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Arctic expert Kenn Harper sings the unsung in solidarity with Dead Reckoning heroes

Over at The Arctic Book Review, Kenn Harper begins by declaring that I have "produced yet another worthy northern book." Harper, an Arctic historian and formerly Denmark's honorary consul in Nunavut, continues: "Dead Reckoning sets out to tell, as its sub-title proclaims, “The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.” The book is peopled with the usual suspects in the history of Arctic exploration and the search for the elusive Northwest Passage. I needn’t name them here; if you are reading this, you already know who they are. But this book introduces other names that will be unfamiliar to many readers, even some well-versed in northern history. Their stories are the “untold stories” of the sub-title. . . ."
Harper observes, rightly, that my goal "is 'to restore the unsung heroes to their rightful eminence.' [McGoogan] recognizes not just the physical work, but the contributions, of the fur-trade explorers, and of Dene, Ojibway, Cree, and especially Inuit. He points out that Franklin’s ships would still be undiscovered at the bottom of the ocean were it not for Inuit and their oral histories. And so the reader encounters unfamiliar names in this sweeping tale. McGoogan’s point is that they have largely been nameless to date, so I feel compelled to name them here, in solidarity with McGoogan’s championing of them, and to help in rectifying the injury that past histories have done them." Harper carries on at some length, and in considerable depth, as you can read here.
So, a tip of the hat to editor Russell Potter for assigning a knowledgeable, fair-minded reviewer. To Harper's questions, I offer a few answers. Yes, I included Hall's voyage to the North Pole because that yarn extended the stories of Tookoolito, Ebierbing, and Hendrik. I included the Peary-Minik story because it is the quintessential example of abusive Inuit-white relations. I omitted Kalli and Beck with a view to maintaining focus on the Northwest Passage rather than the search for Franklin. Harper correctly identifies the map-glitch that will turn some first editions of Dead Reckoning into collectors' items! He is mistaken about Moses Norton, however, who started at Prince of Wales Fort as chief factor but became governor; and Samuel Hearne, who was made governor from the get-go (1776).
Why did I make no reference to recent scholarship casting doubt on Hearne's authorship of the Bloody Falls massacre? Well, in 2007, after writing a biographical narrative about Hearne (Ancient Mariner), I undertook a foreword to a new edition of Hearne's journal (A Journey to the Northern Ocean), which tells the story of how the Dene leader Matonabbee led the former navy man to the Arctic coast of North America. After perusing the Hearne passages in Dead Silence by John Geiger and Owen Beattie, and then delving further into the archives, I ended up repudiating that scholarship. I detailed my analysis in the foreword I wrote. And I considered rehashing it in Dead Reckoning. But then I decided that doing so would take me too deeply into the eye-glazing arcane, which we are fast approaching, given that I am writing not for scholars but for a broad general audience. Too much such detail has killed many a readable book. And so I refer you to the works themselves.
Ken McGoogan
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Disdain for the Inuit won't fly in Canada when Franklin exhibition moves to Ottawa

The disdain for the Inuit is palpable . . . and worrisome. We can only hope that the people bringing this project to Canada are planning major revisions. Yes, I have laid hands on a copy of Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Terror Expedition / Lost and Found by Gillian Hutchinson (Bloomsbury). It grows out of and presumably reflects the current Death in the Ice exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich -- an extravaganza that moves to Ottawa and the Canadian Museum of History on March 2, 2018.
The book is well-written, beautifully illustrated, professionally produced. But also it is disappointing, above all in its disregard for the crucial Inuit contribution to Arctic exploration generally, and to the search for the lost ships in particular. [See NEWSFLASH at bottom.]
The book serves up the same old, same old, rehashing what I call the "official" or “orthodox” history of Arctic exploration -- the Royal Navy version of events, with its familiar roll call of personalities.
This movie invariably begins around 1818. It features such naval officers as Edward Parry, John Richardson, John Ross, John Richardson, James Clark Ross, and George Back. And of course it stars that well-meaning bungler Sir John Franklin as the tragic, windblown Arctic hero.
The author deals with John Rae and his inconvenient truth-telling in a cursory aside and, while admitting that Charles Dickens created a “racist fiction” about the Inuit, approves of his holding the fort until yet another Royal Navy man, Leopold McClintock, could distract people from the intolerable business of cannibalism.
Hutchinson summarizes Franklin’s two overland expeditions without crediting Akaitcho and Tattanoeuck, who saved his life on the first and second respectively. She treats those American searchers Charles Frances Hall and Frederick Schwatka without so much as mentioning the Inuit who were absolutely necessary to their achievements: Tookoolito, Ebierbing, and Tulugaq. And what of John Sakheouse, William Ouligbuck, Louie Kamookak, Sammy Kogvik. The list goes on and on.
Here, too, we discern the decades-old yearning to make a success of the Franklin expedition. Hey, maybe some of his men trekked to the mouth of the Mackenzie River, and then we could argue that they achieved a Passage? Sigh.
Anyway, here we see, yet once more, what drove me to write Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage. And given that the Canadian Museum of History is on record as promising to explore "the critical role played by the Inuit,” I am reasonably confident that it will undertake a major overhaul before bringing this show before a Canadian public.
[Painting above by John Sakheouse / Hans Zachaeus]

