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King of the Beats died 50 years ago



The 50th anniversary of the death of Jack Kerouac, on October 21, is certain to inspire an outpouring of remembrance and might also spark controversy. Certainly the “King of the Beats,” with his Quebecois roots, had a powerful effect on me. In the Sixties, after reading just about everything Kerouac had written, I went on the road, hitchhiking and riding freight trains from Montreal to San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury.
In the Seventies, I earned an MFA degree with the first draft of a novel in which Kerouac figures. Next decade, while working as a literary journalist, I attended the Quebec City rencontre at which Beat luminaries (Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Carolyn Cassady) encountered such Quebecois interpreters of Kerouac as Victor Levy-Beaulieu. I wrote about that conference in the Calgary Herald and The Kerouac Connection, arguing that “Kerouac is BIGGER than Beat.”
I rewrote my MFA novel and, with Pottersfield Press, published it in 1993 as Visions of Kerouac. The book later appeared in French translation as Le Fantome de Kerouac. It proved to be the only work of fiction that I wished to keep alive. Three times I revised and republished it, until in 2016, I brought out a fourth and final, final, final revision as Kerouac’s Ghost.
Looking back, I see Kerouac as influencing all my books, most of which take a creative nonfiction approach to biography and/or history. I regard Joan Rawshanks in the Fog, from Visions of Cody, as seminal. It preceded Tom Wolfe and qualifies Kerouac as the godfather of New Journalism, one of two major streams of creative nonfiction. No matter what I write about – from Arctic exploration to the Highland Clearances -- I burn to get out of the archives and go to where whatever happened. That’s the Kerouac in me.
Did I mention controversy? I draw your attention to Kerouac: The Last Quarter Century by Gerald Nicosia. He is the author of Memory Babe: A Critical Biography of Jack Kerouac. In 1983, when it appeared, I reviewed it: “Comparing Kerouac biographies, I quickly discovered that Memory Babe had far more authority than any other. I consider Gerald Nicosia to be the world’s foremost authority on Jack Kerouac.”
I see no reason to revise that assessment -- even though, for the past couple of decades, Nicosia has been embroiled in a battle against those who gained control of the Kerouac estate and then sold it piecemeal to the highest bidder. The Last Quarter Century, which tells a terrible true story of high-stakes forgery, bullying, and unmitigated greed, is a must-read for Kerouac aficionados. It’s available through Noodlebrain Press at Box 130, Corte Madera, California (email: ellenrecycles@yahoo.com). A revised edition of Memory Babe will be published in 2020 by Cool Grove Press.


Ken McGoogan
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First Highlander Awards celebrate excellence


The first-ever Highlander Awards were conferred yesterday  evening at a quiet ceremony involving drams of Lagavulin. Created to mark the launch of Flight of the Highlanders, and consisting of shout-outs, kudos, and widespread recognition, they celebrate excellence in five categories.
The Best Bookstore Display Award went to Biblioasis in Windsor, where Theo Hummer went the extra mile . . . as you can see in the magnificent presentation above.
Kew-Balmy Beach in the Toronto Beaches took The Best Landing Site Award. At this location,  Highlanders thundered ashore in their hundreds.
The Best Book Review honors  went to Dean Jobb, whose stellar review appeared in The Scotsman. Jobb, whose latest book is The Murderous Doctor Cream, concludes that "in a time of rising intolerance toward minorities and immigrants, Flight of the Highlanders is a much-needed reality check.
McGoogan’s chronicle of how impoverished but tenacious Scots built new lives in Canada – and transformed their new country – is a reminder that all of us, regardless of origin or race, want the same things: a better life and a brighter future."
The Best Collage Celebration Award proved to be no contest. The folks at Neilson Park Creative Centre, led by Alison Lam, launched a new authors' series with Flight of the Highlanders and swept the category. 
Last but not least, after a hard-fought battle, The Best Excerpt Award went to Canadian Geographic for its gorgeous presentation (see below). Hats off to all the winners. Oh, and slangevar!




Ken McGoogan
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New book revels in firsts: talk, series, review



