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New Jersey ten, UPS zero

Lots of nice people live in New Jersey. We got to know quite a few of them while we stood in line for two hours outside the UPS office. There was the woman who, after she learned that we were Canadians, and also that we had a cab waiting, insisted that we should move to the front of the line. (Her position was not unanimously held.) And the other woman who, when she learned that UPS would not take cash or a credit card for the surprise “customs” duty, stepped up, appalled, to write a cheque for us (and was willing to accept our American $$$ cash in exchange). Also, I liked the folks who laughed at my jokes while we waited.

On the other hand, UPS maybe slipped a bit in my estimation. We got two packages to their office in Toronto by noon last Friday. Paid $240 up front for the sending, and understood that would cover the cost of delivery. The packages did not leave until the following Monday, but I am sure there is a good explanation for that. And they did arrive in New Jersey, and were brought to the correct address by late Friday (i.e. today).

Alas, UPS did not leave the packages there, because the youth who was home alone did not have the cash on hand to pay that surprise “whatever” duty. So they took the packages back to the UPS depot, which is closed all weekend, but where we could pick them up 830 to 930. Alas, sixty or seventy people got the same message. And there were two good-spirited but desperately over-worked people holding down the desk. So we got to know the New Jersey folks in line with us. Quite well. The New York cabbie was cool, too, especially when we promised a handsome tip.

My take-away? Yay, New Jersey! UPS, not so much.
Ken McGoogan
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Anglo-a-no-no: Enough, already!

From Canada's History magazine
By Ken McGoogan
 The “Anglos” made headlines again this autumn.
The Quebec election made it inevitable: how would the “Anglos” vote? Could the “Anglos” make a difference? As it turns out, the answer was a qualified yes: the separatist Parti Quebecois was held to a minority victory.
Meanwhile, I found myself wondering how contemporary English-speaking Quebecers feel about being called “Anglos.” Most of them have Irish or Scottish roots, and historically, the Irish and the Scots have often been at loggerheads with the English.
Full disclosure: I grew up north of Montreal in a French-speaking resort town. Every summer, when the population exploded, I became one of “les Anglais” — an “Anglo.” This troubled me. I was one-quarter French Canadian, for starters, and in winter, when I wasn’t at school, I hung out with French-speakers. Also, I had no English roots. How could I be an “Anglais?” It felt wrong.
But I knew little history. I could not disentangle linguistic and ethnic confusions. Only now do I begin to understand my discomfort, and to reflect that it might be widespread. Consider Quebec’s demographics. In 2011, only 3.3 per cent of the populace claimed English heritage, while 8.2 per cent — more than twice as many people — claimed Irish (5.5) or Scottish (2.7).
Nationally, the emphasis shifts, but the story remains the same: English origins, 21 per cent; Scottish, 15 per cent; Irish, 14 per cent. Maybe we should speak not of English Canada, but of Celtic Canada?
To lump together Canadians of English, Scottish, and Irish heritage, and say they are “British” in origin, is to forget that history transports emotional baggage.  Many Canadians of Scottish heritage, for example, retain collective memories of the Highland Clearances of the late 18th and early 19th centuries. . . . As the Clearances were to Scotland, so the Great Famine was to Ireland -- a watershed event that launched a diaspora. . . .
[To read the rest, pick up Canada's History magazine, Dec. 2012-Jan. 2013.]
Ken McGoogan
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Saturday Night at the Explorers Club in New York City

That is when the climactic event happens, Dec. 1: yours truly giving a talk called Return to Rae Strait.
It draws on my book Fatal Passage. I'll talk about explorer John Rae and visiting Rae Strait, where he built a cairn marking his discovery of the final link in the Northwest Passage. After my talk comes a screening of the docudrama Passage, which is based on my book.

OK, OK, lots else will be happening, too.
All the details can be found here:

But notably:
Additional films and video clips will be shown throughout the building on Saturday and
Sunday. Original paintings by Sheena Fraser McGoogan and Inuit artwork from Look North
Gallery will be on display, and DVDs and books will be available for sale.
Other highlights include:
Friday, November 30, 2012:
5:30p – 6:30p Reception
6:30p Inuit Welcome – Opening Ceremony by Aaju Peter
6:45p John Houston introduction and screening of “Diet of Souls“
Saturday, December 1, 2012 – Celebrating Antarctica Day:
9:00a-10:00a Registration and Continental breakfast
10:05a Stefan Kindberg – Introduction to Antarctica
Events happen all day . . .
5:30p – 6:30p Dinner break / Reception in library
6:30p Ken McGoogan – "Return to Rae Strait" and screening of John Walker’s
docudrama based on Fatal Passage . . . followed by Q&A

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012 – Arctic Films
10:30a Stefan Kindberg – Introduction to the Arctic
1:30p Feature film/documentary “Chasing Ice”
2:00p Aaju Peter – Introduction and screening of film/documentary “Tunniit: Retracing the Lines
of Inuit Tattoos,” followed by Q&A
3:45p Alan Nichols, Explorers Club President – Thank you address

Ken McGoogan
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Roald Amundsen: The Last Viking . . .

In the Globe and Mail of Nov. 17, our hero reviews the new biography of Roald Amundsen, called The Last Viking. Author: Stephen Bown. Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre . . .

