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The ROM launches a 3-year, cross-country, Franklin celebration

  Ryan Harris felt a first rush of “absolute jubilation” when the sonar image of a ship popped up onto his monitor. As a senior underwater archaeologist with Parks Canada, Harris had spent the past six field seasons searching for a Franklin ship. Now, at last, he was looking at one of them. Harris and his fellow divers soon determined that the ship was the Erebus. During a panel discussion earlier tonight on the Franklin expedition, an event that drew more than 600 people to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Harris said he was equally exhilarated when he got into the water and began investigating the find.
With winter closing in, Harris and his team had two days. They managed to do seven two-person dives of 60 to 70 minutes each. After that, because the water was just 2 or 3 degrees, “we began to get chilled and lose coordination.” Next year, when the team returns, they will probably use “hard hat air supply,” or a diving helmet with an air hose running to the surface. This will enable divers to stay down longer.
Louie Kamookak, a leading Inuit Franklin expert, put in an appearance via videotape from Gjoa Haven on King William Island in Nunavut. He was delighted with the find, especially because it vindicated Inuit oral history. He also admitted that, as a Franklin searcher, he has not focused mainly on the ships: “You can’t go and look down in the water and see a ship.” Rather, he has been looking for Franklin’s grave. “I believe he is buried on the island.”
Archaeologist Doug Stenton, director of heritage for the Nunavut government, mentioned the importance of the early expeditions led by Charles Francis Hall and Frederick Schwatka. And British naval historian Andrew Lambert stressed that Franklin was part of a long quest to understand the Earth’s magnetic field.
The event kicked off a three-year Franklin Outreach Project led by the ROM and Parks Canada, which will feature exhibitions and lectures across the country. A replica of the bell taken from the Erebus, created by Edward Burtynsky using 3-D printing technology, was unveiled, and will be displayed at the ROM until mid-March, 2015.

Ken McGoogan
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Yo, Roald Amundsen! Happy South Pole Day . . . .

Hats off to Roald Amundsen, the most accomplished polar explorer of them all. One hundred and three years ago today, on Dec. 14, 1911, he reached the geographical South Pole as leader of the first Antarctic expedition to do so. Fifteen years later, in 1926, he also became the first to reach the North Pole -- at least if you disbelieve the claims of Robert Peary and Frederick Cook. And, yes, in 1903-06, Amundsen became the first to navigate the Northwest Passage. In so doing, he sailed through Rae Strait, which the Scottish-Orcadian John Rae had discovered half a century before. Amundsen reached the South Pole 33 days before a competing expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott, thanks in part to what he had learned from the Inuit (especially about using dogs) while spending two winters at what is now Gjoa Haven. This photo, taken earlier this year by Sheena Fraser McGoogan, finds Our Hero out front of Amundsen's house, which is now a museum. Situated on the water some distance outside Oslo, it remains exactly as Amundsen left it in 1928, when he set out on a rescue mission from which he would never return. Tip of the day: do not try to reach Amundsen's house without a GPS.
Ken McGoogan
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John Rae tie prompts expression of remorse . . .and THANKS!

I have been remiss. I received this gorgeous tie -- which is embossed! -- a few days ago. And, though I posted on Facebook, I neglected to check in here to say . . . THANKS! I say this specifically to the John Rae Society, which is based in Stromness, Orkney, one of my favorite "thin places" in the world. The Society was formed in 2013 with two purposes:
  1. To advance the education of the public in the life and achievements of John Rae as the discoverer of the final navigable link of the Northwest Passage and one of the greatest arctic explorers.
  2. To advance the arts, heritage, culture and science by promoting the life and achievements of John Rae to foster friendship and understanding between members of the public, the people of Orkney, and those in Canada, particularly, but not exclusively, those areas associated with John Rae, through a broad range of activities.

You can find out more by clicking

(P.S. According to the early Celts, "thin places" are "those rare locales where the distance between heaven and Earth collapses.")

Ken McGoogan
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Man in tartan vest invites nonfiction writers to cyber-gathering

Faithful followers of this blog will know that I am reluctant to publish anything that even hints of self-promotion. But with the above quarter-page ad (!) surfacing in today's Globe & Mail, in a good-looking section celebrating the best books of the year, I feel driven to make an exception.  As you can see, thanks to the University of Toronto, starting in January, I will offer a course called The Art of Fact: An Introduction to Writing Nonfiction. It's online, so you can work it into your schedule any time, and get active from any where. The course is all about craft, and telling true stories with panache. You can check it out by clicking here.
At the other end of that link, you will find a brief overview suggesting that the hallmarks of Creative or Narrative Nonfiction are truth and personal presence. The genre includes subjective and objective streams, and encompasses memoir and autobiography. It also takes in biography, history, adventure, travel, true crime, you name it. The writer of nonfiction employs memory, but also imagination, analysis, and research, and adapts literary techniques from fiction, journalism, and the essay. Hope to see you in cyberspace!

