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Arctic Return Expedition nears objective

Veteran explorer Frank Wolf took this classic shot of the two still-active members of Arctic Return dealing with rough ice. After a tough day of slogging through foggy conditions, David Reid (in red) and Richard Smith got their first glimpse of Rasmussen Basin, which lies off the west coast of Boothia Peninsula. Translation: they are within a few days of attaining Point de la Guiche, where in 1854 John Rae built a cairn (now in ruins) overlooking Rae Strait -- the final link in what would prove to be the first navigable Northwest Passage. The expedition left Naujaat almost one month ago. Frank and Garry Tutte had trouble with their feet and -- like two of the four men who initially accompanied Rae -- had to withdraw. Folks, this is no walk in the park. It's a grueling test in one of the most extreme environments on the planet. David and Richard are forging ahead. You can follow their progress on this blog. Fantastic expedition!

Ken McGoogan
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Two intrepid Scots keep Arctic Return alive

These four seasoned adventurers left Naujaat (Repulse Bay) on March 30, setting out westward in the footsteps of Orcadian explorer John Rae. Two of them have gone down and been forced to evacuate as a result of injuries. Two of them are still beating west, hauling double sleds through blizzards and temperatures falling to 48 degrees below zero.
On his 1854 expedition, Rae traveled with five men until, because of extreme conditions, two could proceed no further. He left them in a snowhut and carried on with the remaining two.  On May 6, with William Oulibuck Jr. (an Inuk) and Thomas Mistegan (an Ojibway), he reached Point de la Guiche and discovered Rae Strait -- the final link in what would be prove to be the first navigable Northwest Passage.
The Arctic Return team -- four well-experienced explorers -- set out to recreate Rae's historic expedition. Two have now been forced to withdraw with foot injuries: Vancouver adventure-writer Frank Wolf and Toronto film-maker Garry Tutte (the two men on the right).
The two Scots on the team, roughly halfway through the expedition, are forging ahead: leader David Reid, who has been involved with Arctic expeditions for more than 20 years; and Richard Smith, PhD, who served with the Royal Marine Commandos and has trekked around Alaska, Greenland and Nepal. All four men are fit and tough. Garry is back home and Frank, having been picked up by Inuit hunters (Lionel and Clayton) from Kugaaruk (Pelly Bay), is on his way. Both men are expected to be fine.
How do I know all this? Well, I am following the expedition blog:
If you want to get a sense of the wild and crazy conditions, David posted a one-minute video to the Facebook page Arctic Return Expedition. Check it out.
Photo above by Michelle Valberg.

Ken McGoogan
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CanGeo goes gorgeous with Highlanders

Numerous books have explored the Highland Clearances (the forced mass eviction of tenants from Scotland’s Highlands and western islands, mainly to turn land to sheep pasture), which began around 1760 and lasted a century. Many more have treated the arrival of many of these Highlanders in pre-Confederation Canada, both east and west. Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada, explains Ken McGoogan, an author and Fellow of The Royal Canadian Geographical Society, intertwines the two stories. Half unfolds in Scotland, half in Canada. Those evicted Highlanders who emigrated after being driven from their ancestral homelands were a marginalized minority.
The sad irony is that, in some locations in Canada, these refugees displaced Indigenous peoples whose way of life depended on wilderness and wide-open spaces. The following chapter of the book, “Creating Red River Colony,” sets up the clash between past and future.

From Flight of the Highlanders

Creating Red River Colony

After putting the Prince Edward Island colony on a solid footing — listening to settlers, assigning lands, appointing leaders — Thomas Douglas, the fifth earl of Selkirk, decided to write a book advocating emigration to what is now Canada as a solution to domestic problems in Scotland. He proposed to establish a series of distinctive “national settlements” that would protect language and culture, guarding immigrants “from the contagion of American manners.” Each would be “inhabited by Colonists of a different nation, keeping up their original peculiarities and all differing in language from their neighbors in the United States.”
Backed by the Colonial Office, Selkirk chose what looked like a promising location on Lake St. Clair, near the border to the United States in the southwest corner of Upper Canada. He visited the site, which he named Baldoon. He hired a manager and, with the first Highlanders on their way from Scotland, watched construction begin. 
Back in Britain, Selkirk began writing a book championing Scottish emigration. In 1805, as he finished it, he heard that Baldoon was faring poorly. By sheer bad luck, he had visited the site during one of the driest seasons in decades. Soon after he left, heavy rains had transformed low-lying areas into swampland, which gave rise to poor crops, illness and even deaths from malaria. So he focused in his book on his successful Prince Edward Island colony, and his considered arguments began altering attitudes about Highland emigration.
Read the rest of this chapter by clicking here.
Ken McGoogan
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Magic meets history at Dundas Harbour

