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Why John Rae and NOT Sir John Franklin

So folks are (still!) debating the accomplishments of John Franklin and John Rae over at Russell Potter's blog, where I have been driven to offer the following thoughts . . . .:

Greetings, Russell.
Nicely done. But we do not yet see eye to eye.
We agree, I think, that John Rae discovered Rae Strait. We agree that Victoria Channel, running to the west of King William Island, was perennially blocked by ice in the mid-19th century. We agree that Amundsen sailed through Rae Strait when he became the first to navigate the Northwest Passage. And that he did it in the Gjoa, which had a draft of just over 10 feet.

You mention the size of the Terror. But what of Franklin’s lead vessel, Erebus, which had a draft of 13.8 feet?
You allude to the “extensive shoal area in mid-channel (Rae Strait) of 5.5 to 18 metres.” But 5.5 metres equals 18 feet. That leaves plenty of clearance for Erebus.

As Captain Thoomey states, even massive ships with drafts of 8 metres (26 feet) could “technically and theoretically” pass through Rae Strait and the adjoining channels. And the Hanseatic, which went aground in Simpson Strait, has a draft of 16 feet -- considerably more than 13.8.

But my claim does not hinge on John Franklin and his ships. It is this: That John Rae discovered the only Northwest Passage navigable by ships of the mid-19th century. So, yes, as argued above, the Erebus could have made it. But also we have the Fox in which Leopold McClintock sailed in 1857. The Fox had a draft of 11.5 feet -- scarcely more than the Gjoa.

As you know, the reason Franklin turned west instead of east when he reached the tip of King William Island is that he had an Admiralty map indicating that the eastward channel ended in Poctes Bay. McClintock had learned from Rae that “Poctes Bay” was really a strait. Had McClintock not been thwarted at the eastern entrance to Bellot Strait, he would probably have completed the Passage in 1857-59.

As for Joseph Conrad, well, I am a huge admirer of his work. But he died in 1924, and his assessment of Franklin strikes me as outdated, even quaint. He is right that Franklin is famous for his “professional prestige and high personal character.” But as I demonstrated in Lady Franklin’s Revenge, both of those were fabricated by Jane, Lady Franklin. Conrad is right that persistent efforts “to ascertain his fate advanced greatly our knowledge of the polar regions.” But again, those efforts came courtesy of Lady Franklin.

I hope, Russell, that you will repent, and that you will accord John Rae the recognition he deserves as discoverer of the only Northwest Passage navigable to ships of the mid-19th century. But I will not hold my breath.

-- Ken McGoogan
Ken McGoogan
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The Arctic Journals of John Rae

The book is "selected and introduced" by yours truly.
Copies have just arrived. To me, they look splendid --
very handsome indeed.  

Ken McGoogan
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300,000 to gather in Ireland . . .

by Ken McGoogan

300,000 people are set for the Gathering in Ireland. Some will be tracing their ancestors. Others will come to see the monasteries, or to follow in the footsteps of the writer James Joyce. Many will make their way to the Guinness Storehouse, where visitors journey through the 250-year history of Guinness and finish up in the Gravity Bar, free pint in hand, looking out over the City of Dublin.
Ireland is getting set for 2013. Every town, village, and hamlet looks to be preparing for The Gathering, a year-long celebration of all things Irish. Tourism Ireland is anticipating that more than 300,000 visitors will turn up, among them tens of thousands of Canadians. If you intend to become one of them, I�ve got good news for you, and maybe a few ideas.
My wife, Sheena, and I recently spent three weeks rambling around the Emerald Isle, our third visit in past few years. We had been hearing that Ireland was in the doldrums as a result of the recession in Europe. So what surprised us most was the vitality, energy, and good humour.
We started in Dublin, where Grafton Street has become a pedestrian mall. On any afternoon or evening, here we encountered a carnival atmosphere: people going both ways in streams or else standing in circles, entranced by one of the jugglers, musicians, comedians, or acrobats. At the foot of Grafton, we had no trouble finding the risque statue of that fictional fishmonger Molly Malone. The locals call it �the tart with the cart.� Turns out every statue and even the new Spire has a nickname, though most are unprintable.
A couple of blocks east, the pubs in the colourful Temple Bar area were invariably heading for lift-off at what usually we consider bed time. The same was true even of the uptown pubs around St. Stephen�s Green. But, hey, we were on holiday, we love Irish music, and sure, we gravitated to O�Donohue�s on Merrion Row. The liveliness would keep growing, apparently, until 2 or 3 in the morning.
Having decided to splurge on one fine meal, we headed for Hugo�s Restaurant, kitty-corner across the street from O�Donohue�s (yes, that was how the night began). To continue reading on website Travel Thru History, click here
Ken McGoogan
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Online Course in Creative Nonfiction

That online course I teach through the University of Toronto?
I call it The Art of Fact: An Introduction to Writing Nonfiction.
It runs ten weeks, starting September 17, and sounds like this:

The hallmarks of Creative, Literary or Narrative Nonfiction are truth and personal presence. The genre includes subjective and objective streams, and encompasses memoir, autobiography, biography, history, adventure, travel, and true crime. The writer of nonfiction employs memory, imagination, analysis, and research, and adapts literary techniques from fiction, journalism, and the essay. This craft-oriented course aims to enhance your ability to tell true stories. We will explore point of view, scene-making, flashbacks, fat moments, personal presence, and something I call The Rolling Now. The instructor (c'est moi) will introduce a concept or technique and provide examples and illustrations. Participants will apply that idea in an exercise, and share assignments and exchange feedback through a Discussion Board.
You could learn more here: Creative Nonfiction Online.

Consider yourself invited!

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.