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Our Northwest Passage voyage reaches for the Beaufort Sea

[Here endeth this series about our 2016 Adventure Canada voyage. Next September, we sail Out of the Northwest Passage, bent on finding the Hand of Franklin (or at least visiting the location of the Erebus).]

DAY SIXTEEN . . . Cambridge Bay

We saw the wreck of the Maud, recently brought to the surface after 80 years underwater in Cambridge Bay. We zoomed over for a close look as we headed from ship to shore. A Norwegian recovery team brought the old ship to the surface not long before we arrived. With winter closing in, they would have to wait until next year to float the vessel to Norway, where they will restore it and display it.
Explorer Roald Amundsen had the shallow-draft Maud built in 1916, with a view to drifting over the North Pole. He brought it to the Beaufort Sea from the west, but in 1925, with creditors knocking at his door, sold it to the Hudson’s Bay Company. The HBC renamed it the Baymaud and used it as a supply ship until 1930, when it sank in Cambridge Bay.
Once ashore on this crisp Saturday morning, voyagers rambled the town until around 10 a.m. Most people checked out the Visitors’ Centre, or the Northern Store or Co-op, before heading to the Community Centre for some best-ever bannock and coffee. Then came an excellent presentation that included a fashion show, some fiddle music, and an Inuit sports demonstration that included our own Johnny Issaluk. Somehow, we managed to keep to a tight schedule, and by 1 p.m., the Ocean Endeavour was bound for Kugluktuk.
The highlight of the afternoon was a wide-ranging, 90-minute panel discussion presented by the six outstanding Inuit on board. They touched on everything from the need for increased infrastructure (for example, landing docks like the ones that exist in Greenland) to suicide prevention to cruise-ship tourism, which panel members stressed is most welcome, as long as it is carefully managed. 
DAY SEVENTEEN -- Kugluktuk

The seas were choppy, but everyone arrived safely at the wooden dock in Kugluktuk. Two buses carried us to Heathrow North, aka the Kugluktuk airport, where we boarded two planes and started for home. Just before we left, two flights arrived in Kugluktuk carrying passengers set to voyage Out of the Northwest Passage. We welcomed them to Heathrow with a rousing rendition of Stan Rogers’ classic tune, Northwest Passage. And then we went on our way.

Ken McGoogan
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Gjoa Haven highlights this Adventure Canada voyage

DAY FIFTEEN -- Gjoa Haven

The people of Gjoa Haven welcomed our on-board Inuit singers as if they were rock stars. Come to think of it, they ARE rock starts. Susan Aglukark has an international reputation and following, so the screaming was no surprise. But young Kelly Fraser was also accorded a tumultuous reception. This happened in the gymnasium at the high school, and it was wonderful to see. Joyous and moving. Some staffers, not mentioning any names, and certainly not confessing, found themselves wiping away tears.
Before the show, about half the voyagers trekked out to the hilltop memorial dedicated to Roald Amundsen, who spent two winters here while becoming the first explorer to navigate the Northwest Passage from one end to the other. Those years: 1903-06. 
Amundsen stayed in Gjoa because he was taking readings to locate the North Magnetic Pole, and mounds on the hill overlooking the town indicate where he built observation stations.
Passengers appreciated displays of traditional Inuit ways. Several bought carvings, and Mari-Hill Harpur was thrilled to purchase a stone bear after talking with the artist and his family. For some, seeing old friends was a major highlight of the visit, and in my case, getting to share a few laughs with Louie Kamookak, Inuk historian and fellow traveller, proved memorable. I keep insisting that he's an elder now, but he denies it. Says he's not old enough. Capturing all this on camera: Sheena Fraser McGoogan.

Ken McGoogan
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Beechey Island graves testify to the demise of the Franklin expedition

[Beechey Island is the most visited historical site in the Arctic -- and with good reason. Last September, we got snow. In 2017, when we sail Out of the Northwest Passage, we will call in there once more.]