Dundas Harbour in the High Arctic. This magnificent painting, 36 x 48, is now on its way to the Pacific Coast, sold to an individual of taste and refinement who checked out the new website of Sheena Fraser McGoogan . We visited this magical location numerous times while sailing in the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. On this occasion, afternoon sunshine accompanied our landing under a clear blue sky. 
We hiked over a broad ridge to this abandoned RCMP post. It faces southwest over Bernier Bay, so-called in commemoration of a 1906 stopover by Joseph Bernier. Here we found half a dozen beluga whales cavorting within five metres of the shoreline – an attraction that alone was worth the price of admission.
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 presents considerable graffiti, contains a few bottles and several books, the most intriguing of which is Dog Crusoe and His Master by Robert Michael Ballantyne.
The RCMP erected this post in the 1920s to signal Canadian sovereignty. On the tundra beyond the dog corral is the lay-out of yet another large square dwelling, marked out by stones (probably a tent-like communal centre for Inuit hunters). On a hill overlooking these buildings stands a white-fenced cemetery containing two old graves marked by new gravestones.
Here we stood before the graves of constables Victor Maisonneuve (1899-1926) and William Robert Stephens (1902-1927). The first committed suicide, the second died while hunting. Stories abound. The Hudson's Bay Company rented this outpost briefly in the 1930s, then gave it back. The RCMP kept it open until 1951, when they moved to the less isolated Craig Harbour. Today, the Canadian Coast Guard maintains the cemetery. In 1944, during the return (westward) voyage of the St. Roch through the Northwest Passage, Henry Larsen called in. Dundas Harbour. Here, in Sheena's work, magic meets history and the result is magnificence. 
Ken McGoogan
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At age 25 she went Chasing Lemurs in Madagascar

“Oh, I meant to tell you,” Keriann McGoogan said.
“Yes?” I responded. We were striding through the night at a good clip, my super-fit, thirty-something daughter and I. Often, after a movie night, and if Travis is out of town, Sheena and I will walk her home from our house, half a dozen city blocks. But tonight, I forget why, we were just the two of us.
“I’m writing a book,” she said.
Over the years, I’d been after her sporadically to do just that.  Still, I was surprised. “You’re writing a book? What kind of book?”
“A memoir,” she said. “The Madagascar story?”
“What? But that’s fantastic!” My next question, one of several that I am hard-wired to ask, just popped out: “How many words have you got in the can?”
I thought she would say 5,000, maybe 10,000 – a solid beginning. And I was ready to cheer.
But Keriann has an uncanny ability to anticipate me, and I realize in retrospect that she knew I would ask that question. She was ready for me. She glanced over to watch my reaction: “Just over 70,000.”
"Over 17,000? Impressive."
"No, 70,000."
“70,000? 70,000 words? But that’s . . . that’s a whole book!"
"It's just first draft."
"You must be almost finished.”
“Probably 10,000 words to go.”
So that’s how I found out what Keriann was up to. Eight or ten months ago, while charging into the night.
Now she has a book deal. With Prometheus Books based in Amherst, New York. Provocative, progressive & independent.  Sold and distributed worldwide by Penguin Random House. And Keriann's first book has a title. CHASING LEMURS: My Journey into the Heart of Madagascar. It will surface early in 2020.
Keriann describes it as “a memoir of scientific exploration and emerging womanhood, a celebration of biodiversity, and a love letter to the people of Madagascar. When I was twenty-five, I traveled to Madagascar with a clear purpose: to study lemurs in their natural habitat and to set up a permanent field site in the remote northwest —a site to which I could later return to do research for my PhD in Biological Anthropology.
“Despite careful planning, the trip spiraled out of control. A simple reconnaissance turned into an epic adventure marked by food poisoning, hairy back-country roads, grueling hikes, challenging local politics, malaria, and an emergency evacuation.”
Keriann is on the road as I write this. Before she left town, she made me promise that I wouldn’t go all crazy over her signing this book deal. I think I can make the case that I have remained within the bounds of sanity.  This is what paternal sanity looks like.

Ken McGoogan
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Pierre Radisson kicks off new history series

