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Dead Reckoning makes Dafoe Prize shortlist

Wonderful to wake up in Melrose, Scotland, to discover that the shortlist for the 2018 John W. Dafoe Book Prize includes Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage. 
The $10K book prize memorializes John Wesley Dafoe, one of the most significant Canadian editors of the 20th century. It celebrates non-fiction excellence about Canada, Canadians, and the Canadian nation in international affairs. In his four decades at the Manitoba Free Press, later renamed the Winnipeg Free Press, Dafoe became legendary while championing western Canadian development, free trade, and national independence. The other four shortlisted titles for the prestigious award, chosen from among thirty-eight nominees, are: Vimy: The Battle and the Legend by Tim Cook; Unbuttoned: The History of Mackenzie King’s Secret Life by Christopher Dummitt; Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya Talaga; and The Cinderella Campaign: First Canadian Army and the Battles for the Channel Ports by Mark Zuehlke. I'm chuffed to see Dead Reckoning turn up in such company. The winner will be named later in the spring and collect the award at the J.W. Dafoe Foundation's Annual Book Prize Dinner in May.

Ken McGoogan
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What does Facebook have on YOU? Now you can find out

Did you ever wonder how much information Facebook has on you? I've leaned to the cavalier, big surprise: what am I trying to hide, right?
Since the Cambridge Analytica story broke, I've wondered more assiduously. And over on Facebook, film-maker Don Young awakened his FB friends to the possibility of finding out just how much the social media giant has gleaned from your postings.
Users can now acquire an archival record of their own history. All you have to do is ask. I went ahead and did so, and the zip file I received and downloaded is sobering.
You see the accompanying photo? That's Our Hero in the favourite chair of Robert Burns, as preserved in his favourite pub here in Dumfries . . . but Sheena took the shot, and I guess I posted it, eight or nine years ago. It is one of scores (perhaps hundreds) of images that Facebook has "borrowed" from my timeline.
The photo collection is completely up to date, and includes three images I posted yesterday. I don't know whether it is exhaustive, though it looks like it could be. And we're talking not just images but messages and html breakdowns of every like and sad face.
The organization is chaotic, and I haven't stumbled across any Messenger phone calls . . . though Don Young reports listening to old exchanges that, to his shock, had been recorded.
Anyway, you can see for yourself. All you have to is go into your Facebook Settings. There you will find a new link that allows you to request a copy of your archive.
People will draw their own conclusions. All I guarantee is food for thought.

Ken McGoogan
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Remembering Louie Kamookak (1959-2018)

The official obituaries I will leave to others. I feel driven to remember Louie Kamookak as my friend. Louie is well-known now as the foremost 21st-century champion of Inuit oral history – that history which, in 2014, led searchers to discover John Franklin's long-lost flagship, HMS Erebus.
For decades, Louie dedicated time and energy to collecting oral history, traditional place names, and the history of Inuit groups before Europeans arrived in the Arctic. For his contributions, he was made an honorary vice-president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, which awarded him the Erebus Medal. He also received the Lawrence J. Burpee Medal, the Canadian Governor General's Polar Medal, the Order of Canada, and the Order of Nunavut.
In recent months, Louie made no secret of the fact that he was back and forth to Edmonton, in and out of hospital, and receiving chemotherapy. But he was not yet sixty years old and I was in denial. I felt he would remain with us for years. A couple of months ago, Louie agreed to become Gjoa Haven Consultant on the Arctic Return Expedition slated for 2019.
Together, he and I would meet the four-person expedition at its culminating point, the John Rae Memorial Plaque and Cairn overlooking Rae Strait. By so doing, we would not only honor John Rae, but also mark the twentieth anniversary of when, together with antiquarian Cameron Treleaven, we located that site. I wrote about this in Fatal Passage and Dead Reckoning.
After camping out on Boothia and erecting the plaque beside the ruined cairn, we broke camp to return to Gjoa Haven. Louie said that, before recrossing Rae Strait, he wanted to investigate a spot where sometimes he found good hunting. So, yes, Louie had a keen interest in Arctic discovery. But he was also an Inuk living, and so helping to preserve, a traditional way of life.
Louie Kamookak was an Inuit hunter at home in this High Arctic world. In summer, he went hunting in his twenty-foot boat. In winter, he used a dog-team or a Skidoo. The water, the ice—they belonged to his world, and to the way his Inuit ancestors had lived for generations. With Louie at the wheel, away we went, south down the coast of Boothia.
We entered a nondescript bay, hauled the boat onto a sandy beach, and climbed a ridge to scan the horizon. I saw nothing. There was nothing to see. But Louie pointed and whispered: “Caribou!” A huge-antlered animal, all but invisible against the brown tundra, stood in profile more than one hundred metres away. Way too far, in my opinion. But Louie fell to one knee, brought his gun to his shoulder, and fired. Nothing happened. I thought he had missed completely.