[NEWSFLASH: One of my field agents writes to inform me that, although marketed as a tie-in to the exhibition, Hutchinson's book was planned and executed by a different branch of the National Maritime Museum. Neither the UK nor the Canadian curator of the show became aware of the book until late in the day. The British show proper opens with a section on the importance of the Inuit in the Franklin story, and the Canadian show promises to be still more emphatic about this. Says I: Glad to hear it!]
Ken McGoogan
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Our Hero sacrifices modesty to preserve insightful review in Cyberspace

Dead Reckoning offers lively account of Inuit contributions to discovery of Northwest Passage

Review by Charlie Smith
(Georgia Strait, Oct. 22, 2017)

Charles Dickens is deservedly seen as the greatest novelist in Victorian England. The author of such masterpieces as David Copperfield and Great Expectations was also an influential social activist, campaigning for various reforms, including an end to child labour.
In light of this, who would have thought that Dickens and the widow of explorer Sir John Franklin would have conspired to cover up one of the worst debacles in North American exploration history?
Yet that's exactly what Canadian historian Ken McGoogan has documented in his crackling new book, Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.
In this epic examination of the nearly 400-year struggle to find a sea route through the Arctic, McGoogan also offers page-turning portraits of several courageous and highly intelligent Cree, Dene, and especially Inuit people who are central to the story.
Indigenous giants like Matonabbee, Thanadelthur, Akaitcho, Tattanoeuck, Ouligbuck, Tookoolito, and Ebierbing—names unfamiliar to the vast majority of Canadians—take their rightful place in history alongside far more famous explorers, such as Martin Frobisher, Henry Hudson, Samuel Hearne, Franklin, and the first man who completed the Northwest Passage by sea, Norwegian Roald Amundsen.
What's so remarkable about Dead Reckoning is how McGoogan demonstrates that some of the most successful northern explorers—notably Amundsen, Scottish surgeon John Rae, and Americans Elisha Kent Kane and Charles Francis Hall—were invariably those most eager and open to learning from their Indigenous guides and translators.
Many of the English explorers on the other hand, including Franklin, tended to be less open-minded. This reflected a colonial attitude that made them less able to adapt to the harsh and unforgiving northern climate.
[Read the published version of this review, complete with pix, by clicking here.]
[Painting above: Beechey Island by Sheena Fraser McGoogan]
Dead Reckoning is an outstanding 21st-century Canadian history that refutes myths about the Franklin expedition promoted by Victorian England, its modern-day media and academic apologists, and Dickens himself.
The book's only serious shortcoming is its lack of detailed attribution because of an absence of footnotes.
According to McGoogan, one of the most crucial 19th-century developments in the discovery of the Northwest Passage was not the bumbling Franklin expedition that led to the sinking of the HMCS Erebus and Terror near King William Island in the late 1840s.
Rather, it was Rae's recognition of a small strait separating what was previously known as King William Land and the southwestern side of the Boothia Peninsula. Had Franklin's two ships taken this route rather than through Victoria Strait west of King William Island, the expedition might have reached Alaska rather than getting stuck in the ice.
More than a half-century later, Amundsen traversed this Rae Strait and later gave credit to Rae for making it possible for him to complete the Northwest Passage.
The Norwegian could do this in the early 20th century because pack ice from the north did not make Rae Strait impassable: this waterway was sheltered by the Boothia Peninsula and King William Island.
With great storytelling skills, McGoogan shows how Rae was thwarted in receiving sufficient credit for his discovery because of the machinations of Lady Jane Franklin.
Sir John Franklin's widow couldn't abide by Rae's report that members her husband's voyage ended up eating human remains.
So she summoned Dickens to tell a different tale, which generated widespread publicity and which was more in accord with the colonial mindset of the era.
"John Rae relayed Inuit testimony, as translated by William Ouligbuck, that many of Franklin's men had starved to death while trekking south, and that some of the final survivors had been driven to cannibalism," McGoogan writes. "Victorian England refused to believe this and, through Charles Dickens, suggested that the Inuit had murdered the weakened white sailors. Lady Franklin decreed that the final survivors had completed the Northwest Passage."
Dickens maintained that Franklin's men were murdered to paper over the truth. And this work of fiction by Dickens gave rise to the myth of Franklin as a great explorer and his subsequent commemoration in countless books and even in a statue in Westminster Abbey.
In fact, McGoogan demonstrates that Franklin was a rather uninspiring, sometimes blundering, seriously overweight, and hen-pecked former lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen's Land (modern-day Tasmania) who was sent back to England for incompetence.
Franklin was only appointed to head the expedition to find the Northwest Passage in the mid 1840s because of his wife's influence over the Royal family.
"In truth, Franklin discovered no Passage," McGoogan writes. "The man himself died a few months after his ships got tracked in pack ice. And when his crews marched south to seek help, they forged no link in any chain."
In many respects, the relentless and detail-oriented Lady Franklin is the villain in Dead Reckoning. But her ability to influence the British government and wealthy American Henry Grinnell to mount several expensive voyages in search of her husband actually accelerated the discovery of the Northwest Passage.
That's because these subsequent explorers, including Rae, made genuine discoveries that enabled Amundsen to successfully complete his journey in 1906.
This is not the Canadian history that we learned in school. But it is a far more nuanced and objective view of Indigenous people in North America. For that reason alone, McGoogan's book deserves wide readership in our country. But Dead Reckoning also deserves to be read because it's so enthralling.

