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Globe review fails the Inuit, declares white males interchangeable, earns an F



[According to the Victoria Times-Colonist: "This book is a masterpiece, setting the standard for future works on Arctic exploration." The Georgia Strait put it this way: "Dead Reckoning is an outstanding 21st-century Canadian history that refutes myths about the Franklin expedition promoted by Victorian England, its modern-day media and academic apologists." Those reviews required no rejoinders, but . . . .]

In her Globe and Mail review of Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage, academic Janice Cavell hits her stride in the second paragraph, when she asks what this book has to offer that is truly new? She answers: “Actually, something very important. Over the years, historians have become more careful about giving credit to the Indigenous men and women who acted as guides, hunters, cartographers and more. But McGoogan goes beyond any other previous writer in highlighting their deeds. A book like his is long overdue – and he deserves all possible praise for it.”
At that point, one might logically expect elaboration. Even a selected list of chapter titles would work well: What Thandelthur Made Possible. Matonabbee Leads Hearne to the Coast. An Inuit Artist Sails with John Ross. The Yellowknife Rescue John Franklin. Tattannoeuck Prevents a Second Debacle. What If This Inuk Had Sailed with Franklin? Greenlandic Inuit Save the Kane Expedition. The Scot, the Inuk, the Ojibway. Tookoolito and Hall Gather Inuit Accounts. Inuit Hunters Keep Castaways Alive. Ebierbing and Tulugaq Work Magic for Schwatka. ‘Give Me My Father’s Body.’ Rasmussen Establishes Unity of Inuit Culture. Erebus and Terror Validate Inuit Testimony.
Building on that list, Cavell might have named Akaitcho, Hoeootoerock, John Sakheouse, Eenoolooapik, Hans Hendrik, Puhtoorak, Kamookak, Kogvik, all of whom figure in the book.
Instead, she turns immediately to circling wagons: “Yet even so, in the end McGoogan champions a white explorer.” So, wow! Has it really come to this? To the idea that no white explorer could possibly merit celebration? Sure enough, Cavell doubles down: “And if historians are going to follow McGoogan's bold example and give Indigenous people a true leading part, why is it necessary to exalt any white explorer?” And again: “[John Rae] and [John] Franklin were both 19th-century Brits, and the differences between them were differences of degree, not of kind.” I guess that’s it, then: distinguish among explorers? Don’t even try. Dead white males are interchangeable.
Funnily enough, a few years ago, I did develop a book proposal focusing exclusively on the Inuit contribution to Arctic exploration. That got shot down as too-small-audience and now I am glad, because the inclusive Dead Reckoning is vastly superior to the book that might have been.
Errors of fact in the Globe review? William Kennedy (1852) never explored Rae Strait, that “crucial track east of King William Island.” I have never claimed that Rae was "the Northwest Passage's true discoverer." I do say that he discovered the final link in the first navigable Passage. Franklin, Rae, Amundsen: check the map that serves as endpapers. Differences of opinion? Cavell ignores 90 per cent of the book to grandstand (me, me, me) and ingratiate herself with her fellow academics. Hers is an old argument. Any areas of agreement? “McGoogan is an adept storyteller and Dead Reckoning is an engrossing read.” Sorry, too little, too late. For this one, Cavell gets an F.

Cavell’s review appeared in the Globe and Mail on Oct. 28, 2017).

From the Times-Colonist: "This book is a masterpiece, setting the standard for future works on Arctic exploration."

From the Georgia Strait: "Dead Reckoning is an outstanding 21st-century Canadian history that refutes myths about the Franklin expedition promoted by Victorian England, its modern-day media and academic apologists."

From CBC-Radio / Victoria: Indigenous explorers in Ken McGoogan's new book
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.