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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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The Irish show the way to Canadiana

Fourteen years ago, Canadian authors were producing 27 per cent of English-language books sold in Canada. Today we account for 13 per cent. That is not a misprint: Canadians who write books in English produce only 13 per cent of all books purchased in Canada. Don't take my word for it. Check out this story from the Globe and Mail, which compares extensive surveys from 2005 and 2018. Am I the only one who finds that drop alarming? More than 50 per cent! Globe writer Kate Taylor identifies causes and suggests that the federal government should get involved and I'm on board with that. But surely it's time for individuals who care about what's happening to get active. I'm thinking that writers, publishers, booksellers and serious readers should launch a campaign to follow the Irish model. OK, it's not just Irish. The Scots and the Aussies are also out front on this. But above we see an image of an independent bookseller in Kilkenny, Ireland.
To the right, we discover a wall of books near the front of the shop. Note one thing: these are all Irish books: Irish interest, Irish history, Irish biography, Irish literature and poetry, Irish travel. Why, it's whole separate section with a national focus. If in Canada our booksellers were encouraged to emulate that approach, we could support them in developing a section called, oh, I don't know: Canadiana? Yup. It's high time for us to go Back to the Future. 

Ken McGoogan
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The escape of the beauteous Alice Le Kyteler

In 1324, Alice Le Kyteler -- original owner of this Kilkenny inn -- was accused with various accomplices of witchcraft. Beauteous and clever, the daughter of a Norman banker, Alice had survived four husbands and amassed no small fortune. All this excited the jealousy of powerful contemporaries. Alice was tried, found guilty, and condemned to be whipped through the streets and then burnt alive at the stake. She escaped this fate through the intervention of "certain of the nobilitie" who conveyed her to England, where she disappeared. Her maid, Petronella, enjoyed no such happy flight. Condemned as one of the accomplices, she suffered the horrific fate intended originally for her mistress. Medieval times. That Alice's house had been a place of "merrymaking and good cheer" is the only charge that has stood the test of time. Kyteler's Inn has reverted to its old ways, as you can read on a sign within. It offers those of "the most jaded of appetites" music, home-made food, and a selection of quality wines and beers. True, those who work at the inn have frequently reported ghostly goings-on. Paranormal investigators have felt a presence, and not long ago, four women-friends from Wexford accidentally captured photos of a black shadow heading up the stairs behind them. Was it Alice? Petronella? In Kilkenny, that mystery awaits resolution.
Ken McGoogan
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It's not all that far to Tipperary

It's not that far to Tipperary -- not if you start in Kilkenny. That's what we did. The statue to the left commemorates John and Patrick Saul, two boys abandoned by their parents at the docks in Dublin. The butcher and his wife boarded a ship for Australia after first telling their sons, ages 15 and 13, they had a better chance of surviving if they turned back and made for home in Clonmel, County Tipperary. The year was 1842. The boys, increasingly hungry as they travelled, called in at the newly built workhouse in Kilkenny. Their story surfaced in 2005, when developers began turning the prison-like workhouse into the splendiferous MacDonough Junction Shopping Centre. The statue is one of the highlights of the Kilkenny Famine Experience -- a 50-minute audio-visual tour that takes visitors through the story of the Great Hunger as it unfolded in this location. The big surprise came when excavators came upon the forgotten graves of more than 970 people who died here -- among them 545 children -- mostly between 1845 and 1851. Rations were spartan but few died of starvation. Disease got them first, either typhus, typhoid, diptheria, smallpox, tuberculosis or cholera. Bullying, amputations, riots, death-dealing stampedes, this place had them all. As the potato famine wore on and workhouse conditions worsened, the Saul brothers set out for home. But Tipperary! Sheena and I drove half an hour west into that county, sometimes along one-lane roads with a ridge of grass down the middle. We went not to Clonmel but to the Famine Warhouse, site of an incident known as the Battle of Widow MacCormack's Cabbage Patch. By 1848, not
surprisingly, the never-ending famine -- the deaths, the coffin ships -- sparked a reaction.  Several of the leaders of the rebels, known collectively as Young Ireland, trapped a group of policemen in this house near Ballingarry. The police took the widow's children hostage and held on until reinforcements arrived.  Before long, most rebel leaders were rounded up, jailed, and transported to penal colonies in Australia. Anybody still with me?
Ken McGoogan
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This ship carried thousands across the Atlantic