Mine was the first presentation in a first-ever series of author readings that launched today at the Neilson Park Creative Centre in Etobicoke. I called my talk When the Highlanders Came to Canada: Dragging History into the 21st Century. From Type Books, manager Beck Andoff turned up with maybe 30 copies of Flight of the Highlanders . . . and sold all but three of them. Alison Lam organized and launched the series . . . and after I spoke lined up to buy five copies of the book. That's what I call leading by example.
Meanwhile, the first review of the book turned up in The Scotsman on October 3. You can access the original by clicking here. Written by Dean Jobb, whose latest book is The Murderous Doctor Cream, the review notes  that Scots played a key role in the creation of Canada, but "it took more than a couple of visionary politicians to build a new nation. Scottish farmers and their families – driven from their lands by the hundreds of thousands and “packed off to the colonies like so many bales of manufactured goods,” as one contemporary noted – did the heavy lifting. These “persecuted” and “dispossessed emigrants,” author Ken McGoogan reminds us, battled “hardship, hunger and adamant rejection in a New World wilderness” as they “went to work laying the foundations of a modern nation”.
The review continues:
"In Flight of the Highlanders, the bestselling Canadian author argues that the Highland Scots – victims of the Clearances and the oppression that followed the Battle of Culloden – were “Canada’s first refugees.” And that makes their story a timely reminder of the contribution refugees and other newcomers have made, and continue to make, to their new homelands. Today, almost five million Canadians claim Scottish heritage. . . .
McGoogan, who has chronicled Arctic exploration and Canada’s Scottish heritage in previous books, draws on extensive travels and research in Scotland to trace the origins of these refugees and the injustices that drove them overseas. While this will be familiar territory for Scottish readers, he soon moves to the North American phase of the story. Large-scale resettlement began in 1773, when the Hector – a tiny “coffin ship” crammed with almost 200 people – survived a hurricane and landed at Pictou, Nova Scotia. Waves of “brave-hearted Highlanders” followed, among them some unfortunates who settled in the United States, remained “loyal” during the American Revolution and were then driven northward in a second exodus.
Canadians of English, Irish and French descent, whose ancestors also helped to build their country, may bristle at the focus on Scottish immigrants. And the subtitle is a little jarring, as Canadians own up to an ugly legacy of mistreatment and assimilation of indigenous peoples; the arrival of the Scots and other European settlers, as the author acknowledges, was the unmaking of their Canada.
But in a time of rising intolerance toward minorities and immigrants, Flight of the Highlanders is a much-needed reality check. McGoogan’s chronicle of how impoverished but tenacious Scots built new lives in Canada – and transformed their new country – is a reminder that all of us, regardless of origin or race, want the same things: a better life and a brighter future.
(Photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan.)
Ken McGoogan
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Shouting out to the creators of bestsellerdom


I feel driven to offer up a few shout-outs, starting with the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. The folks there are not only putting me on stage in Ottawa on Dec. 3 but look right: they're telling the world about that event in stylish fashion. And also inviting people to register (see below).
Last year, the RCGS sent me on a whirlwind speaking tour of Scotland. That was in conjunction with the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. Galashiels, Ayr, Helensborough, Perth, whoosh, all inside a week. Then there was the book excerpt that turned up in Canadian Geographic magazine:  https://kenmcgoogan.blogspot.com/2019/04/cangeo-goes-gorgeous-with-highlanders.html
Obviously, all this takes a team. But the man who is leading the charge at the RCGS is CEO John Geiger, so to him especially I want to say hey! Thanks!
Meanwhile, if you check out the bestsellers list at the foot of this post, and you have some idea of how the book trade works, you'll understand why I want to thank first my tireless agent Bev Slopen and then the folks at HarperCollins Canada, where editor Patrick Crean is obviously my main man. And Noelle Zitzer and Alan Jones have been instrumental in making the book look gorgeous.  But the reason  Flight of the Highlanders turned up on that bestseller list immediately after release is because the sales and marketing team got the book into bookstores across the country. They like to keep a low-profile. But led by vice-president Leo MacDonald, that team includes Michael Guy-Haddock and Cory Beatty at head office, and in the field, such expert salespeople as Mike Mason and Terry Toews. So: hats off to all of you. Your skill and hard work are much appreciated.
To register for that Ottawa event -- and get a better look at that poster -- go here:
https://events.myconferencesuite.com/Can_Geo_Talks_Presents_Ken_McGoogan/reg/landing
Original list: https://vancouversun.com/entertainment/books/international-30-bestselling-books-for-the-week-of-september-21
Ken McGoogan
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Graeme Gibson speaks of Gentleman Death



In autumn 1999,  when we journalists went on strike at the Calgary Herald, fighting to install a union, two visiting Toronto-based writers joined us on the picket line: Graeme Gibson and Margaret Atwood. That meant a lot to us and spoke volumes about the two of them.  Six years before that, as the newspaper's Books Editor, I interviewed Gibson about GENTLEMAN DEATH, his recently published fourth novel. This seems a good time to hear his voice. 