Ken McGoogan
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Canadian Geographic celebrates the discovery of Franklin's Erebus

The December issue of Canadian Geographic is billed as a "special collector's edition," and rightly so. It is built around the recent discovery of Erebus, the long-lost ship of Sir John Franklin, pictured above on the right. Contributors include John Geiger, Wade Davis, Leona Aglukkaq, Fergus Fleming, Noah Richler, Russell Potter and yours truly. Put it this way: the magazine contains at least a book's worth of reading. To whet your appetite, here is how my own contribution begins . . . 

By Ken McGoogan
The discovery of one of Sir John Franklin’s lost ships reminds us that Canadian history does not exist in a vacuum. It demonstrates that the demise of the 1845 Franklin expedition was far more complex and protracted than we knew. And it vindicates not just the Inuit but also, and equally, the Arctic explorers who charted our northern archipelago while searching for the Royal Navy ships. For Canadians, most of whom live along the American border, the discovery means we have to rewrite a foundational myth that underscores our national identity as a northern people.
Obviously, the story of Franklin and the search he inspired belongs to British history. But that narrative belongs equally to Canadian history, albeit with a different emphasis, if only because so much of it happened in what would later become Canadian territory. Even those chapters that arose elsewhere, because they affected what occurred here, belong to our history
The discovery of the ship demonstrates that the so-called “standard reconstruction” of what happened to the lost expedition has to be radically rewritten. British historians created the original story around the “Victory Point Record,” the only written document ever recovered from the expedition. . . . .
To read the rest, and much else besides, you will have to dash out and buy a copy.  I do mean dash. These puppies will not last long. 
Ken McGoogan
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Is Mount Royal University ready for this?

This may or may not be a photo of Mount Royal University. Guaranteed: it IS a photo taken within a couple of hundred kilometres of that august institution. The rationale? Our Hero will get out into these hilly environs next March, after spending a week at MRU as writer-in-residence. He just signed a contract, undertaking to give at least one public presentation during that sojourn. More details will surface in the new year. So people have time to gird their loins. But here's why now: we're sitting at 99,876 page views. No big deal in the scheme of things, I know. But it's a minor milestone. And if you've read this far, you've already done your bit to get us to 100,000. So thanks for that. Hope to see you next March. 
Next morning: you did it! Thanks for showing up!

Ken McGoogan
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John Rae sweeps Our Hero into the Polish Times

You can read the whole story of John Rae at Westminster Abbey by clicking here -- but only if you read Polish. Me, I can read, in the highlight paragraph, not just my own name but the book title Fatal Passage. I find this noteworthy because we have two grandchildren, ages five and two, who speak excellent Polish (for their ages). Or so I am told. Here you go . . .
We wtorek w Kaplicy św. Jana Ewangelisty w opactwie westminsterskim odsłonięty zostanie kamień upamiętniający Rae. Jako symbol pojednania kamień umieszczono pod wielkim popiersiem Franklina. W uroczystości wezmą udział zarówno potomkowie Rae, jak i Franklina, a także Ken McGoogan, autor książki "Fatal Passage", która przyczyniła się do przywrócenia szkockiemu odkrywcy należnej mu chwały. Wielebny John Hall, opat Westminster, przyznał, że ma nadzieję, że kamień zakończy dysputę. - Cieszymy się na to pojednanie - powiedział. Dodał, że spodziewa się "ożywionych debat" na temat tego, który z podróżników jako pierwszy przepłynął Przejście Północno-Zachodnie. W tej dyskusji opactwo nie opowie się po żadnej ze stron.
Ken McGoogan
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Orcadian poet commemorates John Rae's arrival at Westminster

After the dedication ceremony at Westminster Abbey, back at the Scottish office in Dover House,  Orcadian poet Harvey Johnston read a wonderful, Burnsian poem entitled Rae in the Abbey. He graciously agreed to let me publish part of it. The final four stanzas run as follows. I have no photo of Johnston, but the above image of Our Hero captures the spirit of the thing:

Cheust like the Cree and Inuit
He’d grown tae understand
Ye work wi’ watter, wind and wave
Tae live aff sea and land.

Wi’ snowshoes, long strides and a gun
Up North wi’ dog and sledge
He learned the fate o’ Franklin
Bae the cruel Arctic’s edge.

And on he strode tae find the strait
Weel named on maps ye view
The final strait Amundsen sailed
The North West Passage through.

Wan hunder noo, and sixty years
Hiv passed by since that day
High time indeed, that in This Place
We mark the name of Rae.

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.