DAY TEN-- Beechey Island
 Sixty or seventy beluga whales stole the show at Beechey Island. We floated among them in zodiacs as they fed amidst the small icebergs beneath the island’s stupendous cliff face. This was the grand finale of the visit. We had landed near the graves and found the island blanketed in a couple of inches of light snow. We climbed the slope on Beechey to a series of four headstones, three of which mark the graves of sailors from the Franklin expedition.
They died here in 1846, and after burying them with due ceremony, Franklin and 125 men sailed south down Peel Strait to meet their own fate. The fourth headstone marks the grave of a sailor buried here in 1854, a man from Robert McClure’s ship, the Investigator.  He had been rescued from that vessel, which lay trapped in Mercy Bay on Banks Island, but was already so sick that he did not survive.
After viewing the graves, first discovered in 1850, passengers hiked slightly more than one kilometer along the shore to check out Northumberland House. Searchers built it in 1852-53 from the wreckage of an old whaling vessel. Several memorials and markers here are tangential. But we saw the Franklin cenotaph, which stands over a marble slab sent here by Lady Franklin to honour Joseph-Rene Bellot.
In 1853, Bellot had volunteered to lead a small party north from Beechey Island to where British Captain Edward Belcher was wintering. As Bellot proceeded, the ice edge broke off and left him stranded, floating, with two men on an ice floe. Undaunted, he built a snowhouse in which to shelter. Early in the morning, he stepped outside alone . . . and was never seen again. He had slipped and disappeared into the frigid waters. Later that day, the floe drifted to shore and Bellot’s traumatized companions jumped off to safety.
In front of the slab at Beechey, rusted tin cans from the Franklin expedition form a cross on the ground. At the rear of the cenotaph, we saw a wooden two-by-four etched with lettering: J.E. Bernier / 1906. Canadian Joseph Bernier visited here during his multi-year expedition to assert Canadian sovereignty over the entire Arctic archipelago.
Then came the belugas! We had climbed into zodiacs anticipating a short cruise among icebergs scattered along the cliff face. Suddenly, there they were, cavorting all around us. Veteran voyager David Freeze was driven to declare that he had never seen anything like it.

 DAY TWELVE -- Fort Ross

Early in the morning, having sailed eastward through Bellot Strait, the Ocean Endeavour reached Prince Regent Inlet. Starting at nine in the morning, we went ashore in zodiacs to visit Fort Ross. The site, so named by the Hudson’s Bay Company, comprises two weather-beaten wooden buildings. Erected in 1937, this was the HBC’s last-built fur-trade post. It proved so hard to reach that the Company shut it down in 1948, after two HBC men received no communications or supplies for three years.
Both HBC buildings have seen better days, but one of them, originally a storehouse, has been maintained. Inside we found the old familiar stove, table, chairs, and bunk beds. Inuit hunters from Taloyoak frequently shelter here. The second building, originally the manager’s house, is about thirty metres north. Polar bears have repeatedly ransacked the place, leaving broken windows, peeling wallpaper, wrecked armchairs, and scratches on the ceiling.
The HBC named this site in honour of John and James Clark Ross. Starting in 1829, they spent four winters trapped by the ice of Prince Regent Inlet. The two Rosses and their men hauled whaleboats past this location from the southern reaches of the Inlet. In August 1833, they managed to sail the boats out into Lancaster Sound and flag down a passing whaler. During the second winter, in 1831, James Clark Ross had sledged overland and marked the site of the Magnetic North Pole on the west coast of Boothia Peninsula.
Besides the two buildings, Fort Ross boasts several sites of interest. The first, to the southwest of the storehouse, is a series of stone-covered graves which contain the remains of several Inuit who worked with the HBC. The second is a sturdy memorial slab erected in 1979 by the descendants of Francis Leopold McClintock. A third feature of the site is McClintock’s Cairn, which stands at the highest point on a rocky ridge behind Fort Ross.
In the winter of 1858-’59, anyone standing beside that cairn would have been able to see the Fox, locked in the ice and battened down for the winter; and also a magnetic observatory roughly 200 metres from the ship, “built of ice sawed into blocks,” McClintock wrote, “there not being any suitable snow.” From here, travelling by dogsled, McClintock visited the west coast of King William Island, as specified by John Rae, and found the Victory Point Record left by the Franklin expedition.

The Ocean Endeavour sailed west from Fort Ross through Bellot Strait. At around 3:40 p.m. we passed Zenith Point on Boothia Peninsula, the northernmost point on the North American mainland. Most voyagers were up on deck as we travelled through the strait, which is 23 miles long, just over 2400 feet wide, and 35 metres deep in the middle. A mad sextet marked the occasion by building a human cairn. Maybe you had to be there.
Ken McGoogan
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Voyaging through history in the Northwest Passage

Looking back at our 2016 voyage Into the Northwest Passage, I find myself driven to juggling dates. Why? Well, because I love this image (left) of Dundas Harbour, which Sheena shot on Day Nine, and I think it deserves pride of place!