"At heart fundamentalism is not a religious notion," says a character in Gentleman Death. "It`s political, right-wing political of the most perfidious kind." She then describes the leaders of "America`s fundamentalist Right as demagogues and crank ayatollahs every one."
Novelist Graeme Gibson says he wasn`t thinking of the Reform Party when he wrote those words. But in his view religious fundamentalism, be it Christian or Islamic, translates as social engineering, social control.
"We`re not talking religion," Gibson said in Calgary, "we`re talking politics. How to stabilize a certain political view. If I were a Jew or a Muslim, I`d be very worried."
The Toronto novelist, whose books include Five Legs, Communion and Perpetual Motion, has been a driving force in cultural politics since the early 1970s. He helped form both The Writers` Union of Canada and the Writers` Development Trust and has served as president of the Canadian Centre of International Pen. In 1992 he received the Order of Canada, and earlier this month (October 1993), the Harbourfront Festival Prize, worth $11,000.
Politics is subtly present throughout Gibson`s latest novel, as when his narrator, Robert Fraser, rants about prime ministers who sell Canada to pay for their own incompetence and lack of vision.
By including this political subtext, Gibson risks dating the novel and making it less accessible to other cultures (previous works have been translated into French, German, Polish and Spanish). "I thought about that," he said. "But I was trying to make Fraser real. That`s the kind of man he is. If I`d backed off because the politics wouldn`t sell in France, I`d betray my man. As a writer, my major responsibility is to my book and the people in it. Not to the future, and not to other cultures."
The politics is intelligent. But Gentleman Death is primarily a literary treat. It`s sophisticated fiction that finds Gibson using sparkling language to explore profoundly adult themes. And to come to terms with death.
Structurally, the book reminds me of that contemporary classic Flaubert`s Parrot by Julian Barnes. There, the hero hid from painful experience by obsessing about a dead writer. Here, Robert Fraser begins novel after novel to avoid dealing with the deaths of his father and brother.
Gibson wanted to avoid writing about a writer, he said, and considered making Fraser a lawyer. "But this is a book about Fraser`s passage from denial to acceptance," he said. "And only with a writer can you demonstrate the evasions. The reader can see the nature of Fraser`s evasions for himself."
I`ve mentioned language. Here`s Fraser: "Preparing to shave one morning several weeks after Father`s funeral I discovered Death himself had entered my body. Not the cruel fellow of scarlet corners, not Death who comes as a stranger, but that lean inevitable harbinger of mortality, of succession, the Gentleman whose guise is time."
That`s chosen almost at random. "I`m fairly language-driven as a writer," Gibson said. "On some levels that`s the chief glory of the novel. I find flat prose an enormous turn-off."
Because of the way Gibson uses language, Gentleman Death is a richly entertaining novel. Then there`s the engaging wit. At one point, Fraser makes fun of his own nationalism as "fashionable nostalgia, the result of not watching enough American television."
Or consider the flirtatious exchange that arises when he tells a lady-friend that a female ghost visited, and she vows to find out who it was: "Which wanton did you imagine creeping into your bed?"
"Beth, Beth," I protested. "You know it`s always you. It`s only you."
"You`re either a liar, Robbie, or a disappointment."
"Isn`t it possible to belong to both groups?"
"That would be unpardonable."
For the rest, Gibson still raves about Margaret Atwood, his partner of more than two decades: "What astonishes me most is how little fame has changed her. She`s extraordinarily resolute about being herself. Peggy has remained the writer I knew from the beginning."
He`s working on another novel, which he declines to discuss for the record. But don`t be surprised if it includes a political subtext: "As a nationalist," Gibson said, "I have to be optimistic, and as a humanist I have to have faith. But it`s not always easy."
(In 2009, Graeme Gibson and I participated in a Robbie Burns Polar Dip organized by Adventure Canada. Kindred spirits, we did so by serving whisky to those who actually took the plunge.) 


Ken McGoogan
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Highlanders invade Toronto Beaches



They said it couldn't be done. But Highlanders came ashore Sunday morning. It happened in the Toronto Beaches. The invaders move now to Ben McNally Books, the most beautiful (and best-stocked) bookstore in Canada.  Kilts, bagpipes, selfies . . . a full-blown signing! Maybe we'll hear a passage or two. Tuesday 6 p.m.  366 Bay Street, immediately south of City Hall. You know you want to be there. Come on down!
Ken McGoogan
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Scottish Studies Society goes the extra mile



OK, so I feel moved to give a shout-out to the Scottish Studies Society, and especially to president and newsletter editor David M. Hunter. The latest Society newsletter, The Scots Canadian, was at the printer when Hunter got wind of Flight of the Highlanders. Nothing daunted, he put together a flyer – noting the book launch on Sept. 17 (see below) – and turned it into a newsletter insert. In my opinion, that’s going the extra mile. David, huge thanks!
The finished flyer reads as follows: In September 2019, Canadian author Ken McGoogan will publish Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada. The book tells the story of those courageous Scots who, ruthlessly evicted from their ancestral homelands, sailed in “coffin ships” to Canada, where they battled hardship, hunger, and even murderous persecution. While in How the Scots Invented Canada, Ken celebrated outstanding individuals, this time around he focuses on the common people. During the infamous Highland Clearances, tens of thousands of dispossessed and destitute Scots crossed the Atlantic — unfortunate prototypes for the refugees we see arriving today from around the world. If contemporary Canada is more welcoming to newcomers than most countries, Flight of the Highlanders shows that it is at least partly because of the lingering influence of those persecuted Highlanders. Together with their better-off brethren—the lawyers, educators, politicians, and businessmen—those unbreakable Scots proved the making of Canada. The book can be pre-ordered online or through any bookstore.
Toronto launch: Ben McNally Books, 366 Bay St., Sept. 17, 2019 from 6 to 8 p.m. All welcome.

