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Scotland awake to celebrating John Rae



By Mike Merritt (The Herald / Scotland)
OVERLOOKING the sea, with views of neighbouring islands, it is enough to inspire a spirit of adventure in any youngster. Now the childhood Orkney home which helped to inspire the man described as the greatest Arctic explorer of his age is set to undergo a multimillion pound restoration as a visitor centre in his honour. Dr John Rae discovered the final stretch of the North West Passage and the fate of the Franklin Expedition. However, his achievements were airbrushed out of history.
Supporters the 19th century surgeon – including explorers Michael Palin and Ray Mears – acquired the Hall of Clestrain on Orkney’s south coast in 2016, after a 20-year campaign to negotiate its purchase.
They plan to restore the house “to its former glory” and open it to the public, as well as making the area around it a visitor attraction. Orkney Islands councillors have now approved funding towards a feasibility works project.
Councillors at a special general meeting gave their backing to a request from the John Rae Society for grant assistance of 50 per cent of the total eligible costs, up to a maximum sum of £14,730, meaning the full funding package of £29,460 has now been secured.
The society is contributing £10,830 of its own resources towards the project and has been awarded £3,900 of grant funding support from the Architectural Heritage Fund. The feasibility work will focus on developing a business plan, options appraisal and a conservation report.
A commissioned feasibility study completed in August 2019 concluded that the project, with an estimated project cost of around £3 million can become a financially viable visitor centre and community resource. John Rae Society president Andrew Appleby said: “The development of The Hall of Clestrain, John Rae’s birthplace and family home, has been such a long-awaited ambition. It’s been a long road this far.
“We have saved the building by making it wind and water tight. Now we want to turn it into a world-class tourist attraction and tell the story of this remarkable man and the Arctic in general.” A service in honour Dr Rae took place in Westminster Abbey in 2015 - helping to right a historical wrong stretching back more than 200 years.
Dr Rae, who was born in Orphir in 1813, discovered the last link of the North West Passage and the fate of the Franklin Expedition. However, his achievements were airbrushed from history after he reported that the Franklin Expedition survivors been forced to resort to cannibalism.
But through the efforts of the John Rae Society, Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael saw a plaque honouring him unveiled at Westminster Abbey in 2014. Dr Rae’s achievements are said to rank above all 19th-century Arctic explorations. . . .
Ken McGoogan author of the book ‘Fatal Passage’ featuring John Rae has said: “Because of John Rae, Clestrain is the most important heritage building in Orkney, and one of the most significant in all of Scotland. It will make a spectacular visitor centre.”
(Click link in byline to read the complete story.)

Ken McGoogan
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Scottish Trilogy Still Marching in Canada


So a friend who lives in Hants County, Nova Scotia -- the county in which my mother was born and raised -- sent me a link to a podcast I have never heard, but which finds me talking about How the Scots Invented Canada. For sure that's something people want to hear, right? Voila: click here. In related news, Flight of the Highlanders is exceeding projections. Published in hardcover last autumn, the book will surface in paperback in August. Assuming we get clear of COVID-19, that same month will find me talking with folks at the Fergus Scottish Festival and Highland Games. Please stay tuned.
Ken McGoogan
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Chasing Lemurs dazzles early readers




For nineteen months, while in her mid-twenties,

Keriann McGoogan lived and worked in Madagascar, spending twelve-hour days following groups of lemurs through the northwestern dry forests. She was leading a research team of Malagasy men, only one of whom spoke English or French. What could possibly go wrong? In her forthcoming book, Chasing Lemurs, McGoogan brings the story to vivid life. Don't take my word for it. The advance readers are weighing in: 

“Chasing Lemurs is a riveting journey into one of our planet’s most imperiled biodiversity hotspots. With the irrepressible spirit and sure voice of a hardened traveler, McGoogan exposes the physical and mental toll that remote scientific field work can take upon the scientist, and how moments of epiphany in the wild are made all the richer for it. The adventure of a lifetime. Recommended for all primate fans, and anyone who has ever dreamed of studying animals in the wild.” 
–Andrew Westoll, author of The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary

