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See the most exciting Arctic sortie of 2019

Here's a fabulous two-minute video about the most exciting Arctic expedition of 2019. Its maker,  videographer Garry Tutte, is one of the guys heading out to follow in the footsteps of explorer John Rae. 
Ken McGoogan
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Anyone for a writers' retreat in Haliburton?

So we’re launching a one-week writers’ retreat in the Haliburton Highlands.
From Sunday July 7 to Friday July 12, I’ll serve as writer-in-residence at Tamarack Lodge and Art Centre. Tamarack is two and a half hours north of Toronto. Situated on a motor-free lake, the lodge comprises four cottages and a “big house” with a separate meeting space.
I’ll lead workshops for five mornings (Monday to Friday) from 9 to 12. You can spend your afternoons writing . . . or you can go swimming, canoeing, kayaking, fishing, or forest walking. Or you can mix and match. Evening activities will include a campfire reading, a presentation by the writer-in-residence, and an evening of student readings.
You will stay in one of the four cottages. Tamarack will provide lunch and dinner and supplies for a continental breakfast.
The idea is to check in on Sunday July 7 between 3 and 5 p.m. Check out will be after lunch on Friday July 12. The cost will be $1150 per person, single-room accommodation, meals included. If anyone wants to share a room with bunkbeds or twin beds, the cost is $ 995, but you have to register with a roommate from the beginning.
 We have only eleven spots and they are available first-come first-serve. The person to contact is Barbara Kraus, co-owner of Tamarack Lodge. She can be reached at or 705-559-5972. 
In the workshop, Telling True Stories, we’ll focus on writing memoir, autobiography, travel articles – or whatever you are writing. We’ll look at point of view, writing scenes, handling flashbacks. And we’ll do some in-class freewriting and sharing. You will need to bring a laptop to make this possible (no printer available).
Also, after you have registered with Barbara, I hope you will send me a 1,500-word work sample which I will distribute for workshopping among all participants.
For the record, our writer-in-residence (that would be me) has earned a teaching-excellence award from University of Toronto (continuing education) and serves as a mentor in the low-residency MFA program in creative nonfiction at University of King’s College in Halifax.

Ken McGoogan
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Nicola Sturgeon shines in Toronto visit

OK, this is huge. The fabulous Nicola Sturgeon turned up in Toronto to open a new Scottish government office in Canada. She is setting it up to encourage investment and tourism, and quite rightly, too. This morning the First Minister of Scotland turned up to open the Toronto Stock Exchange. You can see her doing that in the video clip below. All this is excellent. But the most exciting news, and I know you'll agree, is that she was handed a gift . . . and it turned to be a copy of How the Scots Invented Canada! The handsome, well-dressed chap who gave it to her is James Waddell, Vice President and Chief Internal Auditor at TMX Group Limited. And he kindly thought to send me the above photo and the link below. So James: huge thanks for making my day! And for those of you who have read this far, here's a bit of news. My next books is called Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada. And it comes out in September. You can be sure I will send one copy to James Waddell and another to my favorite contemporary politician. You guessed it: that's her in the red jacket.

Ken McGoogan
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U.S. writer discovers Alexander Mackenzie

The latest issue of Canada's History finds me reviewing Disappointment River by American writer Brian Castner. The subtitle is Finding and Losing the Northwest Passage and the publisher McClelland & Stewart. 
The clouds over the mountains to the west of the Mackenzie River looked like “three enormous flying saucers descending on us.” They “were layered, like plates or shelves, the sky behind nothing but black. The temperature dropped twenty degrees.”
Author Brian Castner was retracing the 1789 journey of fur trader Alexander Mackenzie to the Arctic coast. Castner and his paddling companion scrambled ashore and erected their tent, but “the front hit like a concussion, a wall of thickened menacing air. The tent recoiled as if struck, the outer shell suddenly pummelled by wind and fat drops of rain. The whole shelter was vibrating.”
The front stakes tore out, the tent collapsed, and the two men found themselves trying to regroup while “soaked in the driving rain and only half-dressed, boxers and no shirts.”
This is one of many vivid passages from the new book Disappointment River. Castner is a skilled writer who, no mean feat, manages to interweave the tale of his own adventure on the great river with what history-buff Canadians regard as the familiar story of Mackenzie’s epochal quest.
The writing is excellent. But this book feels especially fresh because, while most historians treat fur-trading explorers in either a British or a Canadian context, Castner brings an American perspective to the table.
When was the last time you saw Washington Irving quoted on the fur trade? Right. Yet Castner cites that nineteenth-century man of letters three times. Castner does not ignore the Laurentian thesis — that Canadian economic development came mainly from resource exploitation — or the foundational nature of the fur trade, but he is more inclined to reference the American Revolution or the 1760 capture of Detroit.
“In traditional American mythology,” he writes, “we associate the West with opportunity, but the North is known for hardship. Their conjunction — in the Northwest Passage, North West Company, Northwest Territories — speaks to both ideas. You go north and west to test yourself, but in pursuit of an objective.”
Castner mentions that, before leaving home, he read widely in Canadian newspapers and books. And the paddler is acutely aware of being a foreigner in a strange land. One of his companions makes a joke, he writes, “in an exaggerated northern Wisconsin accent that came off as vaguely Canadian.” He notes that one man he meets has “good looks that I’d call All-American if he weren’t Canadian, born and bred in the North.”
Elsewhere, while driving northwest through rural towns, Castner writes: “‘No wonder Canadians seem to be natural socialists and praise collective effort,’ I thought. ‘Their land is too big, they too few.’”
Again, this is not off-putting but refreshing. Here’s an American showing an interest in a landscape, a social reality, and a history beyond the borders of the United States.

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.