Ken McGoogan
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Coffin Ships carried refugees to Canada


 (The October issue of Celtic Life International finds our hero writing of the Coffin Ships that brought famine victims to North America.)

Last June, scientists confirmed the identification of the human remains found on the beach at Cap des Rosiers, Quebec. They had come from the 1847 shipwreck of the Carricks of Whitehaven, a famine ship that had sailed from Sligo on the west coast of Ireland. Bound for Quebec City, the two-masted vessel had been approaching the mouth of the St. Lawrence when on April 28 a fierce storm came up, drove the wooden ship onto a shoal, and smashed her to pieces.
Now, more than 200 years later, Parks Canada anthropologists confirmed that the remains – bones and skeletons uncovered by storms mostly in 2011 and 2016 – were indeed those of Irish men, women and children who had sailed on the Carricks during the Great Famine in its worst year.
As I tracked the story from my home in Toronto, I could imagine the terrible demise of those last survivors all too vividly. Less than one month before the story surfaced, I had gone aboard two replica famine ships in Ireland – the Jeanie Johnston in Dublin and the Dunbrody in New Ross, County Wexford. And in 2018, in Pictou, Nova Scotia, I had explored the replica of the Hector, which famously sailed from Scotland in 1773, decades before the term “coffin ship” was coined. In size and weight, the 200-ton Hector was closest to the 242-ton Carricks.
At 301 tons or more, the three-masted Jeanie Johnston was significantly larger. On deck, the JJ was 123 feet long and 26 wide and it had a draught or pass-over depth of 15 feet. The original ship, built in Quebec in 1847, had two diesel engines in addition to sails. But according to tour guide Sean Gilmore, the vessel was dead slow: “Once, in a race with 65 other ships, it placed 60th.”
Between 1848 and 1855, the Jeanie Johnston made 16 voyages to North America, carrying an average of 198 passengers and as many as 254 passengers. Was it crowded? Put it this way: the replica ship is licensed to carry 40 people, including crew. The vessel’s great distinction, Gilmore said, was that, “On the Jeanie Johnston, nobody ever died.” This he attributed to the skill of the doctor on board. The two main killers on these voyages, he explained, were cholera and typhus. Cholera was transmitted by fecal matter in the water: “If you got it, you were dead within 48 hours.” Typhus brought a slower death, more miserable, and was carried by lice-infected rats.
The Jeanie Johnston went down in October 1858 when, crossing the Atlantic with a cargo of timber, she became waterlogged. The crew climbed into the rigging and hung on as the ship slowly sank. On the ninth day, as things grew desperate – “no fresh water “-- a Dutch ship happened by and rescued all hands. “Why were they saved?” Gilmore asked rhetorically. “Because no one ever died on the Jeanie Johnston.”
The same cannot be said of the Dunbrody, the largest of the three replica ships I visited. Built in Quebec as a cargo vessel in 1845, it was 176 feet long, 28 wide, and weighed 500 tons – more than twice the Carricks. Sailing out of New Ross during the famine years, the Dunbrody carried an average of 200 passengers, though in March 1847, it sailed to Manhattan with 313. . . .
Steamers operating out of Liverpool could reach North America in two weeks. But these sailing vessels usually required six to eight weeks, during which passengers survived on oatmeal, rice and ship biscuit or hard tack. Two small cabins on the Dunbrody gave first-class voyagers some privacy but most passengers were crammed into 40 bunk beds that were six feet square and made to accommodate four to eight people each. . . .
The vessel nearest in size to the Carricks of Whitehaven was the older ship Hector, best known for its 1773 voyage from Scotland to Pictou, Nova Scotia, where today a replica is tied up at Heritage Quay. The original was already in rough shape when she collected passengers at Loch Broom, and those who went aboard found they could scrape slivers from her rotting hull with their fingernails. The Hector had three masts but was just 85 feet long and 22 wide. She weighed 200 tons.  She sailed with 189 passengers -- 23 families and 25 single men. To say that the ship was overflowing is a gross understatement.
In 2018, while visiting the replica, I descended the ladder into the hold and stepped to the middle of the ship where, at just over six feet in height, I could at least stand upright.  I could hardly believe my eyes. What with the captain, the two mates, the sail maker, the carpenter, the cook, several seamen and three soldiers, 200 people were crowded onto this ship. Most of them spent the voyage confined here below decks, jammed tight. Men, women, and children – 30 of them under two years of age – slept on rough pine boards with twenty-four inches between each rack. Eighteen people died during the 1773 crossing, most of them children. . . .
(To read the complete article, pick up the October issue of Celtic Life International. To read more about sailing on the Hector, check out Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada, publishing in September.)


