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Yo, OTTAWA! Gonna be like CHICAGO!

Yo, OTTAWA! Here comes the night! Peeps are awakening to the news that awarding-winning author  and Royal Canadian Geographical Society Fellow Ken McGoogan is coming your way next Tuesday evening (December 3). It says here that in performance, Ken may well remind you of Richard Gere in CHICAGO, you know where he sings and dances and razzle-dazzles his way through a media circus of celebrity, scandal, and corruption?
On the other hand, he may not remind you of Gere at all. But he WILL captivate with insights from his new book, Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada. Ken will talk about Dragging History into the 21st Century, highlighting stories of those refugee Scots who were forcibly evicted from the lands of their ancestors. Many of them sailed in coffin ships to Canada, where they battled hardship, hunger and even murderous persecution while laying the foundations of a nation that welcomes immigrants. 
OK, so it’s not a lot like CHICAGO. But there is a stage. Flight of the Highlanders happens at the Alex Trebek Theatre at RCGS headquarters, 50 Sussex Drive, starting at 7 p.m. The trick is to get tickets by clicking here. Bring a gang!
Ken McGoogan
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Dead Reckoning still sailing with Franklin

With Flight of the Highlanders roaring along nicely (thank you very much), it’s wonderful to see an Alaska publication (Stock Daily Dish) giving Dead Reckoning a bit of love – doing its part to keep the paperback edition thriving here and here and in better independent bookstores. Yesterday, the newspaper published an article in which its regular reviewers look back over their favorite books of 2018. For David James, Dead Reckoning was one of two top picks. Here is what he wrote: 
Looking back on the books I reviewed for 2018, I find that all five of my favorites concern history. This year there’s a two-way tie for the top spot, while the other three fall in no particular order. . . .
Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage, by Ken McGoogan; HarperCollins Canada/Patrick Crean Editions.
This overview of the search for the Northwest Passage is both wonderfully written and an excellent resource for fitting the Franklin Expedition, the Arctic’s most deadly calamity, into its broader historical and cultural perspective. Canadian historian Ken McGoogan has written several in-depth works on people who made their mark on the Arctic, but here he takes the long view, showing how explorers (most of them British) fared in the north from the 16th through the 19th centuries.
The result of decades of research, McGoogan examines who succeeded, who failed, and why. His persistent finding is that those Europeans and Brits who learned from the Inuit residents of the Arctic and followed their examples generally thrived, while those who dismissed Native knowledge often met extreme hardship or death.
In the mind of Sir John Franklin, who left England with two ships in 1845, the Native people were savages and only British technology and know-how could conquer the far north. Instead, he and his 128 crewmen all vanished, leading to searches that found only a handful of corpses and, until they were located in this decade, no sign of their ships.
As McGoogan shows, even among the many expeditions that went searching for the men, the shortest path to tragedy was found by ignoring the locals.
Here a link to the complete article.

Ken McGoogan
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Highlanders flying high as "terrific, timely"

Authors enjoy few things more than positive reviews . . . especially during the run-up to Christmas. Below, excerpts from four different takes on Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada . . .

Celtic Life International:
Best-selling author Ken McGoogan "deep dives into the historical horror of Scottish Highlanders in this terrific and timely tome. Spanning over a century, the scribe chornicles the terrible injustices brought on to families and communities by the British following the 1746 Battle of Culloden. While the cultural genocide of the Clearances showed the Brits at their worst, it brought out the best in the Scots, with tens of thousands of them setting sail for the New World and settling into new lives. More than a mere lesson in history, Flight of the Highlanders showcases the spirit of a people who sacrificed everything to preserve their culture and who were at the very core of constructing a new national identity. -- Stephen Patrick Clare

The Scotsman:
In Flight of the Highlanders, the bestselling Canadian author argues that the Highland Scots – victims of the Clearances and the oppression that followed the Battle of Culloden – were “Canada’s first refugees.” And that makes their story a timely reminder of the contribution refugees and other newcomers have made, and continue to make, to their new homelands.. . . But in a time of rising intolerance toward minorities and immigrants, Flight of the Highlanders is a much-needed reality check. McGoogan’s chronicle of how impoverished but tenacious Scots built new lives in Canada – and transformed their new country – is a reminder that all of us, regardless of origin or race, want the same things: a better life and a brighter future. -- Dean Jobb 