Here we have the Dunbrody Famine Ship in New Ross, County Wexford -- one of the finest memorials of the Great Hunger in all Ireland. I've posted about visiting the EPIC emigration museum, the exhibition at St. Stephen's Green, and the Jeannie Johnston. Since then the biggest surprise has been the Famine Exhibition in the agricultural museum at Johnstown Castle:  who could have guessed that it would be so detailed and, indeed, superb? Even against all that, this replica of the Dunbrody is an exceptional site. The original ship was built in Quebec in 1845, the first year of the Irish famine. It was one of eight vessels owned by W.S. Graves that plied between New Ross and both Quebec City and Manhattan. Relatively large -- 176 feet long and 28 feet wide -- the three-masted barque carried an average of 200 people per voyage across the Atlantic, and on one occasion, during 1847, a total of 313. The ship had two cabins for first-class passengers, but the vast majority were confined below decks for most of the six or seven week voyage. There they slept in 40 bunk beds roughly six feet square, with four to eight people per bunk. Brutal. The dozen crew who manned the ship enjoyed better food and conditions -- after all, they constituted the ship's engine. But they would not be paid until they arrived back in Ireland, because otherwise, whoosh, they might disappear on landing. An excellent tour guide named Mark laid all this out as we set sail in 1849. He introduced two women actors -- one sailing first-class,  the other travelling with us in steerage (see photo below) -- who told their own stories, incidentally
highlighting the class structure of the era. During the famine years (1845-1852), 1.5 million Irish emigrated on ships like the Dunbrody, while another 1.5 million died at home. During the following decade, another 2 million left Ireland. As a result, Canadians who claim Irish heritage today total just under 5 million . . . while in the U.S., the total is a staggering 35 million.
Ken McGoogan
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How the Irish Famine Changed the World

The terrible parallels hit you like a bucket of cold water in the face -- at least if you have been immersed for a while in Scotland's Highland Clearances. Check out the image to the right. Looks like it could be from a Scottish Clearance in Sutherland or Glengarry, or perhaps Lewis, Uist or Barra. In fact, it's from County Clare in Ireland -- Mathia Magrath's house "after destruction by the Battering Ram." I know this because today we checked out the Irish Famine Exhibition at St. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre in Dublin. The exhibition, which runs until Oct. 15, brought the famine experience front and centre for me. Between 1845 and 1851, approximately one million Irish people died of starvation or disease and a couple of million emigrated, many of them to Canada. Many of those were forcibly evicted by landlords spouting the free-market doctrine of laissez faire. The end result: an Irish diaspora that has produced a globe-scattering of something like 70 million people of Irish descent. The decades immediately after the famine brought mostly silence about that trauma. More recently, scholars and others have turned increasingly to the Great Hunger, as it is also called. Today in Dublin, you can see famine monuments in St. Stephen's Green and on the north bank of the Liffey. You can visit the marvellous EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum. And you can spend an hour poking around on the Jeannie Johnston, a replica famine ship. If you have time for only one stop, the exhibition at St. Stephen's Green includes a 15-minute film that summarizes the saga. Millions displaced, not hundreds of thousands. Terrible to contemplate. Preparing to leave Dublin, all I can think about is how the Irish famine changed the world.