Ken McGoogan
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Chasing Lemurs will surface next Spring



Spring, 2020. Mark your calendar. That’s when Prometheus Books will bring out Chasing Lemurs: My Journey into the Heart of Madagascar. You know: Keriann McGoogan’s first book?
The one I heard about ten months ago, while striding into the night with my super-fit, thirty-something daughter? “Oh, I meant to tell you,” Keriann said.
“Yes?” I responded. 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, it was just the two of us.
“I’m writing a book,” she said.
Over the years, I’d badgered 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?”
“Of course! But that’s fantastic!”
My next question, one that I am hard-wired to ask, just popped out: “How many words have you got in the can?” I figured she would say 5,000, maybe 10,000. And when I heard her say, “Just over 7,000,” I started cheer. “Over 7,000! That’s a solid beginning.”
“No, dad,” she said. “Not seven. Seventy. Just over 70,000.”
“70,000? 70,000 words?" I clasped my head and reeled around. "But that’s . . . that’s an entire book!  You must be nearly finished.”
“First draft, yes. Maybe 10,000 words to go.”
So that’s how I found out what Keriann was up to. Ten or so months ago, while striding into the night. Next thing I knew, she had a book deal. With Prometheus Books of New York. Prometheus will publish Chasing Lemurs under its own imprint as part of the Rowman and Littlefield Publishing Group.
Keriann describes the book as “a memoir of scientific exploration and emerging womanhood, a celebration of biodiversity, and a love letter to the people of Madagascar.” When she was twenty-five, which to me seems like yesterday, she traveled to Madagascar to study lemurs in their natural habitat and to set up a permanent field site where, in the remote northwest, she could do research for her PhD in Biological Anthropology. “Despite careful planning, the trip spiraled out of control." she writes. "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.”
The book will include a fair bit of science and photos of lemurs (like the one above) by Travis Steffens, founder of Planet Madagascar and (not incidentally) Keriann's husband. Come to think of it, you needn't mark your calendar just yet. As the occasion draws nigh, probably I will have occasion to remind you of it.


Ken McGoogan
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Highlanders preparing to march on Toronto


The Introduction begins:

I was an eyewitness of the scene,” the stonemason Donald Macleod wrote. Strong parties of men “commenced setting fire to the dwellings till about three hundred houses were in flames, the people striving to remove the sick, the helpless, before the re should reach them. The cries of women and children—the roaring of cattle—the barking of dogs—the smoke of the fire—the soldiers—it required to be seen to be believed!” Macleod was writing of a Clearance, a forced eviction of families living in a glen or a valley in the Scottish Highlands. He was describing events of 1814, the Year of the Burnings, as they unfolded in Strathnaver, a wide river valley in the Highland county of Sutherland.
The man supervising the destruction, acting for the aristocratic landlord, had already ordered his men to burn the hill-grazing areas so there would be no food for cattle and the people would have no choice but to leave. When this failed, he escalated the action to the destruction and burning of villages. He had the roofs of houses pulled down and timbers set ablaze to prevent rebuilding. In the month of May alone, he dispossessed and rendered homeless at least 430 people.
Those 430 farmers were among the approximately 200,000 Highlanders driven from their ancestral lands during the Clearances, with estimates varying from 170,750 to more than 300,000. To argue that the Clearances were the result of the inexorable advance of capitalism is to ignore the cultural targeting of Gaelic- speaking, Roman Catholic, clan-oriented Highlanders. . . .

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Ken McGoogan
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FIVE STARS times seven for Dead Reckoning