DAY NINE -- Dundas Harbour
Under grey skies, we landed zodiacs on the rocky beach in Dundas Harbour at ten in the morning. A scattering of people headed off to a Thule archaeological site, but most made for the historical RCMP post, long since abandoned. It faces southwest over Bernier Bay, so-called in commemoration of a 1906 stopover by Joseph Bernier, who planted Canadian flags throughout the Arctic.
At the RCMP site, several buildings remain standing: a detachment building (two-person living quarters), a separate house for Inuit hunters, two latrines, a couple of storehouses, and a dog corral. The main residence, which is marked by considerable graffiti, contains a few bottles and several books, the strangest of which is probably Dog Crusoe and His Master by Robert Michael Ballantyne.
The RCMP erected these buildings in 1923 to establish Canadian sovereignty over the north. On a hill overlooking the site stands a white-fenced cemetery containing two old graves marked by new gravestones. Buried here were constables Victor Maisonneuve (1899-1926) and William Robert Stephens (1902-1927). The first committed suicide, the second died while hunting.

The HBC rented the outpost briefly in the 1930s, and the RCMP maintained it until 1951, when it moved to the less isolated Craig Harbour. The Canadian Coast Guard maintains the cemetery. In 1944, during the return voyage of the St. Roch through the Northwest Passage, Henry Larsen called in here.
Afternoon took us into Croker Bay, where more than sixty voyagers piled into seven zodiacs to take a close look at Croker Glacier. A late afternoon fog lent an other-worldly air to the outing. And then came the polar plunge, when the bravest (craziest?) among us tested themselves by leaping or diving into the balmy, iceberg-cooled waters of Croker Bay.

The magic moment came when fifteen muskoxen, readily visible from Brother John Glacier, got spooked and ran hard across the cliff face. Forty or fifty of us were hiking along near the glacier front when this happened, and we all stood marvelling at the sight. We didn’t know what had scared them, but we were glad they ran in the direction they did, and not down the hill towards us. We resumed our trek along the glacier front, and a couple of staffers hurried ahead to check the final stream, to see if we could cross. They found a small river, recognized that crossing was impossible, and launched us on our return journey, back the way we had come.
The day had begun with a 5:30 wake-up call. Soon after 6:30, we were into the zodiacs and roaring down the spectacular Foulke Fjord that leads to Etah. In the mid-1850s, when Elisha Kent Kane got trapped in his wooden ship forty or fifty miles farther north, the Inuit who lived here became his allies. They helped him and his men survive two winters of dark, cold, scurvy, and amputations. (You can read all about it in Race to the Polar Sea.)
Today, Etah is essentially a hunting camp. We had enjoyed a 40-minute zodiac ride down the 12-kilometre-long fjord, admiring the cliffs and the wildlife – muskox, arctic hare, and gyre falcons. Later, returning to the ship, many trekkers also spotted a few seals. Here at Etah, we reached our “farthest north” for this voyage: 78 degrees, 22 minutes north. We were 27 miles from Canada, directly across from Cape Isabella on Ellesmere Island.

DAY EIGHT – Grise Fjord
A wave of laughter rolled through the afternoon audience when, halfway through the docudrama Passage, Inuit statesman Tagak Curley showed some impatience when teaching an actor playing explorer John Rae how to build an igloo. The film, based on my book Fatal Passage, marked a move to Plan B.
We had intended to visit to Grise Fjord on Ellesmere Island, Canada’s northernmost civilian settlement. In the 1950s, the Canadian government relocated three Inuit families here as an assertion of sovereignty over these environs, and today, about 165 people, mostly descendants of those displaced from northern Quebec, continue to reside here.
Stormy weather prevented our landing, and one adventurous staffer, musician Kevin Closs, took a dunking near shore after helping to deliver some gifts to the community. We did manage to clear Canadian customs by bringing aboard two officials, and then, after lunch, shifted to the film in which Rae emerges as a singular champion of the Inuit and Charles Dickens stands revealed as . . . . something else.
Towards the end of the film, our fellow voyager Tagak Curley manages to elicit an apology from a great-great-grandson of Dickens for the great author’s racist accusations. Earlier in the day, Curley had given a talk on the evolution of Nunavut, which encompasses 140,000 square miles of land. He traced the complex political negotiations that settled the Inuit land claims agreement and then the boundaries of the new territory.
That territory includes Grise Fjord, which was named by explorer Otto Sverdrup. At 76 degrees 24 minutes north, the village is 1544 kilometres from the North Pole. The original settlement, known as the Old Village, was located nine kilometres away, on an exposed point that can be reached only by water.The town moved when the RCMP arrived in the 1960s. Susan Aglukark had written a special song focusing on the relocation. Before resuming the voyage, Adventure Canada paid the community the agreed sum for the presentation the people had prepared, and also set out a collection box for donations from passengers.
Ken McGoogan
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Quick hits from voyaging in the Northwest Passage