By Ken McGooogan
In 1905, when he was preparing to sail out of Gjoa Haven in Canada’s High Arctic, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen buried a few artifacts beneath a cairn. Those artifacts, among them a photo of a scientist who had taught him how to locate the moving North Magnetic Pole, are now held at a museum in Yellowknife. And visitors to the Inuit settlement of Gjoa Haven, so named by Amundsen in honour of his ship, the Gjoa, can see the remains of the observatory sites from which Amundsen took magnetic readings.
The explorer spent two winters based in that harbour on King William Island while becoming the first explorer to navigate the Northwest Passage across the top of North America. He belongs crucially to the history of Canada’s Arctic exploration, and yet, as Stephen R. Bown remarks in The Last Viking, most books treat Amundsen almost exclusively in the 1911 context of the “race to the South Pole.”
That so-called race, which found Amundsen becoming the first to reach the Earth’s southernmost point, while British explorer Robert Falcon Scott died trying, makes for an admittedly gripping story. And Bown does it justice here. But he also demonstrates that, as a polar explorer, Amundsen achieved more in the north than he did in the south. He not only led the way through the Northwest Passage, but traversed the Northeast Passage along the Russian coast, and flew an airship over the North Pole.
Bown surmises that Amundsen is not better known in the English-speaking world because much written material was available until recently only in Norwegian. In The Last Viking, he fills in many empty spaces. Who knew, for example, that Amundsen enjoyed lingering love affairs with three married women? He was about to marry one of them, recently divorced, when in 1928, at the age of 55, he flew north to help rescue an Italian explorer, and was never seen again.
Amundsen emerges from these pages as an obsessive, lonely figure: idiosyncratic, principled, misunderstood. Bown admits that he could be arrogant and impatient, but usually turns up mitigating circumstances and makes a good case that the explorer deserved better treatment than he received.
The author shows that Amundsen succeeded in reaching the South Pole because of what he learned in the north. As a boy, he became enthralled with his fellow Norwegian Fridtjof Nansen, who made the first crossing of the Greenland icecap and then traversed the Arctic by exploiting the drift of the pack ice. From his native Norway, Amundsen also took up skiing, honing his abilities as a youth by undertaking ambitious (and dangerous) cross-country expeditions.
From the Inuit, with whom he shared many adventures while based at Gjoa Haven, Amundsen learned above all how to travel across ice using dogs and dogsleds. This expertise he brought to his South Pole expedition. Comparisons may be odious, but really: Scott could barely ski, brought ponies to the Antarctic instead of dogs (!), and was driven to man-hauling sledges, known to be killing work.
Bown notes that, thanks to some trick of the British psyche, Scott became a romantic figurehead, the embodiment of heroic but doomed struggle, “the man who snatched victory from the jaws of death.” Half a century before, the same magic convinced the world that John Franklin and his men, tragically lost in an impassible region of the Northwest Passage, had somehow “forged the last link with their lives.” Amundsen proved otherwise.
Bown never does explain how the Norwegian learned what route to follow through the labyrinthian passage, though the explorer himself credited John Rae with pointing the way: “He discovered Rae Strait, which separates King William Land from the mainland. In all probability through this strait is the only navigable route for the voyage. … This is the only passage which is free from destructive pack ice.”
Throughout, Bown writes from the lofty, distancing heights of the fair-minded historian, eschewing creative non-fiction. As a result, The Last Viking does not transcend its genre. Yet the work is sharp-eyed, thorough and convincing, and constitutes a significant addition to the Arctic canon.
Ken McGoogan has written four books on Arctic exploration. Dec. 1, his talk at the Explorers’ Club in NYC will be Return to Rae Strait.
Ken McGoogan
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Time for a Confederation of Canadian Writers?

What we need here in Canada is a Confederation of Canadian Writers.This is not my idea, but I like it. Merilyn Simonds, chair of the The Writers’ Union of Canada, has been marking TWUC’s 40th anniversary by meeting union members across the country. In Toronto the other night, she mentioned that Calgary authors have voiced the idea of “one big union” comprising writers’ groups. I’m calling it a Confederation.
Why do we need it? Because there are any number of issues that effect not just book writers, like those represented by TWUC, but freelance writers of all kinds. And in Ottawa, nobody is listening. They can’t hear us.
Writers used to be able to spread their taxable income over a period of years. That is long gone and should be brought back. In the House of Commons recently, a private member’s bill to make a certain amount of royalty income tax free -- something the province of Quebec already does -- went down in flames. Look at copyright legislation. Look at freelance rates. Nobody wants to pay the writer. On almost every issue, writers are getting killed.
Maybe if we spoke in one loud, clear voice, we could make things change.
Think about it. Every year, more than 17,000 writers receive cheques from the Public Lending Right Commission -- and those are just authors who have published books. How many writers produce other kinds of works: plays, filmscripts, travel articles, ebooks, make your own list.
Maybe it’s time for a Confederation? The Writers’ Union of Canada. The Canadian Authors’ Association. The Canadian Association of Journalists. The union des ecrivaines et ecrivains quebecois. Crime Writers of Canada. The League of Canadian Poets. The Playwrights’ Guild of Canada. The Professional Writers’ Association of Canada. The Writers’ Guild of Canada. This list is not exhaustive. Add your own names.
Think about it. The Federation of B.C. Writers. The Alberta Writers’ Guild. The Quebec Writers’ Federation. The Saskatchewan Writers’ Guild. The Writers’ Federation of Nova Scotia. The Manitoba Writers’ Guild. You get the idea. At a wild guess, the writers’ groups and organizations across this country must represent at least 40,000 or 50,000 writers. What if we could channel that concentrated energy through a single, articulate entity -- a Confederation.
Could we make a difference? If you think so, spread the word: Confederation.
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.