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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:
https://arcticreturn.com/a-tough-but-necessary-move/
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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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.