Dead Reckoning has been available in softcover for nine months. How's the book doing over on Amazon?
For no good reason, I suddenly found myself wondering. Turns out we're talking  FIVE STARS OUT OF FIVE seven times over. 
Surely that's cause for celebration . . .  as in this pic from a few years back at the John Rae plaque? Below, the details (slightly tightened): 
1. I have read about everything in print regarding the Franklin expedition and this is the best so far. Critical to use the observations of the native people. Does not answer all the questions as some just can not be answered at this time due to lack of information. Looks like there will always be some mystery about Franklin. Essential for placing Franklin, Rae, etc. in context.
2. Great book!
Nothing to not like.
3. High Quality! Perfect.
4. At last, credit where credit is due
In this, his fifth and by far best book on Arctic history, Ken McGoogan examines an aspect that has been largely ignored: the contributions of the indigenous peoples to the many expeditions. At last, credit is being given where credit is due. I doubt that very many people, outside of the First Nations and scholarly communities, have any idea who these personalities are. Now the general public gets to meet Thanadelthur, Matonabbee, John Sakeouse, Akaitcho, William Ouligbuck Senior and Junior, Thomas Mistegan, Hans Henrik Suersaq, Tookoolito and Ebierbing, Tulugaq, Minik and Albert One-eye, as well as modern Inuit such as historian Louie Kamookak.
In an even handed manner, McGoogan also acknowledges those western explorers who recognized the value of native experience and adopted their ways, including Samuel Hearne, John Rae, Elisha Kent Kane, Charles Francis Hall, Frederick Schwatka and Roald Amundsen. Those expecting a politically correct, revisionist treatment of the subject will be sorely disappointed; this is a clear eyed, level headed assessment of lessons learned and passed on by the indigenous peoples to the strangers passing through, and the outcomes of the use the latter made of them, good or ill. . . . .
Ken McGoogan has presented an insightful and unbiased record of the exploration of the Far North from 1576 right up to the present, highlighting the tremendous contributions made by the native peoples to those efforts.
5. Comprehensive history of Arctic exploration.
I found this book to be quite interesting and well written. Not having heard of author Ken McGoogan before, I was unsure what the quality of the writing would be; I was very pleasantly surprised. The book jacket summarizes the book well. If Arctic exploration or the history of the far north at all interests you, I can recommend "Dead Reckoning".
I have my local newspaper to thank for printing a book review of this along with their recommended books for 2018 about Alaska and the North. Thank you, "Fairbanks Daily News-Miner" for the tip, the book should be a winner for my book club!
6. Fabulous story that ties all the loose ends of the Franklin Expedition together!!
7. Good read. Thoroughly enjoyed

Ken McGoogan
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Open Letter to Calgary writers & musicians


Hi, folks.
I know I've been remiss. I have failed to keep properly in touch. And for that I apologize.
The other day, someone from California went asking after me at the Calgary Herald. Folks there had no idea. All things considered -- remember the strike? -- I guess that is not surprising.
But I write to draw your attention to a book called Sonic Booms: Making Music in an Oil Town by that itinerant Calgarian Gillian Turnbull. It's published by a small publisher (Eternal Cavalier Press) and might easily escape your notice. May I urge you not to let that happen?
Sure, Sonic Booms is a niche book. But YOU ARE that niche!
And this is also a landmark book -- one that celebrates the Calgary music scene of the past twenty years in the context of your province's social and political evolution. I follow from afar, but Sonic Booms makes everything vivid.
Gillian (all right, yes, we are acquainted) speaks as insider on every front. She is the former editor of Canadian Folk Music Magazine, has a PhD in ethnomusicology and co-founded the Wide Cut Weekend Roots Music Festival in your town. Most exciting of all, she knows how to write. She brings personal experience and voice to what evolves into a driving narrative. And along the way, she offers evocative
portraits of key figures who have hung tough through the lean years, some of whom I remember fondly (hey, Tom Phillips!).
This is not the place to attempt a definitive review. But here's hoping that when awards season rolls around, folks at the WGA will take a peek at this book.
For the rest, my only regret is that Gillian picks up the story a couple of years after I passed through on the periphery of Calgary's music scene. Heck, maybe that's for the best. You decide: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeuGZkSNPPQ.



Ken McGoogan
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Celtic Life Meets Most Hated Man in Scotland


The July-August issue of Celtic Life International is turning up at newsstands around the world. It features an excerpt from my forthcoming book Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada. Set it up this way: 
In his bestsellers How the Scots Invented Canada and Celtic Lightning, Ken McGoogan wrote about how, in the 18thand 19th centuries, Scotland (and Ireland) sent Canada numerous talented, high-energy figures who led the way in forging a nation. In his forthcoming book, Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada, Ken turns to the common people, and particularly to those who came to Canada as a result of the Highland Clearances. He tells the story of those forgotten Scots who, frequently betrayed by their own chieftains and evicted from their ancestral lands, found themselves battling hardship, hunger, and hostility in a New World they could scarcely have imagined . . . .

