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Arctic adventurers recreate trek to Rae Strait

The Arctic Return Expedition is all systems go. A reconfigured four-man team will set out March 25, 2019 to recreate the most successful Arctic overland expedition of the 19th century. On his 1854 surveying adventure, accompanied by an Inuk and an Ojibway, Orcadian explorer John Rae discovered both the terrible fate of the lost Franklin expedition and the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage.
Next March, veteran polar adventurer David Reid will lead an outstanding team in traveling 650 km overland from Naujaat (Repulse Bay) to Rae Strait, following in the footsteps of John Rae, William Ouligbuck Jr., and Thomas Mistegan. When personal considerations forced withdrawals, Reid rounded out his team with experienced, highly skilled adventurers.
The party now includes:
 n  Canadian adventurer Frank Wolf, named one of Canada’s top 100 explorers by Canadian Geographic Magazine in 2015. Wolf, the first to canoe across Canada in a single season, also cycled 2,000 km in winter on the Yukon River from Dawson to Nome. He has documented his adventurers in articles and films and recently published his first book, Lines on a Map (Rocky Mountain Books).
  n  Scottish adventurer Richard Smith, PhD, who studied as an astrophysicist, moved into Information Technology, and served with the Royal Marine Commandos and the Special Boat Service. Smith has climbed, trekked or kayaked in Alaska, Greenland, Nepal and the French Alps, and explored the jungles of Belize and the deserts of Oman.
  n  Adventure film-maker Garry Tutte, who created an educational web-series from Mt. Everest, documented a 7000 km car rally from England to Gambia across the Sahara Desert, and travelled from the remote islands of the Philippines to Hong Kong to create an award-winning film. In 2017, Tutte led the media team aboard the Canada C3 expedition as it circumnavigated the country’s 23,000 km coastline from Toronto to Victoria via the Northwest Passage.
  n  Reid himself, who lived on Baffin Island for 20 years and has led, organized or participated in more than 300 Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, trips and projects. In that time he has traveled thousands of miles by dog sled, ski, snowmobile, boat, kayak, ship, foot and most recently by bike, becoming the first person to cross Baffin Island by fat-tire bike.
The expedition is hoping to raise funds for the restoration of John Rae's birthplace, the Hall of Clestrain. The flagship sponsor is The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS). The award-winning travel company Adventure Canada and Canada Goose are also lending major support. For more details check out the expedition website.

Ken McGoogan
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Surely #MeToo should be all over The Wife, The Ghost Brush, Colette, and Lady Franklin?

 So we caught the hit film The Wife last night. The movie, based on a novel by Meg Wolitzer, features a tour-de-force performance by  Glenn Close. But what struck me is that you can change the culture, the time period, the mode of expression . . . yet the story remains the same.
-- In The Wife, Joan Castleman does the writing . . . but her husband Joe wins the Nobel Prize. Backstory set in 1990s U.S.A.
-- The Ghost Brush, by Katherine Govier, is set in Japan in the late Edo period. The daughter Katsushika Oei does the printmaking, her father Hokusai takes the credit.
-- Colette, set in late 19th century France, finds the eponymous heroine doing the writing . . . and her husband Willy reaping the celebrity.
-- In Lady Franklin's Revenge, which unrolls through Victorian England, Jane Franklin emerges as the real explorer, the one who orchestrates the mid-to-late career of Sir John Franklin . . . yet he is the one celebrated in myth and legend.
The Wife, The Ghost Brush, Colette, Lady Franklin's Revenge . . . surely #MeToo should be all over this?

Ken McGoogan
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Frozen Dreams Quintet makes for Bethlehem

People tell me I am too modest and self-effacing. They say, Ken, enough with the shy-and-retiring. You have to stop shunning the spotlight. Lately, in response, I've been banging the drum for the newly released paperback edition of Dead Reckoning. While working up a nifty little song-and-dance, I chanced upon the above slide and The Frozen Dreams Quintet. So of course I thought of Yeats and his rough beast slouching towards Bethlehem to be born. And I realized that, with Christmas whirling toward us, probably I should ask my publisher to drop everything and bring out my Arctic books as a boxed set. Makes sense, right?