But no! The caribou dropped down dead where it stood. I could hardly believe it. We all three went charging across the tundra. Louie was jubilant. When he reached the caribou, he cried: “Straight through the heart!” Treleaven and I watched as he skinned that dead animal, hoisted the heavy carcass up onto his shoulders, and staggered back to the boat. Heaving it into the stern, he said: “Meat will last all winter.”
We hauled the boat into deep water and set out for Gjoa Haven, returning from what had evolved into a successful caribou hunt. Louie Kamookak was feeling good. All three of us were on top of the world And as we pounded across Rae Strait in the wind, I vowed that, some day, I would put that moment on record.

[Photos: Louie at the ruined cairn in 1999. Three adventurers toast John Rae, William Ouligbuck Jr. and Thomas Mistegan. Both pix shot by tripod. Louie and me in Gjoa Haven. I asked him if he was an elder yet. He insisted that he was still too young. Photo by Sheena Fraser McGoogan.]

Ken McGoogan
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Bringing John Rae to Robert Burns Country

Next week will find me giving talks in Robert Burns Country. I mentioned previously that, thanks to a new "friendship bridge" extending between the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society, I have fallen heir to a whirlwind, four-day speaking tour. Now, in response to popular demand, I can provide details.
My illustrated talk is called Let's Take Back Arctic History: The John Rae Story. I argue that the orthodox or 'official' version of Arctic exploration history focuses almost exclusively on Royal Navy officers, omitting the contributions of Canada's indigenous peoples and fur-trade explorers like the peerless Scottish-Orcadian John Rae. I will draw on my books Fatal Passage and Dead Reckoning, and say a few words about the forthcoming Arctic Return Expedition, which will retrace the route Rae followed on his all-important 1854 trek. If you're in Scotland, you can catch me at 7:30 p.m. as follows. . . .
-- March 26:  Dumfries, Easterbrook Hall.
-- March 27: Galashiels, Scottish Border Campus 
-- March 28: Ayr, Council Chambers, Ayr Town Hall
-- March 29: Helensburgh, Victoria Halls

The connection with Burns is two-fold. The poet was born in a cottage in Alloway, Ayrshire (see painting to the left, which Sheena did after our first visit); and he died and lies buried in Dumfries. Somewhere, I have a photo of me in that town, sitting in his favorite chair in a local pub. But I'll dig that out another time.
[The Burns portrait derives from Alexander Nasmyth.]

Ken McGoogan
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The Terror? Hailing the hell-bent original

My review of the original novel turned up in the Globe and Mail a decade ago. In response to popular demand, voila, here it is again . . . 