Chapter 16: The Most Hated Man in Scotland

In the mid-nineteenth century, Colonel John Gordon lived in the fabulous Cluny Castle in Aberdeenshire. He owned six slave plantations in the West Indies and was said to be “the richest commoner” in Britain. Gordon became “the most hated man in Scotland” not because he was a slave-owner, and not because he was wealthy, but because he stayed that way by ruthlessly squeezing the lifeblood out of poor tenant farmers eking out a living on his massive land holdings—estates that included, as of 1838, the entire island of Barra. . . .
Enter Colonel John Gordon, who acquired not the entire estate but the three outer islands, where a potato famine began taking a toll in the mid-1840s, reducing people to penury. The Reverend Norman MacLeod wrote: “The scene of wretchedness which we witnessed, as we entered on the estate of Col. Gordon, was deplorable, nay, heart-rending. On the beach the whole population of the country seemed to be met, gathering cockles . . . I never witnessed such countenances—starvation on many faces—the children with their melancholy looks, big looking knees, shriveled legs, hollow eyes, swollen-like bellies—God help them, I never did witness such wretchedness.”
By 1848, the rents paid by these people had earned Gordon a return of less than 66 percent on his investment. Meanwhile, he had been compelled to expend £8,000 in famine relief. The colonel had not attained his splendiferous lifestyle by letting this sort of thing continue. He acted, and today one result of his handiwork can be discovered on the east side of Barra at an archaeological site that was once a thriving village.

You won’t find “Balnabodach” listed in the guidebooks or even on maps of the Outer Hebrides. But if on Barra you drive seven kilometres north out of Castlebay on the one-lane highway that encircles the island, the A888, you should be able to spot a series of ruins on the eastern side of the road, down the hill as you approach Loch Obe. You may have to scramble a bit (think trial and error), but you can make your way through marshy ground to stone ruins that once were Barra blackhouses. To wander among them, careful not to do damage, is to get as close as anyone can to those who lived here once upon a time.
Here, along a freshwater stream that tumbles down the hill to the loch, people have lived off and on for centuries. The loch connects to the open sea by a narrow, four-hundred-metre channel that once afforded excellent protection against sea raiders. Peat deposits provided fuel for fires, and cows and sheep could graze on the gentler slopes. In 1996, according to an Isle of Barra website, archaeologists discovered a barbed flint arrowhead dating from around 2,000 BC. And people who lived here during the Iron Age, between 200 BC and AD 200, left nearly 250 pieces of pottery, as well as flint tools and pumice stones used for scrubbing animal skins.
By the time of Scotland’s first census, in 1841, Balnabodach was home to eight households and twenty-six people. They lived in Barra blackhouses built during the previous century, with thick walls and single doors in one long side. Families made do with an earthen floor and cooked and slept around the fireplace at one end. The largest house, designated House A, once had a wooden dresser in one corner. Here, the family displayed their finest pottery, which comprised brightly coloured “sponge ware” from the Scottish mainland and crockery from Stoke and Newcastle in England.
Archaeologists found an abundance of bowls, useful for eating broth, gruel and porridge. They turned up a clay pipe, some glass beads and copper buttons, an iron chisel and knife, and a sharpening stone. They also found a copper thimble outside the front door and could imagine a “woman of the household sitting on a sunny summer day, mending an item of clothing and dropping her thimble between the cracks in the stone.” In an atypical flight of fancy, they surmised that the woman might well have been Anne Macdugald or her sister-in-law, Flory Macdugald.
This they extrapolated from the 1841 census, when Hector Macdugald and his family probably lived in House A, which had a small room added onto one end not as a byre for animals but for human habitation. While most of the households were listed as crofters, one was a cottar (who farmed another tenant’s land) and another a pauper—eighty-year-old Neil Macdugald. These families kept a few sheep and did some fishing, but mainly they subsisted by growing potatoes and barley.
In the mid-to-late 1840s, the horrendous potato famine that devastated Ireland also wreaked havoc in the Outer Hebrides. It starved Islanders on Barra and South Uist and, less acceptably still, rendered them unable to pay their rent. Colonel John Gordon decided to solve this problem by evicting the wretched crofters and shipping them to Canada. He identified Balnabodach as one of the Barra townships to be cleared and in 1851 turned loose his hired thugs.