"Keriann McGoogan weaves a gritty and truthful tale that immerses readers in the remote, dangerous, and uncomfortable world of expeditionary fieldwork. The intense narrative reveals the wonders of a lost world and the sacrifices made in the name of research. Her confessions of self-doubt and uncertainty will resonate with anyone facing life's challenges or choosing to take the road less traveled."
–Jill Heinerth, author of Into The Planet: My Life as a Cave Diver

“Keriann McGoogan has given us a fascinating adventure story that is also a superb travelogue, field guide, and social portrait of one of the world's least-known, yet truly exotic countries. A reader could hardly ask for a more encompassing overview of Madagascar or a clearer description of its increasingly threatened ecology. Importantly, the reader is left with the terrible realization of how badly humans have treated our fellow primates -- the many and intriguingly various species of lemurs, who are endemic to this African island. McGoogan’s 's book is fundamentally a call to action to protect these complex and endangered creatures, and she has succeeded admirably.”
–Geoff White, Canadian chargé d'affaires to Madagascar, 2010-2013

“An honest and suspenseful account of the challenges of wildlife research, Keriann McGoogan’s book shatters all the romantic illusions of doing science in a remote tropical location. Her story is a must read for any wildlife enthusiast considering embarking on a career in the field, or for any conservation-minded individual curious about the difficulties field researchers sometimes endure. McGoogan rose to the seemingly insurmountable challenges and persevered. As a result, she has made substantial strides in what has become a very rewarding career in both primate research and conservation”.
Dr. Brian Keating, presenter/producer greatBIGnature.com & owner of goingwild.org

(Chasing Lemurs, published by Prometheus Books of New York, will be released everywhere on April 14. 



Ken McGoogan
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F*cking with Narrative in T.O.?


Sounds dangerously radical, I know. But that, I'm afraid, is today's burning question. It surfaces here because a fabulous writers' conference is coming to Toronto and I play a small part in it. 

The annual gathering of the Creative Nonfiction Collective will take place at the University of Toronto (Emmanuel College) from May 8 to 10. Born in the Wild West (OK, Banff) some 16 years ago, the CNFC will attract writers from across the land.
The Friday night keynote speaker is Ian Brown, whose books include Sixty and The Boy in the Moon. Trust me, he is one heckuva speaker. And the program is jam-packed with CNF writers of all kinds -- memoirists, essay-writers, narrative historians -- as well as a public relations consultant, a publisher-agent, an online marketing strategist, you name it. Here, check it out. 
As for F*cking With Narrative, well, that’s what we'll explore in my Saturday workshop. When research-based story-telling drives you towards third-person omniscience, suddenly you find yourself facing stop signs and roadblocks. You can’t do this, you can’t do that. Narrative is f*cking with you.
Or maybe your story cries out for scene but the biographical record presents nothing. Nada. What to do? No worries. These problems have technical solutions. In this craft-oriented workshop, we’ll look at best strategies, among them transparency, implied stream of consciousness, multiple flashbacks, and The Rolling Now. We’ll do some on-the-spot freewriting. Master these moves, it says here, and you’ll be break-dancing with story. Yup, you’ll be f*cking with narrative.


Ken McGoogan
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Fatal Passage still working magic


Big shoutout to the John Rae Society and the editors who put together the latest Aglooka Advisor (Winter 2019). The editors asked people who take out membership in the Society why they decided to join. Two recent members replied and both mentioned the first of my five books on Arctic exploration.
Neil Ferguson  noted: "A visit to the book shop in the Skara Brae visitor centre [in Orkney] led to the discovery of Fatal Passage and I suppose it all mushroomed from there. . . . My imagination was kindled by reading of Ken McGoogan's journey from Gjoa Haven to the site on Boothia Peninsula where John Rae first saw that the strait remained free of ice for part of the year and that King William Island was an island and not part of Boothia Peninsula."
The editors note that "Neil booked a place on a Hurtigruten curise this August so as to be able to stand on the same place Rae did when he identified the last 'missing piece' of the puzzle of the North West Passage."
And Nick Collis Bird responded that he had always been interested in Polar exploration. "Franklin was a hero to me until I read Fatal Passage by Ken McGoogan. I'd never even heard of John Rae. I thought, 'There really ought to be a society to promote this amazing man' and lo and behold I came across [the JRS]. Of course I just had to join." 
These are the bits that jumped out at me, though the Advisor contains much else of interest.
[Right: In 1999, Cameron Treleaven, the late Louie Kamookak and I placed a plaque at the ruins of the cairn that John Rae built to mark his discovery of the final link in the Northwest Passage.]