The Terror: A Novel, by Dan Simmons
Reviewed by Ken McGoogan

The most impressive achievement of this brilliant historical novel is that the author manages to account plausibly for all the known facts. In recreating the harrowing true story of the final expedition of Sir John Franklin, who disappeared into the Arctic with two ships and 128 men in 1845, Dan Simmons offers imaginative solutions to the thorniest mysteries.
After spending a first winter at Beechey Island, why did Franklin leave no note saying where he was sailing? Why did sailors, and especially officers, begin dying in such numbers?  When, in 1847, the men abandoned the two ice-locked ships, the Erebus and the Terror, why did they drag sledges towards the continental mainland and not Fury Beach, where food supplies lay waiting?
The questions get tougher: Why did local Inuit not help the starving, scurvy-stricken white men? How could sailors of the Royal Navy resort to eating the dead bodies of their comrades? How did one final survivor end up sitting in a whaleboat heading back the way it had come. Simmons incorporates oral testimony that some final survivors managed to get back aboard the Terror, and dramatically explains why contemporary searchers have failed to discover any traces of either ship.
Canadian literature is haunted by these questions. Besides such classics as The Arctic Grail by Pierre Berton and Frozen in Time by Owen Beattie and John Geiger, the lost Franklin expedition figures in works by authors as diverse as Margaret Atwood (Strange Things: The Malevolent North in Canadian Literature) and the late Mordecai Richler (Solomon Gursky Was Here). The surprise is that Simmons, a prolific, Colorado-based American who has won several awards for his suspense, horror and science fiction novels, should demonstrate such mastery of this northern file.
And Simmons is more than plausible. He is also dramatic and vivid – at times, horrifically so. He delivers arresting evocations of the cold and the dark and a bloody flogging; and I do not believe I have ever encountered more chilling descriptions of shipboard amputations or of the effects of scurvy, lead-poisoning and botulism. Nor does Simmons neglect the prosaic but enhancing detail. “Each time the survivors spent more than two days at a camp,” he writes, “the bosuns dragged a stick through the gravel and snow in some relatively open, flat spot to create the rough outline of the Erebus’s and Terror’s top and lower deck. This allowed the men to know where to stand during master and gave them a sense of familiarity.”
Not surprisingly, given his experience as a novelist, Simmons opens the narrative in October 1847, when it is well-advanced, and flashes back as necessary. He alternates among several point-of view characters, but most often he draws on Captain Francis Crozier, who in real life was Sir John Franklin’s second-in-command. This enables him seamlessly to contextualize the expedition, as the veteran Crozier can “remember” sailing with Sir Edward Parry and Sir James Clark Ross, and also visiting Franklin when he was lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen’s Land.
Simmons gives one character a diary, and he allows the Irish Crozier to have inherited the gift of second sight, so that on occasion, for example, he can “see” what Lady Franklin is doing back home in London. So far, so safe.  But the author also employs one risky narrative strategy: he adds a mystical or supernatural dimension to the novel by introducing a marauding monster -- a cannibalistic Arctic windigo.
In so doing, he transgresses the conventions of the prevailing psychological realism. As a result, he will draw fire from both literary and historical purists, who will use the white beast as an excuse to dismiss the novel. Aesthetically, however, Simmons makes the device work. 
 First, he indicates that the beast should be read allegorically. He does this by allowing Crozier to realize that “the Devil trying to kill them up here in the Devil’s Kingdom was not just the white-furred thing killing and eating them one by one, but everything here – the unrelenting cold, the squeezing ice, the electrical storms, the canny lack of seals and whales and birds . . . the summers that did not come, the leads that did not open – everything. The monster on the ice was just another manifestation of a Devil that wanted them dead.”
Secondly, Simmons identifies this white beast, also called “The Terror,” as emerging out of Inuit mythology. And in this way, he integrates the Inuit dimension, without which the novel would remain incomplete. Finally, by introducing this inexplicable beast, Simmons implicitly recognizes and asserts that some aspects of what happened on that long-ago expedition must remain forever unknown.
No book is without flaws. Simmons treats explorer Elisha Kent Kane far too harshly, and he serves up one fanciful sex scene that, alas, just never could have happened. Nor did Lady Franklin, as she is properly called, see her husband off at the London docks; and Leopold McClintock did not read the final note at the cairn on King William Island, but only when he arrived back at his ship.
But this is nitpicking. While remaining true to the historical record in every important particular, Simmons has given us a host of colorful, believable characters caught up in a driving, hell-bent narrative.  The Terror is a tour de force. The author’s nationality notwithstanding, this novel is far more deserving of specifically Canadian attention than the majority of the books that, come autumn, we will see short-listed for this country’s most prestigious literary prizes.

Ken McGoogan has written about the lost Franklin expedition in Lady Franklin’s Revenge, which recently earned him the Pierre Berton Award for History and the UBC Medal for Canadian Biography; and in Fatal Passage, which is currently being turned into a two-hour TV docudrama.

Ken McGoogan
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Let's take back Arctic history in Scotland

Faithful readers (hi, mom!) will recognize this image of Abbotsford from my book Celtic Lightning.  The historical novelist Sir Walter Scott (1771-1832) created this castle-like residence, now a museum, 40 miles south of Edinburgh in the Scottish Borders. Sheena shot the photo a few years ago, when last we visited.
End of March, I have a fighting chance of getting back to Abbotsford, thanks to a new "friendship bridge" that extends between the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.  I have fallen heir to a whirlwind, four-day speaking tour, and one of the places I will visit is Galashiels (see image below), which is three miles from Scott's creation.
My presentation is entitled Let's Take Back Arctic History: The John Rae Story. I argue that the  orthodox or 'official' version of Arctic exploration history focuses almost exclusively on Royal Navy officers, omitting the contributions of Canada's indigenous peoples and fur-trade explorers like that peerless Scottish-Orcadian John Rae.
Those who have read Fatal Passage or Dead Reckoning will know where this is going. Anyway, if you find yourself in Scotland on May 26, 27, 28 or 29, you can catch my song-and-dance, successively, in Dumfries, Galashiels, Ayr, and Helensburgh. No, no, please don't feel obligated to attend in more than one venue, or two at most, and by no means should you make a special trip from Canada -- not unless you are flying on points. Hope to see you in Galashiels!

