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Hunter-historian Kamookak joins voyage to Franklin's first-found ship

Can't wait to travel again with Louie Kamookak! He's the Inuk historian who pointed the way to Erebus, the first-found ship of John Franklin. Louie will revisit that site in September while sailing Out of the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada. You can find out more about this looming adventure by going here. I'm excited because I remember an August afternoon in 1999, when Louie sailed his twenty-foot motorboat south along the west coast of Boothia Peninsula. He had two southerners with him, two Qallunaat -- myself and an Arctic antiquarian named Cameron Treleaven.
Two evenings before, from Gjoa Haven on King William Island, with a stiff north wind creating white caps and billowing spray, we had thumped our way fourteen miles across Rae Strait. We had come to the west coast of Boothia to honour fur-trade explorer John Rae and the only two men who could keep up with him -- Inuk William Ouligbuck and Ojibway Thomas Mistegan. With us we had brought a plaque of weather-resistant, anodized aluminum that we had screwed to a slab of Honduran mahogany.
The plaque relates how in 1854, after hauling sledges through gale-force winds, blowing snow and bitter cold, Rae and his two best men built a cairn to mark his discovery of what would prove to be the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage.
Having camped out on Boothia, located the ruins of that cairn (see photo), and erected the plaque beside it, we were returning to Gjoa Haven. Louie said that, before recrossing Rae Strait, he wanted to investigate a spot he knew, where sometimes he found good hunting. We entered a small bay, hauled the boat up onto a beach, and climbed a sandy ridge to scan the horizon. Nothing. But then Louie pointed and whispered: “Caribou!”
A big-horned animal, almost invisible against brown earth and scree, stood in profile more than one hundred metres away. Louie fell to one knee, put his gun to his shoulder, and fired. Nothing happened. I felt bad that he had missed. But then, after what seemed minutes, the caribou dropped down dead in its tracks. I could hardly believe it. We raced across the tundra. Louie was ecstatic: “Straight through the heart!” He said a blessing, then skinned that dead caribou, put the carcass across his shoulders and staggered with it back to the boat. Heaving it into the stern, he said: “Meat will last all winter.”
As we pounded back across Rae Strait, I reflected that Louie Kamookak -- historian and hunter -- is just the latest in a long line of remarkable Inuit. I haven't been on the water with Louie since that day. So I'm excited about September. Louie won't be hunting caribou. But I imagine he'll share a few thoughts when we reach the site where Erebus lies eleven metres beneath the surface.

Ken McGoogan
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Dead Reckoning goes orange thanks to hard-fought Facebook battle

So there you have it. Orange has won out over blue. The choice was difficult, the battle hard fought. But in the end, our scientific Facebook poll delivered a decisive result: 61% orange, 39% blue. And this on well over 200 votes! If the Brexit debacle or the 2016 American election had produced such clear results, imagine how much happier all of us would be. But I digress. I will reveal, only now, that the main reason I offered this image to designer Alan Jones was that I loved that bright, bold, eye-catching orange. The most popular opposing argument to emerge in our rigorously conducted poll, the idea that blue is more representative of the Arctic, would have carried greater weight if Dead Reckoning set out to reiterate and reinforce the conventional saga that in fact it seeks to challenge. I know, I know: some of you will be disappointed. Let me assure you that, come September, the book will be made available to all at the same low price, regardless of how you voted. 
Ken McGoogan
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'Franklinistas' are surfing an Arctic tsunami


Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition, by Paul Watson. M&S, Penguin Random House, 384 pages, $34.95.
Minds of Winter, by Ed O’Loughlin. House of Anansi, 481 pages, $22.95.

The headline is telegraphic: “How quest for Northwest Passage turned into search for tragic hero.” It surfaced recently in The Scotsman, which was launching its 200th anniversary celebration with a series of “greatest stories ever told over the last two centuries.” Since the 16th century, so the story goes, explorers had been searching for a northern sea route to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. In the mid-1800s, after Sir John Franklin disappeared into the Arctic with two Royal Navy ships and 128 men, the quest for that navigable Northwest Passage developed a double focus. Now explorers sought to discover both the final link in the Passage and the fate of the lost Franklin expedition.
But already, with the word “discover,” we have sailed into contention and controversy. I have long argued that during a single 1854 expedition, with the help of the Inuit, explorer John Rae solved both great 19th-century mysteries. Having identified Rae Strait as the missing link in the Passage, he reported, correctly, that the Franklin expedition had ended in disaster, with some sailors resorting to cannibalism.
To Rae’s discoveries, scores of explorers, scientists, and historians – among them Leopold McClintock, Charles Francis Hall, and Frederick Schwatka -- have added nuance, detail, and clarification. Yet at least one scholar suggests that “the gravitational pull of the Franklin disaster” distorts our understanding of exploration history. In a 2016 book called Writing Arctic Disaster: Authorship and Exploration, Adriana Craciun insists that John Franklin made only a minor contribution to Arctic discovery. And she questions the wisdom of celebrating “a failed British expedition, whose architects sought to demonstrate the superiority of British science over Inuit knowledge.”
Craciun is probably right. And yet “Franklinistas” persist, driven variously by a yearning to discover some ultimate truth, by an ideological need to exonerate British imperialism, or by a hidden agenda, as Craciun suspects, to open the Arctic to the oil industry. Certain it is that the Canadian discoveries of Franklin’s two long-lost ships -- Erebus in 2014 and Terror in 2016 – have triggered a tsunami of Franklin-related books. Among them we find Franklin’s Lost Ship: The Historic Discovery of HMS Erebus; Finding Franklin: The Untold Story of a 165-Year Search; and Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Terror Expedition: Lost and Found (coming in July).
Caught up in this tidal wave, two new works establish highwater marks. In narrative nonfiction, we have Paul Watson’s Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition. An award-winning journalist, Watson was on the search expedition that located Erebus, and subsequently broke the news of the finding of Terror. His new book is a splendid achievement.
In the first two-thirds, he delivers a lively rendition of the old familiar Franklin story -- departure, disappearance, decades-long search extending ever onwards. He pays attention to Inuit place names, incorporates paranormal synchronicities, and brings key players to vivid life. The man can write. Yes, we hit a few glitches. The younger sibling of Eenoolooapik was not Ebierbing but Tookoolito. John Rae did in fact reach the Castor and Pollux River in 1854 before turning north. And the cook on the St. Roch expedition, Albert “Frenchy” Chartrand, died not in Gjoa Haven but in Pasley Bay on Boothia, where over his grave Henry Larsen built a cairn that stands even today. Small mistakes are inevitable in a work this size, and they don’t come close to threatening the book’s sweeping credibility.
The final third, highlighted by a sympathetic portrait of Inuk historian Louie Kamookak, contains much that will be new to most readers. It traces the evolution of underwater archaeology in Canada, notes the singular contribution of David Woodman, and culminates in the discovery of the two ships. Along the way, Watson offers much to inspire debate. Some will remain unconvinced by the author’s defence of those who, having located Terror, kept that achievement secret from their search partners for five valuable days. Others will dispute the notion that, if a few survivors did steer Erebus into a sheltered location, they somehow completed a Northwest Passage. Bottom line: Ice Ghosts is a notable contribution to the literature of polar exploration.
The same is true, in fiction, of Minds of Winter by Irish-Canadian author Ed O’Loughlin. Long-listed for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, this hugely ambitious novel touches on the Franklin expedition, but ranges widely through time and space. . . . To read the rest, click here and go to the Globe.
(Ken McGoogan, author of four books about Arctic exploration, will publish a fifth in September: Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.)
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.