Ken McGoogan
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Sailing the St. Roch through the Northwest Passage

Here I am in the St. Roch, steering the ship through the Northwest Passage.
OK, OK, so I am hard at work in the St. Roch Wheelhouse Experience, which is nearly the same thing, right? This is at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, where tonight I gave a talk called Breaking the Ice: Dead Reckoning in the Northwest Passage. Saw some beautiful people there. But what really got me going was this virtual adventuring . . . and, even more, the St. Roch itself.
This is the ship -- and no mere facsimile -- that Henry Larsen sailed through the Passage from Vancouver to Halifax in 1940-42. That voyage, designed to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, took 28 months, including two winters in the ice. After installing a 300-hp diesel engine, and making other adjustments, Larsen sailed back to Vancouver in 1944 in just 86 days.
The ship is beautifully restored, and bears comparison with any of the ships you see in Oslo -- and that is not faint praise. Interesting fact: the St. Roch is 31.6 metres long, 7.6 metres wide, and displaces 323 tons. The Terror, recently discovered off King William Island, was almost exactly the same size: 31 metres long, 325 tons. You can draw your own conclusions. But it certainly looks as if, in the right hands, the Terror could have sailed through Rae Strait and even Simpson Strait, and gone on to complete the Passage.(Pic by Sheena.)
Ken McGoogan
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Dead Reckoning hailed as transformative masterpiece