Ken McGoogan
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A merciless takedown of Mackenzie King

I was taken with Roy MacLaren's new book about Mackenzie King and said as much in this review that turned up on May 13 in the Globe and Mail.
(Special to the Globe)

After talking privately with Adolf Hitler in Berlin, Wailliam Lyon Mackenzie King concluded that the German Fuhrer was a fellow mystic who spoke the truth when he insisted “that there would be no war as far as Germany was concerned.” Hitler’s face, the Canadian prime minister wrote in his diary, was “not that of a fiery, over-strained nature, but of a calm, passive man, deeply and thoughtfully in earnest.… As I talked with him I could not but think of Joan of Arc.”
That morning, as Mackenzie King had left his Berlin hotel, he had sensed “the presence of God in all this,” guiding his every step toward this meeting and “the day for which I was born.” June 29, 1937. Before he left Berlin, Mackenzie King wrote a note thanking Hitler for giving him a silver-framed photo of himself – “a gift of which I am very proud.” By this time, the Fuhrer had dispatched more than 4,000 innocents to concentration camps and created laws turning German Jews into secoindnd-class citizens.
With Mackenzie King in the Age of the Dictators, former diplomat and high commissioner Roy MacLaren eschews biography to focus on the Canadian prime minister’s foreign-policy performance. He delivers an exhaustively detailed, tightly controlled, yet merciless takedown of Mackenzie King’s responses to both Benito Mussolini and Hitler.
If with Hitler we were not confronting the most obscene tragedy of the 20th century – the industrialized slaughter of more than six million Jews in the Holocaust – this encounter could be staged as a farce in which a delusional bumpkin meets the worst tyrant of the age and mistakes him for a holy man.
In March, 1938, after the Nazi annexation of Austria, an unperturbed Mackenzie King wrote in his diary: “I am convinced he [Hitler] is a spiritualist – that he has a vision to which he is being true … that [his] Mother’s spirit is … his guide and no one who does not understand this relationship – the worship of a highest purity in a mother – can understand the power to be derived therefrom or the guidance … the world will yet come to see a very great man – a mystic, in Hitler.”
Here, Mackenzie King was projecting what Charlotte Gray has described as his “pathological obsession with his mother’s memory” onto Hitler and fusing it with his ludicrously inflated fantasies of his own significance. As he himself saw it, MacLaren writes, “he had played a central, even divinely ordained role in keeping peace in Europe.”
As MacLaren makes clear, many Canadians discerned the truth. Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, made no rush to judgment but, by 1934, according to one contemporary, he had become “solidly, fanatically, anti-Hitler; refers to him as Al Capone and to the Nazis as gangsters.” Around the time Mackenzie King was confiding to his diary, “I am being made the instrument of God,” journalist Matthew Halton of The Toronto Star described Hitler at a Berlin rally as a demonic orator who “turned his hearers into maddening, moaning fanatics.” Over the course of a month in Germany, Halton had “seen and studied the most fanatical, thorough-going and savage philosophy of war ever imposed on any nation.”
When Mackenzie King hailed the Munich Agreement, which ceded to Hitler much of Czechoslovakia (the Sudetenland), Winnipeg journalist J.W. Dafoe – who had repeatedly warned against the Fuhrer’s hate-filled rhetoric – wrote what MacLaren rightly describes as a “scathing editorial” in which he denounced the appeasers for validating “the doctrine that Germany can intervene for racial reasons for the ‘protection’ of Germans on such grounds as she thinks proper in any country in the world.”
Ian Kershaw, the British biographer of Hitler, summarized with the advantage of hindsight: “None but the most hopelessly naïve, incurably optimistic or irredeemably stupid could have imagined that the Sudetenland marked the limits of German ambitions to expand.” Enter Mackenzie King.
Early on, Canadian diplomat Vincent Massey deplored Mackenzie King’s “ostrich-like policy of not even wanting to know what is going on.” He concluded that Mackenzie King combined an anti-British bias with an extreme egotism, and after Kristallnacht, when Nazi thugs went on a racist rampage and incarcerated 30,000 Jews, Massey wrote to Mackenzie King that “the anti-Jewish orgy in Germany is not making [British prime minister Neville] Chamberlain’s policy of ‘appeasement’ any easier.” Mackenzie King agreed that “the post-Munich developments have made appeasement difficult and positive friendship [with Hitler] for the moment out of the question. That is no reason, however, why the effort should be abandoned.” Unbelievable.
This book assumes a familiarity with the history of Europe in the 1930s. It is a tour-de-force indictment of Mackenzie King and, by implication, the political system that made him the longest-serving prime minister in Canadian history. For those concerned about the contemporary rise of fascism and neo-Nazism around the world, Mackenzie King in the Age of the Dictators is ominous and terrifying.
In September, Ken McGoogan will publish Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada.