Ken McGoogan
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Chasing Lemurs is The Book of the season!


For nineteen months, starting when she was twenty-five, Keriann McGoogan lived and worked in the wilds of Madagascar. She spent twelve-hour days following groups of lemurs through the northwestern dry forests. Previously, she had spent six months in Belize studying black howler monkeys. All this was in aid of  earning a PhD in biological anthropology and a master's degree in primatology.
Keriann's field research evolved into what her publisher describes as "an exotic adventure story, a surprise journey of self-discovery, and a deeply personal appreciation of a place that's unlike any other." Yes, the most anticipated book of the spring season is almost upon us -- a 256-page memoir called Chasing Lemurs: My Journey into the Heart of Madagascar.
Despite careful planning, we read on the dustjacket, Keriann's research trip into the remote northwest "spiraled out of control. Food poisoning, harrowing back-country roads, grueling hikes, challenging local politics, malaria, and an emergency evacuation would turn a simple reconnaissance into an epic adventure."
While investigating the island-country's extraordinary biodiversity, Keriann soon found herself "the lone woman amid a small band of local male assistants, diligently conducting research on the lemur population around the camp." Then her right-hand man -- the only Malagasy who spoke English or French -- contracted a life-threatening strain of malaria and became delirious. Oh, hers is quite the story.
Last August, I revealed how I learned about the existence of this book.  Now I can tell you that Chasing Lemurs, published by Prometheus Books of New York, will hit bookstores on April 14. That is also the date when Keriann will surface in the Different Drummer Book and Author Series at the Royal Botanical Gardens in Burlington. Meanwhile, it IS possible to pre-order the book at Amazon or Chapters-Indigo. Did I mention that Chasing Lemurs is The Book of the season? 

Ken McGoogan
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Epic Glades highlight Quebec ski spectacular



Let the record show that we brought in the New Year -- and indeed the New Decade -- on the slopes. Video maker Carlin McGoogan produced a hi-res version of Epic Glades complete with rollicking Quebecois music -- but Blogger refused to accommodate bells and whistles. Sorry to see that Carlin himself, by-far our best skiier, makes no appearance. Guess we'll have to go back and reshoot. Meanwhile, I think of Walt Whitman:


Afoot and light-hearted I take to the open road,
Healthy, free, the world before me,
The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.

Henceforth I ask not good-fortune, I myself am good-fortune,
Henceforth I whimper no more, postpone no more, need nothing,
Done with indoor complaints, libraries, querulous criticisms,
Strong and content I travel the open road.

Ken McGoogan
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Irish revolutionary murdered for embracing Canadian pluralism




(In the February issue of Celtic Life International, I write about Thomas D'Arcy McGee, the Irish revolutionary who became the great Canadian champion of minorities and First Nations.) 

On April 7, 1868, after participating in a late-running session in the Canadian House of Commons, the most eloquent democrat ever to emerge from the Irish diaspora was ambushed on the steps of his rooming house in Ottawa. Thomas D’Arcy McGee was shot dead by a killer who ran up behind him and fired point blank at his head. Biographer David O. Wilson has called this killing “the greatest murder mystery in Canadian political history.”
The assassination was also, arguably, the most tragic single moment in that history. In the 19th century, D’Arcy McGee was the great Canadian champion of minorities and First Nations. He had outlined a plan to create a separate province for Indigenous peoples in the Canadian northwest. Had he lived another decade, he would certainly have rejected -- and might well have managed to overturn -- the Indian Act of 1876, which aimed at assimilation and today remains a main obstacle to reconciliation. Not only that, but as a staunch Roman Catholic who had long led the struggle against Orange-Order intolerance, McGee would undoubtedly have opposed the 1885 judgment against Louis Riel . . . and, given that he had the attention of Prime Minister John A. MacDonald, might well have prevented the hanging which haunts us still.
All this was on mind last spring when, while rambling around southern Ireland, I spent a few days in Wexford, where D’Arcy McGee grew up. Today, the colorful, bustling county town of 20,000 shows almost no trace of his presence. In the graveyard at Selskar Abbey, a stone casket marks the burial site of his mother. And I did locate the building where in 1865, McGee spoke to the Catholic Young Men’s Society, giving a heart-felt speech that marked him out and led to his murder. Today, surprisingly tiny and nondescript, the edifice houses a used-clothing store run by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul.
  