By Dave Obee
Victoria Times-Colonist Oct. 15, 2017

Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage

By Ken McGoogan
HarperCollins, 438 pp., $33.99
The Arctic is not the place it used to be; climate change is taking care of that. It is still a challenging part of Canada, but warmer weather and the relative ease of navigation are opening up a region that contains some of this country’s greatest mysteries.
For more than a century and a half, many of those mysteries have had to do with Sir John Franklin, who led an ill-fated expedition into the Arctic in the 1840s, seeking the Northwest Passage to the Orient.
Franklin, all of his men and his ships disappeared — but over time, more and more evidence has been found, and with that, more has been determined about the fate of the Franklin expedition.
The two greatest discoveries are quite new. One of Franklin’s ships, Erebus, was discovered in 2014, and the other, Terror, was found in 2016. These two ships represent true sunken treasures, because the relics they contain — possibly including human remains — might answer many remaining questions about Arctic exploration.
That’s not the only difference. Today, there is a greater awareness of Indigenous involvement in the exploration and rescue missions. There is an acknowledgment that without the help of those who lived in the area, many more people would have died, and many of the Franklin mysteries would never have been solved.
Put it all together and the history of northern exploration needs to be rewritten. Books done a decade or more ago are out of date. As history is revealed, reshaped and reconsidered, we need a fresh assessment of Franklin and the other early adventurers, including the First Peoples who made it all possible.
Ken McGoogan’s Dead Reckoning helps fill that need. This book is a masterpiece, setting the standard for future works on Arctic exploration.
This is McGoogan’s fifth book on the Arctic and the explorers and adventurers who challenged that icy world. In Dead Reckoning, he draws from his past work, but weaves it all together in a more complex but highly readable account, enhanced with fresh insight based on the new discoveries as well as more extensive research.
For years, the conventional narrative of the Arctic has been based on names such as Franklin, Parry, McClure, Ross and Peary. McGoogan goes deeper into the story, introducing us to such figures as Thanadelthur, Akaitcho, Tattenoeuck, Ebierbing, Tulugaq and Tookoolito.
Some Inuit saw living members of the Franklin expedition, and others later found their bodies. They provided information to search parties led by Charles Francis Hall and Frederick Schwatka that helped them uncover crucial clues about the fate of the Franklin party. More recently, information from the Inuit helped drive the discovery of the two ships.
There are heroes and villains here, with Lady Franklin, Sir John’s widow, at the top of the list of antagonists. She pushed her husband to embark on his final expedition, and she led the way (with Charles Dickens) in dismissing the revelations of John Rae, and in denigrating his Inuit informants.
The end result could best be described as politics. Franklin’s fate became a matter of great controversy in England, with plenty of misinformation tossed this way and that. McGoogan deals with it in detail.
Over the years, many books have been written on the far north — but with the publication of Dead Reckoning, those early ones don’t matter the way they once did.
There is little to criticize in this book. It should be the starting point when considering the story of Arctic exploration from the 16th century onwards.
Beyond that, Dead Reckoning could be the best work of Canadian history this year.
Ken McGoogan will be in Victoria on Tuesday for a reading at Bolen Books in the Hillside shopping centre. The event will begin at 7 p.m.
The reviewer is the editor-in-chief of the Times Colonist.
Ken McGoogan
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Fearless Girl and Charging Bull point way to third option in statues debate

Amid the widening debate about the removal of the names and statues of controversial, colonial-era figures from public places, The Canadian Encyclopedia asked three writers to offer their opinions on the subject. In this article, author and historian Ken McGoogan argues against both replacement and the status quo, and suggests a third option. . . .