A couple more quick hits (excerpts) from our 2016 Adventure Canada voyage Into the Northwest Passage . . .

 DAY FOUR – Karrat Fjord

At around 12:30, with the sun shining bright, the Ocean Endeavour entered one of the most spectacular fjords in Greenland. Karrat Fjord is almost 100 km long. We sailed up it to within 1.5 miles of Karrat Island, where we anchored among a field of icebergs. They came from an ice river called Rink’s Icebrae, which calves icebergs into the water from the Greenland Ice Cap, emitting the occasional cracking sound.
To land, voyagers split into three groups: long hikers, medium walkers, and beachcombers. About thirty people, led by the tireless Laura Baer, reached the top of a high ridge. The rest of us enjoyed the spectacular view along the edge of the plateau, and visited archaeological sites that included a Thule encampment and a 20th-century cemetery. This last comprised forty or fifty graves and a scattering of worn wooden crosses that lay on the ground. The only completely legible name was that of Hans Thomasen, though another cross bore the name Anna, and also a date: 1944.
Probably, the Greenlandic people of the nearby settlement used this place to bury their dead. That settlement, called Nugatsiaq, is west of the island at the foot of the mountain on the far shore of the fjord. Several staffers recalled seeing that settlement on a previous visit, though today, because of the icebergs, it became visible only to those on the high ridge. More than one visitor remarked on the silence and peacefulness of the island.  And for most voyagers, the return to the ship by zodiac involved a special treat as we wended among icebergs that sparkled in the sun.

DAY SIX – Kap York

Passenger Lorne Pendleton, noting that we could not see the Robert Peary obelisk because of the fog, suggested that the 28-metre memorial was cloaked in “a shroud of shame.” We were riding back to the ship in a zodiac after doing the alleged “medium walk” around a small lake.
Pendleton was alluding to a couple of facts that had been revealed yesterday at recap. In 1897, Peary had arrived here in a steamship. He hired all the able-bodied Inuit in the vicinity, and then made off with several massive chunks of a 10,000-year-old meteorite, which he sold to the Museum of Natural History in New York.
Peary also brought six Inuit to that metropolis. Four of them soon died. One (a young man) was shipped home, and an eight-year-old boy named Minik stayed behind, fooled into thinking that his father’s body had been buried with respect. In truth, scientists had defleshed that body and put the skeleton on display.
Later, Peary claimed he had reached the North Pole when he had not. None of this prevented the explorer’s family from memorializing him at Cap York with this giant needle, which is topped with a massive “P.”  (Pix by Sheena Fraser McGoogan)

Ken McGoogan
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To recall sailing the Northwest Passage is to dream of doing it again

[Last year, with Adventure Canada, Sheena and I sailed Into the Northwest Passage. Next year, in September 2017, we will reverse our route and sail Out of the Northwest Passage. Some of our stops will be different, but others we simply cannot miss -- among them Ilulissat, where a river of ice produces the largest icebergs in the northern hemisphere. To remember is to anticipate.]

