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Explorer John Rae lives! Still going strong at age 202. . .

In Stromness, Orkney, the John Rae Society will unveil a plaque this afternoon (Sept. 30) at the Hall of Clestrain on the occasion of Rae's 202nd birthday. Born in 1813, yes! the explorer lives on. Awarded by Historic Scotland, the National Commemorative Plaque recognizes Rae for having solved the two great mysteries of 19th-century Arctic exploration.  He discovered both the fate of the Franklin expedition and the long-sought final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage. The nay-sayers are with us still, of course. But I told the story in Fatal Passage (2001), and that work has confounded its critics and Rae's detractors. In the photo above, we find antiquarian Cameron Treleaven, Inuk historian Louie Kamookak, and Our Hero in 1999, placing a plaque beside the cairn that Rae built in 1854 to mark his discovery of Rae Strait. To the right, we see the Hall of Clestrain (Rae's birthplace) as it appeared in 1998, when I saw it first.  Some basic preservation has been done, but the Society is striving to raise funds to restore the Hall to its original splendor:  Meanwhile, if you happen to be in London on Sunday Oct. 4, an evening service will be dedicated to Rae at Westminster Abbey, starting at 6:30 p.m. John Rae lives!

Ken McGoogan
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Well, hello Vancouver! Wonderful to surface where I did my MFA. . .

Author Q&A: Ken McGoogan credits influence of Scotland, Ireland for what makes Canada

Author Q&A: Ken McGoogan credits influence of Scotland, Ireland for what makes Canada

In his new book Celtic Lightning, Ken McGoogan looks at the influence of Scottish and Irish immigrants on the new Canadian nation. McGoogan has written a dozen books, including 50 Canadians Who Changed the World and How the Scots Invented Canada.

Q Why did you write Celtic Lightning?
A I wrote this book to rectify an omission. I have always been intrigued by that perpetual Canadian question: Who do we think we are? Some have suggested that surviving against the wilderness created our national character. Others have argued that the French-English divide is our defining characteristic. We have heard that we are a Metis nation, and even that the idea of a national narrative is obsolete. What is missing from this discussion? The influence of cultural genealogy. We have failed to track our formative history across the Atlantic. More specifically, we have neglected the influence of the Scots and the Irish, who arrived early enough and in sufficient numbers to shape our Canadian nation.
Q In making your case, you tell the stories of numerous individuals. What led you to this storytelling approach?
A Back in the day, when I was taking my MFA in creative writing at UBC, and writing a novel as my thesis, I believed that fiction and non-fiction were radically different genres. In the 1990s, when I began publishing books, I kept the two separate, producing one non-fiction book and three novels. Meanwhile, I earned my daily bread as a literary journalist. With Fatal Passage (2001), I applied the craft I had learned from reviewing and writing fiction to a non-fiction narrative. Bingo! The book won a number of awards and inspired a docudrama. It registered in the real world, and continues to sell especially well in Canada and the U.K. Through my next five books, I built on what I had learned from writing that book. Today, I find myself specializing in narrative non-fiction.
While writing How the Scots Invented Canada (2010), and investigating my own ancestry (Scottish, Irish, French), I realized that an ocean is an artificial barrier. Thanks to digital technology, we readily cross any body of water and go back five generations, seven generations, nine. We trace our personal stories to people who lived centuries ago. Why don’t we do the same with our collective history? Instead of accepting the limitations of geography and sociology, why not follow the example of genealogy?
I found support for this in the work of Richard Dawkins. He argues that memes, or ideas and values, are transmitted from one person to another through time and across space. More than nine million Canadians claim Scottish or Irish heritage. In British Columbia, the numbers are typical: more than 20 per cent claim Scottish ancestry, and 15 per cent Irish. Did the ancestors of more than one-quarter of our population arrive without cultural baggage? No shared attitudes and beliefs, no common vision? Impossible. They gleaned their values from their leaders and heroes. And they brought them across the Atlantic to Canada.
Q What are the values that have shaped this country?
A In Celtic Lightning, I identify five foundational values: independence, democracy, pluralism, audacity and perseverance. I show how they flourish in this country, and trace their evolution in Scotland and Ireland through separate parades of heroes and heroines: Robert the Bruce and Theobald Wolfe Tone, Daniel O’Connell and Robert Burns, Walter Scott and Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and James Boswell, Flora MacDonald and Grace O’Malley, the Pirate Queen. I argue that these figures rightly belong to Canadian history, and that the two parades come together in Canada.
Q How do these foundational values make Canada different from, say, the United States?
A Canada is more similar to the United States than to any other country, and that is partly because Irish and Scottish immigrants played a crucial role in shaping both. Other demographic factors account for many of the differences. English puritans had a much greater presence in the early U.S., and in that country today, we see far more Christian fundamentalism. The largest linguistic minority in the U.S. is Hispanic (17 per cent); in Canada, it is French Canadian (22 per cent). More differences. Also, slavery never took hold in Canada the way it did in the U.S.
But I am ranging outside the book. In Celtic Lightning, we encounter James Douglas, a.k.a. the Father of British Columbia, who embodied a distinctly Canadian ideal of pluralism: half-Scottish, half-West Indian, he married an aboriginal woman and battled American expansionism. And we meet that Irish-born visionary Thomas D’Arcy McGee, one of the most underrated Canadians of all time. After living in the U.S., he realized that Canada tolerated religious difference in a way that the larger country never would. He denounced the American doctrine of manifest destiny, and envisaged a separate Canadian province governed by aboriginal people. If McGee had lived, the story of Louis Riel would have played out differently. But he was assassinated by Fenians — Irish Republican Americans incapable of appreciating his greatness.

