who dropped the ball. We should be fostering closer relations with Scotland and Ireland, creating linkages of all kinds - cultural, economic, and political - not watching excellent initiatives wither and die.


What can be done to change this? We could start by waking up to the great wide world. Obviously, we face domestic challenges. But the current leadership of the country next door, backed by tens of millions of citizens, wants to create a society in which everyone carries a gun and only the wealthy can afford education or health care. Celtic Canadians should smell the coffee and start casting about for stronger alliances elsewhere - beginning with Scotland and Ireland.

(To read this piece in full, along with much else, pick up the magazine by going here.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Save Rae's Clestrain with actions in Orkney and the High Arctic

Arctic explorer John Rae, who died in 1893, is alive and well in the news. The BBC reported on July 5 that the Orkney Islands Council is conferring the Freedom of Orkney on that Stromness-born explorer, albeit posthumously. Bravo for that action! Here's hoping it draws attention to the ongoing drive to fund the restoration of Rae's childhood home, the Hall of Clestrain.
In 2014, after a relentless, ten-year campaign, Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish member of Parliament for Orkney, managed to get Rae recognized at Westminster Abbey with a modest ledger stone. Carmichael had been promised a plaque on the wall identifying Rae as the "discoverer of the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage."  As I write in Dead Reckoning, the plaque got beaten down to a ledger stone on the floor by an anti-Rae protest, "a particularly shameful episode in a tedious tradition of repudiation that dates back to the Victorian era."
We can return to that another day. This latest news reminded me that St. Giles Cathedral, Scotland's answer to Westminster Abbey, has no statue of John Rae. Shouldn't that be rectified? Then I thought of a statue of three figures which can be found in both Scotland and Canada. Near Helmsdale, it is called The Emigrants. In Winnipeg, it is The Selkirk Settlers.
Then I remembered that the famous statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn was financed by a (Scottish) Canadian named Eric Harvie, who erected an identical statue in his hometown of Calgary, Alberta.
Meanwhile, I had been chatting online with Louie Kamookak, the Inuit historian and leading expert on the Franklin expedition. In 1999, Louie and I and Cameron Treleaven had placed a plaque beside the ruins of a cairn that John Rae built in 1854, marking his discovery of Rae Strait in the heart of the Northwest Passage. 
Rae had been accompanied by an Inuk, William Ouligbuck, and an Ojibway, Thomas Mistegan. Without these indigenous companions -- expert hunters and travelers, and the only two men who could keep up with Rae -- the Orcadian explorer would not have made his crucial discovery.
Shall I cut to the chase? We need two identical statues of three figures in action: Rae, Ouligbuck and Mistegan. One of these statues could go into St. Giles . . . OR, even better, into a refurbished Hall of Clestrain. The other could go into the heart of the Arctic, to the John Rae Memorial Site on Boothia Peninsula where in 1854 Rae built his cairn.
Louie reminded me that our modest plaque probably saved the life of an Inuk who, while lost in a blizzard, had stumbled across it. Just imagine what a MASSIVE, three-person statue could do. All we need to make this happen is a present-day Eric Harvie -- a no-nonsense philanthropist of vision. Yo, can anybody hear me?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Make that Ocean to Ocean to Ocean: Canada's Really BIG!


Over the past few days,  I have been revisiting 50 Canadians Who Changed the World and shamelessly reliving The VIA-Rail, 50 Canadians, Ocean-to-Ocean, Book-Tour Extravaganza.  Rail-trip of a lifetime, courtesy of VIA-Rail and Harper-Collins Canada. Sure, I had to talk endlessly about one of my books and write a few articles for VIA-Destinations, a now-defunct magazine, but that’s what I do anyway. Lots of defunct publications out there.
Along the way I remembered that Canada borders on not two but three oceans -- that the country is so big, in fact, that the Arrogant Worms wrote a song about it. If we can't have Northwest Passage as our national anthem, I vote for Canada's Really Big.
But three oceans. One image each for Canada Day, why not? First up, a good-looking young couple literally ON the Arctic Ocean. This is from a couple of years back, one of our voyages with Adventure Canada. And, yes, this September we'll again go voyaging with AC and ride around among the icebergs. Someone's gotta do it, right?
Ocean number two is the Pacific. Soon after Sheena took this photo, we made our way to Granville Island, home of the Vancouver Writers Festival, where one sunny afternoon, I had chatted with Australian novelist Peter Carey. I was puffed up with irrational pride at the way Vancouver sparkled in the sun, and I said, “So what do you think of Vancouver?”
Carey smiled and said it was great, but then he took a beat: “Have you ever been to Sydney?” At that point, I had not, and he encouraged me to visit. Later, when I did get there, I went to the top of the tower, Centrepoint, and found myself gazing out over the most spectacular harbour in the world. Just keeping things in perspective.

But before revisiting Granville Island, having walked much of the Seawall around Stanley Park, we sat down on one of those big grey logs on the beach and I removed my shoes and socks and rolled up my pantlegs. Carrying a copy of 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, I strode across the sand in manly fashion and waded into the cold, salty water of the Pacific. 
What I had forgotten was that those waters were relatively warm. I was reminded of this a few weeks later, when we reached Halifax and I felt obliged to make some corresponding gesture. One afternoon, assisted by three volunteers -- Sheena and the Mallorys, Mark and Carolyn, fellow voyagers in the Arctic -- I ventured into a hard-to-reach corner of Point Pleasant Park. There, at least twenty metres from the main parking lot, despite a driving rain and a rocky shoreline that would have deterred a less intrepid author, I waded into the Atlantic Ocean.
I wanted to build a cairn to mark the occasion, but my companions convinced me to adjourn instead to a nearby pub. At the Lord Nelson, looking into the future, we raised a glass and drank to the greatest country -- or at least the second biggest -- in the world. Happy Canada Day!