Ken McGoogan
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St. Kilda evokes Flight of the Highlanders

The December issue of Celtic Life International features a gorgeous 3-page spread on a visit to the Scottish island of St. Kilda. We turned up in the vicinity while sailing with Adventure Canada earlier this year. A version of the article, which begins as below, will appear in a 2019 book to be published by Patrick Crean / HarperCollins Canada. We're calling it FLIGHT OF THE  HIGHLANDERS: Canada's First Refugees.

Unbelievable. Overwhelming. Voyagers who have visited the archipelago of St. Kilda more than a dozen times declared this The Best Visit Ever. If they had said anything else, the rest of us would not have believed them. Bright sunshine, balmy temperatures, no wind . . . was there a cloud in the sky?
During the morning, when we arrived in this vicinity aboard the Ocean Endeavour, the day had looked less promising. Most ships that reach St. Kilda never land a soul. Winds too rough. Today, a serious swell caused people to doubt we would make it ashore. But in an inspired bit of decision-making, our Adventure Canada expedition leader turned the day upside down, switching early with late.
Instead of attempting a morning landing, we sailed directly to the bird cliffs of Stac Lee, home to the largest colony of gannets in the world. As the winds died and the sun came out, the captain showcased his navigational skills. Seventy or eighty metres in front of the towering black wall, he held ship steady. We found ourselves gazing almost straight up at a whirlwind of wheeling birds more than 400 metres above. I’m no birder but this was impressive.
A back-deck barbecue kept us busy as we sailed to Hirta, the archipelago’s main island. We’re talking about the remotest part of the British Isles, 66 kilometres west of Benbecula in the Outer Hebrides. I had landed here once and knew enough to remain dubious. But on arriving, we found the swell had receded. We piled into zodiacs and zoomed ashore. Incredible!

St. Kilda is one of very few places with Dual World Heritage Status for both natural and cultural significance. Bronze Age travellers appear to have visited 4000 to 5000 years ago, and Vikings landed here in the 800s. Written history reveals that a scattering of people (around 180 in 1700) rented land here from the Macleods of Dunvegan on the Isle of Skye. While living in a settlement (Village Bay) of stone-built, dome-shaped houses with thatched roofs, they developed a unique way of life, subsisting mostly on seabirds.
Gradually, as better ships enabled more contact with the outside world, they came to rely more on importing food, fuel and building materials. They constructed better houses. In 1852, 36 people emigrated to Australia, so beginning a long slow population decline. During the First World War, a naval detachment brought regular deliveries of food. When those ended after 1918, St. Kildans felt increasingly isolated. In 1930, the last 36 islanders were evacuated to the Scottish mainland.
During our June visit, we strolled along the curved Village Street where these last holdouts had resided. Most passengers found time to climb the saddle between two high hills. After a rise in elevation of perhaps 150 metres, we came to a cliff edge. Gazing back over the vista in the sun – the Village Street, the scattered beehive cleits, the Ocean Endeavour in the harbour, the occasional zodiac, the distant mountains – a consensus emerged: unbelievable!
Beyond this, everyone had their personal highlights. I registered two. The first came when I found the beehive cleit that stands today on the foundations of what was once the home of Lady Grange. She was an articulate, headstrong woman who, in the 1730s, spent eight lonely years as a prisoner on this island. While living in high-society Edinburgh, she learned that her husband was having an affair in London. Infuriated, she had threatened to expose him as a treasonous Jacobite.
That gentleman – who was indeed conspiring with such powerful figures as Macdonald of Sleat, Fraser of Lovat, and Macleod of Dunvegan -- responded by having his irrepressible wife violently kidnapped and bundled off, ultimately, to this almost inaccessible island. Here Lady Grange endured as the only educated, English-speaking mainlander on Hirta except for the minister and his wife. Her house is long gone, but a ranger directed me to the hut that stands today on its foundations. Made me shiver.
(To read the rest of the article, check out the December issue of Celtic Life International.)

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.