The Fearless Girl controversy is old news even in New York City, but it sheds light on the discussion around removing statues and renaming buildings. The bronze sculpture of a defiant young girl went up in the heart of Manhattan’s financial district last March. The girl stands, hands on hips, facing off against the much larger Charging Bull, which has stood at that particular corner since 1989.
Installed temporarily to celebrate International Women’s Day, Fearless Girl inspired 40,000 people quickly to sign petitions demanding to make “her” a permanent fixture. Dissenters denounced what they saw as a publicity stunt — “fake corporate feminism.” And Arturo Di Modica, the sculptor who created Charging Bull, declared at an emotional press conference that Fearless Girl was “attacking the bull.” He created the sculpture to symbolize a booming economy. The new installation changed the meaning of his work.
That insight stayed with me.
I have been wrestling with statues and memorials since 1998, when I began researching Fatal Passage, a biographical narrative about Arctic explorer John Rae. I remember how offended I felt when, at Waterloo Place in London, I first encountered a larger-than-life statue of Sir John Franklin. A plaque beneath it celebrates Franklin and his companions for “completing the discovery of the Northwest Passage.” It added that “they forged the last link with their lives.” As I wrote in Fatal Passage, “This historic fraud would matter less than it does if it had not been perpetrated at the expense of another man, the explorer who really did discover the final link in the Northwest Passage.” That would be the Orkney-born Rae.
A few years later, still offended, I began writing Lady Franklin’s Revenge by describing how Franklin’s widow orchestrated the creation of that statue at Waterloo Place. Later in the book, I showed how Lady Franklin created statues of her dead husband to seize control of the narrative of Arctic exploration, and launch the myth of Franklin as a successful explorer, when in truth he was no such thing.
Jane Franklin stipulated the wording to go on a statue in Franklin’s birthplace, insisting that he be described not as having lost his life while searching for the Passage, but as its discoverer. She financed and sent a duplicate of the Waterloo Place statue to Hobart, Tasmania, where she and Franklin had lived for several years. Lady Franklin’s machinations culminated in the installation of a bust of Franklin at Westminster Abbey — a bust complete with canopy and elaborate base, and where again, backed by such prestigious relations as Alfred Lord Tennyson, she elaborated the myth of Franklin.
But wait. In 2013 well over a century later, and after a long campaign, Orcadians were thrilled to learn that Westminster Abbey would correct this myth of Franklin by installing a plaque crediting John Rae with having discovered the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage. They cheered too early. In my 2017 book, Dead Reckoning: the Untold Story of the Northwest Passage, I describe how, at the last moment, champions of the old orthodoxy derailed this installation, reducing the promised truth-telling plaque to a ledger stone saying nothing but: “John Rae / 1813-1893/ Arctic explorer.” As I write in that book, this derailing “was a particularly shameful episode in a tedious tradition of repudiation that dates back to the days of [Charles] Dickens.”
The statues of Franklin are not the only ones I find offensive. In Dead Reckoning, I also describe a memorial to American explorer Robert Peary at Cape York, on the northwest coast of Greenland. It soars 28 metres into the air, “essentially a grotesque obelisk jutting skyward, topped by a giant 'P.'” It offends me mainly because of the way Peary treated the Inuit, most notably a boy named Minik Wallace — brought from Greenland to New York City in 1897 as a kind of natural history exhibit — whose story Kenn Harper tells in Give Me My Father’s Body.
Again, on the outskirts of Golspie, Scotland, we find an equally towering and grotesque monument to the Duke of Sutherland — grotesque because he was largely responsible for the Sutherland Clearances of the early 19th century, which saw roughly 15,000 Scottish Highlanders evicted and driven from the lands of their forefathers. I could multiply examples, but you get the idea. I dislike any number of statues.
Rebut, Remove or Change the Meaning?
As regards the Franklin bust in Westminster Abbey, I strongly supported the Fearless Girl approach — the idea of adding something that would change the meaning of the original. Would that work in every case? Would it work with memorials to Adolf Hitler or Josef Stalin, responsible for the deaths of millions or tens of millions of innocents? Obviously not. Would it work in the United States with memorials to Robert E. Lee? Certainly not at this point.
But I can’t believe arbitrary destruction is the answer. I think of Afghanistan and Iraq, where the Taliban and ISIS (Daesh) have gone about destroying statues, memorials, and architectural treasures without a second thought. That is not a model we wish to follow.
The key questions are: Where do we draw the line? And how do we decide? With any statue that causes offence, we have three options. We can rebut the complaint, remove the statue, or change its meaning with an addition. Think Fearless Girl, Charging Bull. The same principles hold with the names of streets or buildings.
Within that framework, we should focus on specifics. Not long ago, students at Ryerson University advocated the removal of a statue of Egerton Ryerson, arguing that he was anti-Indigenous. For anyone undecided, Alberta-based historian Donald Smith blew that argument to smithereens in the Globe and Mail. (On 5 July 2017 in the Globe, Smith explained Ryerson's work with First Nations, and the relationships he enjoyed with certain Indigenous individuals, as well as the respect they had for each other.) Complaint rebutted, in my view.
The Halifax statue of Edward Cornwallis presents a more complex challenge. The Indigenous peoples despise Cornwallis for the way he treated their ancestors. Immigrant Scots detest him for his vindictive cruelties against Scottish Highlanders after the Battle of Culloden. The man was despicable — though not, perhaps, on the scale of Hitler or Stalin. So — what to do?
In 1749, Cornwallis set a bounty on Mi’kmaq scalps after an attack on colonists, condemning a whole people for the actions of a few. Today, leaders of the Nova Scotia Assembly of Mi’kmaq Chiefs are showing the way forward. Instead of allowing an unruly gang of protesters to destroy the Cornwallis statue — an action that could only lead to American-style polarization and possible violence — those leaders are advocating civic engagement. In April 2017, Halifax city council voted overwhelmingly in favour of setting up an expert panel — one that includes Mi’kmaq representatives — to examine the Cornwallis issue.
Rebuttal and exoneration appear to be non-starters. So: what then does the statue represent? What narrative does it further? Would it be possible to change the statue’s meaning — to incorporate it into a different story? Think again of the Orcadian attempt to answer the Franklin bust in Westminster Abbey. Think of Fearless Girl and how she changed the meaning of Charging Bull.
Could an Indigenous artist — a sculptor or a carver — respond to the Cornwallis statue in stone, and so make it part of a different narrative, perhaps one of recognition and reconciliation? If that challenge is unwelcome or impossible to meet, then the statue goes. Maybe erect a plaque explaining this decision. Tomorrow needs to know where yesterday went wrong.
Whatever we do, let’s not follow the lead of Donald Trump’s America.

To read the original, complete with images, in the Canadian Encylopedia,click here.

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.