Ken McGoogan
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Fur-trade rascals are making for McMaster

So here is an early heads-up on a Hamilton event where I will be giving a talk on June 4. What happened is that the library at McMaster University acquired an extraordinary collection of papers from the estate of the late Dr. William Bensen. Dr. Bensen was a medical doctor with a passion for Canadian history, and especially for anything related to John Rae or the fur trade. I had the privilege of meeting him over dinner some years ago and we had great fun chatting. He showed me a box of china that had been on board Franklin's ship the Terror.
Anyway, I am quite excited to investigate this collection of papers, which comprises letters and documents pertaining to such figures as James McGill, Simon Fraser, Alexander Mackenzie, William McGillivray, and Simon McTavish, all of whom were associated with the fur-trading North West Company based in Montreal. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, not to put too fine a point on it, these ex-Highlanders -- renegades, rogues and rascals almost to a man -- used fur-trade profits to build the Golden Square Mile in Montreal and swanned about like kings. I was thrilled to discover that the men who figure in this archive turn up in five of my books (if we count Flight of the Highlanders, coming this September).
I'm calling my talk Rogues, Rascals and Kings: Fur-Trade Adventurers Spring from the Archives. It kicks off at 7 p.m. in Convocation Hall and is open to the public. BUT space is limited so you have to register by clicking here. If you're within hailing distance of McMaster, come on down!
(Pictured here: William McGillivray (above left) and Simon McTavish.)

Ken McGoogan
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Writers' retreat set to go at Tamarack in July

So that one-week writing-workshop-retreat in the Haliburton Highlands? I have been remiss in not reminding folks that it is happening from Sunday July 7 to Friday July 12. Yes, I will be serving as writer-in-residence at Tamarack Lodge Cottage Resort and Art Centre, which 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. Last July, Anne-Marie Marais took these wonderful images.
This July, 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 still have some spots available on a first-come first-serve basis. 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 it is you happen to be writing. We’ll look at point of view, creating 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. I will send out a call. Meanwhile, if you have any workshop-specific questions, you can drop me a line at
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. You can find out more than you need to know at: Come on down!

Ken McGoogan
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Celtic Life International looks to Highlanders

The latest edition 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, which is now available for pre-order. The excerpt begins like so:
In his bestsellers How the Scots Invented Canada and Celtic Lightning, Ken McGoogan wrote about how, in the 18th and 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 3: The Old Way of Life