Ken McGoogan
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Our Hero is just some Joseph looking for love on Global TV

Our Hero looks a tad wary. Probably not a bad thing, given that, with the help of The Morning Show on Global TV, he was launching an air campaign. That's how I have come to think of it, the media blitz that ensues -- if you are lucky -- with the publication of a new book. The author is just some Joseph looking for a wee bit of shock and awe. The professionals at Global put together this wonderful four-minute video.  Maybe it's not shocking or awe-inspiring, but surely it marks the beginning of something? Strictly speaking, and as I may have mentioned elsewhere, Celtic Life International and Canadian Geographic fired the first salvos. But this TV appearance . . . gotta love it.  As for the ground campaign, that's when you hit the bookstores, Sharpie in hand. It's all part of the war against indifference to your book. Are we ready to grind it out? You betcha!

Ken McGoogan
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What do Celtic Life and Canadian Geographic have in common?

The answer to that question, judging from the October issues of both magazines, would appear to be timeliness and excellent editorial taste. In Celtic Life, we discover a one-page Q&A in which Our Hero talks about his latest book: "Unearthing my own roots inspired me to conceive of what I call “cultural genealogy.” Canadian intellectuals hunker down with geographers and sociologists. That’s a mistake. We assume geography’s limitations and cease investigating our collective past at the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, like genealogists, we should keep sleuthing. This nation’s history crosses the Atlantic. And, given that nine million Canadians trace their roots to Scotland and Ireland, it does so more often to those two countries than to anywhere else." In Canadian Geographic, we find this same chap talking once more about "cultural
genealogy, the idea that values and ideas can be transmitted from one generation and place to another. The figures in the book helped shape Scotland and Ireland, and their people, who brought their attitudes and beliefs to this country. Collectively, that history is part of Canadian history that we have long overlooked."
Ken McGoogan
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Celtic Lightning strikes Ben McNally Books, sparks Oct. 1 book launch

Yup, that's Our Hero in his kilt. He's getting ready for Oct. 1 . . . Celtic Lightning . . . the Toronto launch at Ben McNally Books. The Canadian National Trust for Scotland Foundation is rounding up a piper. HarperCollins Canada / Patrick Crean Editions is laying on refreshments. Multitudes are vowing to turn out, starting at 6 pm. Ben McNally's is the best bookstore in Toronto. It's at 366 Bay Street, M5H 4BH, on the west side between Adelaide and Richmond. Are you invited to attend? Put it this way: will you be in T.O. that evening? Please: come on down!
Tel. 416-361-0032  / // Oh, and so your hosts can be ready, maybe RSVP to

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.