Bush Runner, a new biography of Pierre-Esprit Radisson, helps kick off a new Canadian history series from Windsor-based publisher Biblioasis. My review in the Globe and Mail begins as follows:
Lake Superior had frozen over. Temperatures hovered around 40 degrees below zero. Families slept in huts they dug out of the snow. They counted their dead each morning. Pierre-Esprit Radisson, starving himself during this “Hunger Winter” of 1659, described people digging for roots, “which could not be done without great difficulty, the earth being frozen two or three feet, and the snow five or six above it.” In Bush Runner, a biography of Radisson (1636-1710), author Mark Bourrie continues the depiction, showing people making soup from the vines that grew on trees and, having long since eaten their dogs, boiling the bones that the crows had picked clean.
Like explorer John Franklin 150 years later, during his disastrous first overland expedition, the starving Huron “boiled leather intended for clothes and shoes” and ate it. They boiled their leather tents. They boiled and ate the beaver pelts that, for Radisson, were the reason he was here. Finally, “they boiled the skins that mothers used as diapers.” When two half-starved Sioux stumbled into camp, Radisson tried to buy their skinny dog. They refused so he waited until they slept. Then he lured the dog away, stabbed it to death, and had it “broiled like a pig, cut in pieces, guts and all, so every one of the family had his share.”
Anybody who finds this hard to read should take a miss on Bourrie’s vivid narrative because you ain’t seen nothing yet. Having arrived in New France in 1651 as a peasant teenager, Radisson was taken prisoner by Iroquois. He showed such a keen interest in Mohawk language and culture – and had such an extraordinary gift for languages – that, after enduring some mild torture, he was adopted and assimilated. More strenuous bouts of torture would come later, after Radisson betrayed and helped murder three young travelling companions.
Bourrie points out that judging ancient First Nations people “on the details of torture adapted from the historical record is akin to reading Rudolf Hoss’s autobiography of his years as Auschwitz commandant to get a grasp of how mid-20th-century Europeans lived and felt.” That said, he spares us nothing – not the burning of hands and feet, the pulling of fingernails, or “the dance of the heads.” Don’t say you haven’t been warned. . . .
To read the rest, click here.

Ken McGoogan
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Counting the days to Arctic Return

Twenty years ago, the late Louie Kamookak led the way to ruins of the cairn that John Rae built in 1854. At that site, three of us erected a plaque and toasted Rae and the two men who traveled with him -- the Inuk William Ouligbuck Jr. and the Ojibway Thomas Mistegan.
Now the Arctic Return Expedition is within two weeks of departing for that site -- and getting there the hard way. And in radically different conditions than those you see in these images. I've been chatting with Ottawa-based expedition leader David Reid. The three other team members will make their way to his neck of the woods on March 22, arriving from Toronto, Vancouver, and Scotland. The expedition will follow the route of the epochal 1854 expedition led by John Rae -- the one that discovered the fate of Franklin and the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage. They'll spend a couple of days at a hotel getting organized. David will set up two long tables to serve as a
production line. Then the guys will set to work packing 160 grab bags, forty each, because what are they going to eat while trekking for 35 days across frozen tundra? The Ottawa hotel is within easy reach of grocery stores, David says, just in case one of the guys realizes at the last moment that he can't live for 35 days, and while trekking 650 km, without numerous packages of those dark-chocolate-covered almonds. On March 25, the four will fly to Winnipeg. Next day, they will fly to Naujaat (Repulse Bay). They'll stay there a couple of nights and then set out, probably on March 28, maybe the 29th, for Point de la Guiche, where Rae built that cairn overlooking Rae Strait. We'll be able to follow the trekkers by checking their route map. They will also publish a blog. If you're anything like me, you will follow closely.
Ken McGoogan
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Just say yes to Flight of the Highlanders

As a wordsmith, I never quite believed that old saw about a picture being worth 1,000 words. But here at last I discover a case in point: the cover of my forthcoming book.
Over at HarperCollins Canada, Alan Jones is the man who went the extra mile to make this look the way it does. And this, of course, is just the beginning.  Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada features more than 60 images. We've wrestled those into place and I've written captions (what in the newspaper game we used to call cutlines). Alan and a few other folks (led by Stephanie Conklin) are adding those and creating four maps and I'll get one more look at printed pages before HCC produces an ARC -- an Advance Reading Copy. Are we excited yet?
(Available for pre-order by clicking here.)
Ken McGoogan
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So we're back in the Highlands & Islands!

Here we see Sheena on the eastern coast of the tiny island of Raasay, which is situated between the Isle of Skye and the Scottish mainland. We were hiking to Hallaig, one of the better-known sites of the Highland Clearances. Hallaig is famous because Sorley MacLean (19111996), arguably the greatest poet ever to write in Gaelic, gave that name to his most celebrated poem -- a work that treats one of those infamous Clearances.  Most of the people cleared from Raasay journeyed to the colonies that eventually became Canada. Sheena and I, having travelled the other way, from Canada to Skye and Raasay, left our car when the road ran out and followed a dirt-grass track slowly upwards. The hike seemed a tad longer than the sign-promised 3.2 kilometres.
But I had best come clean as the mundane truth emerges in this photo to the left. We are back in the Highlands and Islands in imagination only. In truth I am hard at work writing captions. This shot of Sheena at the cairn is one of 60+ images that turn up in Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada. I toil in the belief that all these photos and images mightily enhance the book. Either I'm right or the devil makes me do it.  You'll be able to judge for yourself come September.

Ken McGoogan
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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.