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Fatal Passage still working magic

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.]

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Ken McGoogan
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Chasing Lemurs is The Book of the season!

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? 

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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.

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Ken McGoogan
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Irish revolutionary murdered for embracing Canadian pluralism

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.)
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Ken McGoogan
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The Best of Celtic Life 2019

The Best of Celtic Life 2019


Wonderful to see this excerpt from Flight of the Highlanders turn up in The Best of Celtic Life 2019. The 100-page magazine features an array of articles on everything from Celtic Folklore to Celtic Genealogy and Celebrating Celtic Culture.

FLIGHT OF THE HIGHLANDERS
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 new "Best Of" issue of Celtic Life International. Better still, pick up the book, Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada, now available everywhere in better bookstores.)

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Ken McGoogan
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Yo, OTTAWA! Gonna be like CHICAGO!

Yo, OTTAWA! Gonna be like CHICAGO!


Yo, OTTAWA! Here comes the night! Peeps are awakening to the news that awarding-winning author  and Royal Canadian Geographical Society Fellow Ken McGoogan is coming your way next Tuesday evening (December 3). It says here that in performance, Ken may well remind you of Richard Gere in CHICAGO, you know where he sings and dances and razzle-dazzles his way through a media circus of celebrity, scandal, and corruption?
On the other hand, he may not remind you of Gere at all. But he WILL captivate with insights from his new book, Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada. Ken will talk about Dragging History into the 21st Century, highlighting stories of those refugee Scots who were forcibly evicted from the lands of their ancestors. Many of them sailed in coffin ships to Canada, where they battled hardship, hunger and even murderous persecution while laying the foundations of a nation that welcomes immigrants. 
OK, so it’s not a lot like CHICAGO. But there is a stage. Flight of the Highlanders happens at the Alex Trebek Theatre at RCGS headquarters, 50 Sussex Drive, starting at 7 p.m. The trick is to get tickets by clicking here. Bring a gang!
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Ken McGoogan
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Dead Reckoning still sailing with Franklin

Dead Reckoning still sailing with Franklin


With Flight of the Highlanders roaring along nicely (thank you very much), it’s wonderful to see an Alaska publication (Stock Daily Dish) giving Dead Reckoning a bit of love – doing its part to keep the paperback edition thriving here and here and in better independent bookstores. Yesterday, the newspaper published an article in which its regular reviewers look back over their favorite books of 2018. For David James, Dead Reckoning was one of two top picks. Here is what he wrote: 
Looking back on the books I reviewed for 2018, I find that all five of my favorites concern history. This year there’s a two-way tie for the top spot, while the other three fall in no particular order. . . .
Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage, by Ken McGoogan; HarperCollins Canada/Patrick Crean Editions.
This overview of the search for the Northwest Passage is both wonderfully written and an excellent resource for fitting the Franklin Expedition, the Arctic’s most deadly calamity, into its broader historical and cultural perspective. Canadian historian Ken McGoogan has written several in-depth works on people who made their mark on the Arctic, but here he takes the long view, showing how explorers (most of them British) fared in the north from the 16th through the 19th centuries.
The result of decades of research, McGoogan examines who succeeded, who failed, and why. His persistent finding is that those Europeans and Brits who learned from the Inuit residents of the Arctic and followed their examples generally thrived, while those who dismissed Native knowledge often met extreme hardship or death.
In the mind of Sir John Franklin, who left England with two ships in 1845, the Native people were savages and only British technology and know-how could conquer the far north. Instead, he and his 128 crewmen all vanished, leading to searches that found only a handful of corpses and, until they were located in this decade, no sign of their ships.
As McGoogan shows, even among the many expeditions that went searching for the men, the shortest path to tragedy was found by ignoring the locals.
Here a link to the complete article.

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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.