In the Celtic tradition, “Thin Places” are sites where the natural and spiritual worlds meet and intermingle, separated by the merest veil. The ancient Celts would visit these sacred sites, among them Stonehenge in England and the Ring of Brodgar in Orkney, to experience the presence of their gods. For avowedly secular types, the concept works better historically. I think of the reconstructed Gaelic village in the Highland Folk Museum 45 miles south of Inverness, where you can wander in and out of blackhouses and see people at work in the clothing and spirit of another time. The same goes for Auchindrain Township, six miles south of Inverary. It is the only stone-built settlement to survive essentially unaltered from among hundreds that existed before the Highland Clearances. And what of the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village at a beautiful waterside location on the Isle of Lewis?
All three of those sites provide a sense of how most Highlanders lived in the decades before and after the mid-1700s, when the Battle of Culloden marked the beginning of the end for the Old Order. Political and military historians of the Middle Ages focus on kings and aristocrats and the battles they fought, won, or lost. But most Highlanders were farmers who stayed home in small townships made up of extended families.
They lived in “blackhouses,’ so-designated because they were dark, windowless, and blackened by peat-fire smoke.  The term distinguishes them from the “white houses” which came later and introduced such amenities as windows and toilets. In Thatched Houses, author Colin Sinclair identifies three types of blackhouses according to their roof styles. The Hebridean has four walls of the same height and a ledge running around the edge of the roof. The Skye has four similar walls but no ledge: the thatch runs over the edge. And the Dailriadic has a Skye-style roof but pointed walls at two opposite ends providing for a pitched roof.
The common features among these three types tell us more about how people lived. Besides their thatched roofs and walls made of stone or peat slabs, blackhouses were usually oblong and divided into three compartments. You would enter the house through a flimsy door that opens into the byre or cow-house that forms one of the two end compartments. You would see two small black cows reclining on a bed of straw. But the place stinks of cow dung and chicken droppings so why tarry? You turn right and, through an opening or pass door, step through an internal wall into the main apartment. The third compartment is straight ahead, divided from this room by a wooden partition containing another pass door covered with a blanket.
You can’t help but notice the smoke, which gets thicker higher up, and you crouch to avoid the worst of it. The smoke curls upwards from a peat fire which sits on a stone slab in the middle of this dirt-floor apartment. It drifts eventually through a hole in the thatch located off-centre so that heavy rains do not douse the flames. A three-legged iron pot hangs over the fire from a chain attached to a beam in the roof. You sit down on a bench that occupies a side wall and notice a dresser neatly displaying rows of plates. Beneath it sits a washtub and beside it a wooden bucket.
Welcome to the house of the Gael in the Old Highlands. It allows for conversation and conviviality around the glowing peat fire, but mainly it provides shelter from the storm – though the roof of the blackhouse is not water tight. In rainy weather, heavy drops of inky black water make their way through the thatch. This happens often enough that people have a name for those falling droplets: snighe.
When weather permits, not surprisingly, the common folk spend most of their time outdoors. They tend their crops and their cattle. When James Boswell passed this way with Dr. Samuel Johnson in 1773, he wrote, “we had not rooms that we could command, for the good people here had no notion that a man could have any occasion but a mere sleeping place.”
(To read the rest of this excerpt, pick up the June issue of Celtic Life International. The book, Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada, is now available for pre-order.)

Ken McGoogan
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Arctic Expedition makes John Rae history

THEY MADE IT! Today at 3:45 p.m. Mountain Time, David Reid and Richard Smith called me in Toronto from the John Rae plaque overlooking Rae Strait. They had just completed a 650-km trek from Naujaat (Repulse Bay) to Point de la Guiche. They took just 29 days to complete this prodigious feat in blizzards and with temperatures falling to 30 and 40 degrees below zero.
Today, they left early and covered about 16 km to reach the site where in 1854, accompanied by his indigenous companions William Ouligbuck Jr. and Thomas Mistegan, Rae built a cairn marking his discovery of the final link in what would prove to be the first navigable Northwest Passage.
Reid and Smith were in high spirits as they chatted with me for about twenty minutes. Two other team members, Frank Wolf and Garry Tutte, had been forced to evacuate en route by foot problems.
(Wolf took the photo above before departing.) "It was a shame to lose them," Smith said. "But their feet . . . . the journey was quite arduous on the body."
He and Reid have both lost a fair bit of weight, exact amount to be determined.
Reid, a veteran explorer, reminisced about the Arctic Return Expedition being conceived in September 2017 during an Adventure Canada voyage in the Northwest Passage. He and I and Sheena Fraser McGoogan and a few other people got talking over dinner about what he should do next. One idea led to another. . . .
Back in 1999, the late Louie Kamookak led me and one other man in erecting the plaque honoring Rae and his companions. Reid and Smith put up their tent nearby just before they called. The temperature was a balmy 20 degrees below zero, and they will camp on site for the next couple of nights. Gjoa Haven is about 80 km to the southwest. The men have arranged for an Inuk named Marvin to lead a team in picking them up via skidoo from Gjoa on Tuesday. They will give a presentation to the community on Wednesday evening and on Thursday, will fly south to Edmonton, so beginning their journey home -- Reid to Ottawa, Smith to Scotland.
From outside their tent, the two men looked across the white expanse of Rae Strait. "On the far side of Rae Strait," Reid said, "we can see King William Island. Just as John Rae did 165 years ago."
Ken McGoogan
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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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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.