According to oral tradition, these well-paid hooligans forced the tenantry into boats in the safe harbour. One young woman was out milking the family cow by the loch when Gordon’s agents dragged her off with nothing but the clothes on her back. A few people ran into the hills and were hunted down by dogs. They were hauled aboard in handcuffs.
A Protestant minister named Beatson led the evictions in Barra and the tiny island of Mingulay, which were Roman Catholic. An eyewitness named Roderick MacNeil, remembering in the present tense, described Beatson as “the most vigilant and assiduous officer Colonel Gordon has. He may be seen in Castle Bay, the principal anchorage in Barra, whenever a sail is hoisted, directing his men like a gamekeeper with his hounds, in case any of the doomed Barra men should escape.” One such man “took shelter on an Arran boat which Beatson boarded in a fury, demanding his surrender. The master [one John Crawford] lifted a hand-spike and threatened to split the minister’s skull, man of God or no, if he did not get ashore with his dogs.”
MacNeil, evicted from Mingulay, had never been the same since “my people were scattered, some of them in Australia, some in Canada, and some mouldering in the dust. Oh, the turns of the hard world! Many a trick does it play, and so it was with me. My new house was burned over my head, and I burned my hands in rescuing my dear little children. Oh, the suffering of the poor folk, the terrible time that was! The land was taken from us though we were not a penny in debt, and all the lands of the township were given to a Lowland farmer. He had always wished to have them, and he was not content until he got them.”
Small boats ferried the Barra people to a ship called the Admiral, which then sailed forty kilometres north to Lochboisdale in South Uist. There, on August 11, 1851, a different agent—the hot-tempered John Fleming—invited local tenants to a compulsory public meeting, threatening absentees with a severe fine (forty shillings). The meeting devolved into a surprise press-ganging, as thugs forced people into boats and then onto the ship which lay waiting to carry them to Canada. Forget gathering possessions: they were going aboard here and now.
Two days before, Fleming had written from South Uist to an emigration officer in Quebec. For the last three weeks, he had been “superintending the emigration of about 1,500 souls from this country to Canada.” He had just learned “with regret” that due to the unexpected illness of Colonel Gordon, nobody had previously notified anybody in Quebec.
Fleming wrote that he had already sent two ships—the Brooksby and the Montezuma filled with passengers in late July, and the Perthshire on August 5. He expected “the Admiral to be cleared out a few days hence.” He described the South Uist emigrants as having worked “at draining, ditching, road making, &c., and I trust they may be advantageously employed when they reach Canada in similar work, or at railway operations. . . . Of the Barra people, part have found employment at similar work, and part have supported themselves as fishermen, of which they have considerable skill.”
Fleming noted that a thousand people had been sent out two years before, “and send home encouraging accounts to their friends here.” Colonel Gordon was providing a free passage, clothing and shoes, and hoped that “these that are now leaving the land of their fathers may earn a competency in the land of their adoption.”
Two resources enable us to envision the truth of these events. The first, a relatively recent study, “The Jaws of Sheep” by James A. Stewart Jr., was published in Proceedings of the Harvard Celtic Colloquium for 1998. The other we have already encountered: Gloomy Memories by Donald Macleod. In the 1850s, Macleod had emigrated to Woodstock, Ontario, some 150 kilometres west of Toronto. Whenever he travelled between Woodstock and Toronto, at about the halfway point he would pass through the town of Dundas. There he interviewed numerous former Islanders, survivors of Gordon’s 1851 Clearances.
 “Hear the sobbing, sighing and throbbing,” he wrote later. “See the confusion, hear the noise, the bitter weeping and bustle. Hear mothers and children asking fathers and husbands, where are we going? hear the reply, Chan eil fios againn—we know not.” One eyewitness, Catherine Macphee of Lochdar, near the north end of South Uist, described the evictions as “loathsome work.” She told Macleod: “I have seen big strong men, champions of the countryside, the stalwarts of the world, being bound on Loch Boisdale quay and cast into the ship as would be done to a batch of horses or cattle, the bailiff and the ground officers and the policemen gathered behind them in pursuit.”
(To read the rest of this excerpt, pick up the July-August issue of Celtic Life International. The book, Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada, is now available for pre-order. It will launch in September.)
Ken McGoogan
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Why Highlanders fled their ancestral lands



Left: HarperCollins; right: Library and Archives Canada, Acc. No. 1988-250-37
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 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.
Read an excerpt at cangeo.caFlight of the Highlanders will be available through HarperCollins, in Canadian bookstores and on Amazon and other online retailers on September 17, 2019.

The above is a JPEG from the latest Fellows Journal of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. To read a version with links that work -- and a myriad of newsworthy items -- click here.
Ken McGoogan
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Primatologist to lead Madagascar expedition




Toronto-based primatologist-explorer Travis Steffens has been sorting gear for a five-person expedition in Madagascar. Steffens, the executive director of Planet Madagascar, a non-profit organization, will lead a 220-kilometre conservation-oriented trek around Ankarafantsika National Park starting June 28. 
He will fly into the island-country in about one week to make final preparations. Over fifteen days on the ground, the team will hike through rough country along the perimeter of Ankarafantsika National Park. This is a flag expedition under the auspices of the Explorers' Club. 
Steffens, who did his PhD research in the park, and who is incidentally my son-in-law (full disclosure), says he is “very excited to find some lemurs.” The trek will “provide baseline information on species occurrence,” he says, and ascertain local perceptions of forest loss with a view to informing decision making. It will also increase awareness about conservation around the park.
Steffens hopes to introduce Planet Madagascar to people in the most remote communities – to provide information on fire management and share practices that Planet Madagascar has implemented in other areas of the park. 

“We will be setting up a way to follow along,” Steffens says. “So stay tuned.”
The expedition is funded by Primate Conservation Inc., Lemur Conservation Action Fund (SOS – Save Our Species) and conservationist Duane Sharman. Two of the five team members are Malagasy residents and employees of Planet Madagascar Association. 


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.