Ken McGoogan
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Team set to retrace Rae's 1854 expedition

The Arctic Return team is complete. Explorers Hugh Dale-Harris and Garry Tutte round out the four-man party that will set out in April 2019 to retrace John Rae's legendary 1854 expedition. That's the one on which, with William Ouligbuck and Thomas Mistegan, he solved the two great mysteries of 19th-century Arctic exploration, discovering both the tragic fate of the Franklin expedition and the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage. The two join expedition leader David Reid and flying doctor Andrew Bresnahan in undertaking to ski and slog 650 km across Boothia Peninsula through what promises to be gale-force winds, blowing snow, and bitter cold. Educator Hugh Dale-Harris has traveled more than 8,000 km in the High Arctic by dog team or skijouring, investigating climate change and retracing the routes of Otto Sverdrup and Robert Peary. He has worked with such veteran polar explorers as Will Steger and Matty McNair. Garry Tutte is an award-winning adventure film-maker whose work has taken him through more than 50 countries and from Mount Everest to the Sahara Desert. In 2017, he led the media team aboard the Canada C3 expedition that sailed from Toronto to Victoria via the Northwest Passage. The Arctic Return Expedition will return to the ruins of the cairn that John Rae built overlooking Rae Strait in 1854. The objective is to honor Rae, who has yet to be properly recognized for his achievements, and to raise funds to restore his boyhood home in Orkney, the Hall of Clestrain (painting above by Sheena Fraser McGoogan). The expedition is seeking sponsors and has recently launched a GoFundMe campaign. Check it out . . . and dig deep!

Ken McGoogan
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How Jacobite heroine Flora MacDonald battled Patriots as a Nova Scotia Loyalist

I’m one day late remembering Flora MacDonald, who died on March 4, 1790, attended by the surgeon who had drawn up her marriage contract. The Jacobite heroine was buried at Kilmuir Cemetery on the north coast of Skye, less than two miles from where, in 1746, she had landed while escorting the Bonnie Prince Charlie to safety. That is the adventure for which she is known. But Flora MacDonald was also a United Empire Loyalist who, during the American Revolution, once again showed great courage in responding to those who meant her ill. In 1774, she and her husband had emigrated to North Carolina. In a book I am writing, I pick up the story . . . .  
Early in March 1776, in her newly occupied farmhouse in the interior of North Carolina, the celebrated Flora MacDonald took to her bed. The 54-year-old immigrant had just learned of the Loyalist defeat at Moore’s Creek Bridge. Years later, she published an account in which she wrote about herself in the third person, describing how “Flora” had plunged into misery and sickness on “being informed that her husband and friends were all killed or taken. [She] contracted a severe fever and was deeply oppressed with straggling parties of plunderers from their army, and night robbers, who more than once threatened her life, wanting a confession where her husband’s money was. Her servants deserted her, and such as stayed grew so very insolent that they were of no service or help to her.”
Weeks before, her husband, Allan MacDonald, had departed in his Highland finery from their home at Cheek Creek (Pekin), leading several hundred men in what they expected would be a march to the Atlantic Coast, where they were to meet up with a large army arriving from Ireland in four ships. Her 17-year-old son, James, had escaped after that battle and made it home to tell her what had happened and to comfort her.

Patriots set a trap

About twenty miles north of Wilmington, in the woods at Moore’s Creek Bridge, the patriot forces had set a trap. They had removed planks and greased the timbers that held up the bridge. On February 27, in the early morning light, eighty sword-wielding Scots had mounted a Highland charge, only to be cut down by withering fire or else to plunge into the black waters of the creek.
The Loyalists retreated and scattered, but about 850 were subsequently arrested. Most of those were released on parole, but the leaders – among them her husband and 20-year-old son, Alexander, were marched off to jail. Over the next 18 months, Flora MacDonald reported, with about 30 other gentlemen, these two “were dragged from goal to goal for 700 miles, till lodged in Philadelphia Goal, remaining in their hands for 18 months before exchanged.”
But in April 1776, one year after Revolutionary War began with the Battles of Lexington and Concord, Flora could not foresee how long her nearest and dearest might be gone. With her son James, she stayed on at the homestead, though Loyalists were no longer safe from soldiers, civilian committees, or bands of robbers. When she recovered from the worst of her fever, Flora felt driven “to visit and comfort the other poor gentlewomen” whose kinfolk were in prison with her husband, because “they blamed him as being the author of their misery in raising the Highlanders.”
She set out to ride around the country, visiting Loyalist families. On one of these outings, she fell off her horse and broke her right arm, and so was confined to her home for months. She became more vulnerable than ever.  Thieves made off with books and family treasures, including an exquisite, four-piece set of silver, which comprised a tray (with the monogram F McD), a jug, a sauceboat, and a ladle. These had been given to her, according to an historical society document, “by admiring friends in London when, as the Prince’s Preserver, she was the centre of popular interest.” 
Early in 1778, in the dead of winter, Flora escapes to Nova Scotia and . . .  well, there is a great deal more than is commonly known to the story of Flora MacDonald. Coming next year to a bookstore near you.


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.