DAY 3 — SUNDAY, AUGUST 28, 2016

Whales! Voyagers saw humpback whales during a spectacular, two-hour Zodiac
ride among the icebergs of the Ilulissat Icefjord. The cavorting sea mammals
provided the highlight of the day for most voyagers, though several were
mightily impressed when they saw an iceberg calve off from the front of the
For some, the day’s highlight came earlier, after a short Zodiac ride and a long
hike through the town of Ilulissat. Walkers proceeded then along the boardwalk
to a hilltop vantage point that looks out over the ice-choked fjord. The ice-river,
which flows form the Greenland Ice Cap, is believed to have spawned the
iceberg that sank the Titanic. It flows at a remarkable twenty to thirty-five
metres per day, and calves off eighteen to twenty million tons of ice daily—or
over twenty billion tons each year.
The Ocean Endeavour had arrived at Ilulissat in a worrisome fog. But as passengers disembarked and started through town, the fog lifted and the day
turned sunny and bright. Ilulissat itself, with a population of 4,000, is the most
visitor-oriented centre in Greenland. But two other passenger ships were in the
harbour, and taxis to and from the start of the boardwalk were few and far between. Also, because today was Sunday, several of the shops opened later
than they might have—though several passengers managed to return to the ship carrying bags.
A number of people found time to visit the museum, which is devoted to explorer and ethnologist Knud Rasmussen. With his fifth Thule Expedition, he showed that the Inuit , scattered now from Greenland to western Canada and beyond, even into Siberia, constitute a single people.
Later, after dinner, Susan Aglukark picked up this theme with a stellar
presentation mixing song and story. She talked of how her parents’ generation bore “the brunt of the burden of change.” They were the last born into
traditional Inuit ways, she said, noting the psychological effects of rapid change,
and of no longer growing up deeply embedded in an extended family.

Ken McGoogan
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Journalistic debacle embroils legendary jockey Sandy Hawley . . . .

So the quest began when I chanced upon a photo of the legendary
jockey Sandy Hawley and me. I remembered the image (right) as having appeared in the Toronto Star when I was working at that newspaper. But it came with a date -- June 26, 1973 -- that to me seemed wrong. I said as much in a Facebook posting, and thought no more about it. But a musician friend, Kevin Closs -- who hails originally from Manitoulin Island, and has produced a number of superb albums -- fell to wondering. He popped a couple of terms into a search engine and bingo! turned up a yarn (left) that had appeared, complete with photo, in the Globe and Mail . . . dated May 23, 1974. Now that, I reflected, that rings more true. As to how the other date got entered, well, for that I had no answer. But I worried: what would Sandy Hawley think? One possible way to avoid such disasters in future soon suggested itself, when an apparently unrelated posting turned up on the wall of another FB-friend. That was when, thanks to my long long long experience, I recognized that this whole journalistic debacle -- publishing a wrong date! -- could have been avoided with a childhood Christmas gift that someone never received. See below. It comprises a lockable journal, two bottles of Glitter Glue, ten confetti flowers, and much else. Think about it, people.

Ken McGoogan
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The Art of Fact means Creative Nonfiction course is only a click away

Word is that Our Hero is offering an online course in Creative Nonfiction through University of Toronto. It's called The Art of Fact: An Introduction to Writing Non-Fiction, and it kicks off January 30, 2017. To see if it's right for you, read on below. To register, click here.

About the course:
This online workshop aims to enhance your ability to tell true stories by using techniques from both fiction and journalism. Taught by renowned author Ken McGoogan, it focuses on learning tricks of the trade that can be variously applied rather than on developing a particular work-in-progress. Narrative non-fiction draws on memory, imagination, research and analysis, and encompasses memoir, autobiography, biography, history, adventure, travel and true crime.
What you’ll learn:
· Understand the genre of creative or narrative non-fiction.
· Identify and develop storytelling techniques to use in your work.
· Emerge with a few short pieces of creative non-fiction.

About the instructor:
Ken McGoogan is the author of more than a dozen books, among them four bestsellers about Arctic exploration: Fatal Passage, Ancient Mariner, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and Race to the Polar Sea (all HarperCollins Canada). He has won the Pierre Berton Award for History, the Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize, the Canadian Authors’ Association History Award, the UBC Medal for Canadian Biography, and an American Christopher Award for “a work of artistic excellence that affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” His recent books include Celtic Lightning, 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, and How the Scots Invented Canada, and he has also published three novels.
Before turning mainly to books, Ken worked as a journalist for two decades (Toronto Star, Montreal Star, Calgary Herald). He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Ryerson and an MFA in creative writing from University of British Columbia. Ken has served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, and is a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Explorers’ Club. He has taught writing for more than fifteen years, and won an award for teaching excellence from the University of Toronto (School of Continuing Studies). He also teaches in the MFA program at University of King’sCollege in Halifax. Ken sails in the Northwest Passage as a resource historian with Adventure Canada. In 2017, he will publish Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of Arctic Discovery. More at

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.