Thomas D’Arcy McGee was born in Carlingford on April 13, 1825. His beloved mother was the daughter of a Dublin bookseller and taught him early to value history and literature. He spent his childhood at Cushendall on the north coast, where his father worked for the Coast Guard Service. When he was eight, his father was transferred to Wexford, where his mother’s family had been active in the 1798 Rebellion. She died in a coach accident while relocating. D’Arcy McGee attended a “pay school” run by a nationalist teacher whose father had been hanged at nearby New Ross after one of the bloodiest battles of 1798. 
At fourteen, inspired by a nation-wide temperance movement, McGee published two poems in the local newspaper, both paens to sobriety. Around this time, his father remarried. McGee and his siblings disliked their stepmother, and when a sister of their late mother invited them to join her in America, he and one sister quickly accepted. In 1842, at seventeen, McGee became one of almost 93,000 Irishmen to cross the Atlantic. He sailed from Wexford on a timber ship to Quebec, deposited his sister with his aunt in Providence, Rhode Island, and proceeded fifty miles north to Boston to seek work. . . .

Early in 1850, he returned to Boston and started The American Celt and Adopted Citizen. He moved this newspaper to Buffalo and then, in 1853, back to New York. Meanwhile, in the six years that began in 1851, McGee published five books. He treated the history of Irish settlers, revolutionary liberalism, the Protestant Reformation in Ireland, Catholics in North America, and the Catholic priest Edward Maginn. 
Also, and crucially, he became critical of the American state, seeing it as discriminating against Roman Catholics. By 1855, he was urging Irish Catholics to leave the cities of the east to establish a colony in the American west. When that idea failed to gain traction, McGee looked north with fresh eyes. He realized that in Canada East (Quebec), Roman Catholics constituted a majority, and had enjoyed legal protection since 1774. Now, the united Province of Canada provided them far greater security than the United States. McGee looked again at “manifest destiny,” the doctrine that the United States would one day govern all North America. This time, he judged it pernicious. 
In the spring of 1857, in response to an invitation from leading Irish Catholics, McGee moved north to Montreal. He had already visited twice. And for two years, he had been urging Irish emigrants to choose Canada over the United States. McGee had barely got off the train from Boston in 1857, historian Christopher Moore writes, “when he began advocating federal union, westward expansion, and the nurturing of a national literature for Canada.” In Montreal, while thinking to enter politics, he launched the New Era newspaper. From this editorial perch, he began articulating a program for “a new nationality” involving railway development, immigration, and “a federal compact” among provinces.
McGee spoke of developing a North American alternative to the United States – a sovereign “kingdom of the St. Lawrence,” which would retain a connection with Great Britain. In December 1857, backed by the St. Patrick’s Society of Montreal, McGee was elected to Canada’s Legislative Assembly. Now began a decade of political wrangling. McGee organized Irish Catholics in Canada West (Ontario). He issued a manifesto endorsing a federal union of the two Canadas.
In 1863, McGee published letters and articles outlining his vision of a British North America. He argued, as Wilson notes, that by retaining their links with the crown under a constitutional monarchy, Canadians had achieved a better balance between freedom and order than existed in the U.S. And he insisted that “a man can state his private, social, political and religious opinions with more freedom here than in New York or New England. There is, besides, far more liberty and toleration enjoyed by minorities in Canada than in the United States.” . . .
(To read the rest of this article, pick up the February issue of Celtic Life International.)
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.