Winnipeg Free Press:
Flight of the Highlanders is a tragic and pathetic tale, well-told by the sympathetic McGoogan, of a people who came from afar to spearhead with others the settlement of Canada before it became a nation. They were thrown out of the Scottish Highlands in a cold-hearted annihilation of their ancient way of life. It was called the Clearances.. . . . The erasure of an independent culture feared and reviled by the English began in 1746, with the Battle of Culloden. McGoogan recounts how a professional English military destroyed a vastly outnumbered ragtag army of the farming Highlanders raised by and under the command of a wishful-thinking and militarily dumb Bonnie Prince Charlie. . . . In the Clearances following the Scots’ defeat, McGoogan explains, about 200,000 Highlanders were evicted from their ancestral lands between 1760 and 1860. They were offered passage to Canada in what became known as "coffin ships" because a number always died in the miserable and diseased conditions below decks. Today, more than five million Canadians claim Scottish ancestry and are proud of it, and the old Scots (among others) are revered as nation-builders -- Barry Craig

Globe and Mail:
[McGoogan] writes that the Highland Scots who were driven off their traditional lands should be looked at through the lens of history as refugees, and he goes a long way toward supporting this thesis by his demonstration of what they suffered. He starts with the misbegotten Battle of Culloden in 1746, when the British army beat Charles Edward Stuart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie,” in his challenge to the throne. The army then went on to savage the highlands . . .  Over the next century in various waves, landlords brutally drove off tens of thousands of cottars in order to clear the land for sheep, which returned higher profit. McGoogan illuminates this general history with many individual stories. . .  [This] is a volume that rewards dipping into, preferably before a fire with a glass in hand. Ken McGoogan is an amiable companion to have with you there. -- Antanas Sileika

Ken McGoogan
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The River Battles started with an email

In July, 2014, Canadian historian Mark Zuehlke received an e-mail from Italy. A history institute based in Ravenna was inviting him to give the keynote address at a conference celebrating the 70th anniversary of “the liberation of many towns in our province, Ravenna. ... All the towns were liberated by Canadian Regiments toward the end of 1944.”
In his preface to The River Battles, the B.C.-based Zuehlke notes that several years before, after taking a quick look, he had concluded that the pitched battles which occurred in northern Italy could not sustain an entire book. Now, however, confident that those encounters could drive a 30-minute talk, he accepted the invitation. He began researching and found himself swamped and astonished by “accounts of fierce battles fought in a complex landscape criss-crossed by rivers and canals ... [and] countless stories of individual courage and sacrifice.”
That December, after giving the keynote, Zuelke spent days exploring the battlefield, standing on dikes “overlooking mud-soaked fields and vineyards in conditions mirroring those the Canadians endured in 1944-45.” He found the exact location next to a little church where a Seaforth Highlander earned a Victoria Cross.
“Walking away from that church in a cold rain,” he writes, “I realized the hook was in.” Back in Canada, he turned up hundreds of historical records – more than enough to animate a book about this culmination of Canada’s Second World War Italian campaign.
As a Canadian military historian, Mark Zuehlke stands with Tim Cook, Ted Barris and David O’Keefe. He belongs to the elite. To write this fifth and final volume in his Canadian Battle Series, Zuehlke assimilated an astonishing amount of detailed information from a multiplicity of primary sources. Building on the focused unities of time and place – six months in 1944-45 and a waterlogged plain called Emilia-Romagna – he has delivered a vivid, hard-slogging narrative.
Zuehlke spares us no horror. He describes an endless night of shelling, for example, when rockets known as Moaning Minnies “sobbed hysterically” as they smashed into the trenches filled with huddled troops. Come morning, the guns fell silent and Sergeant Fred Cederberg sent a man to wake a recent recruit sleeping in a shallow trench. The man lifted a blanket and yanked on the recruit’s foot. The leg came away in his hand: “My God, come here! The poor bugger’s cut in two.”
A few pages later, we find engineers under heavy machinegun fire struggling to clear a riverbank of debris and landmines. Finally, one troop manages to cross the river. Two more troops start to follow and Zuehlke allows an eyewitness describe an explosion so violent that “it appeared to lift the entire floor of the gully.” Hopelessly trapped under heavy fire, the Canadians “sustained tragically high casualties, with 16 men killed and five wounded.”
Against this dark background, Zuehlke draws attention to bright acts of extraordinary courage. While under intense artillery fire, one field company managed to clear several multifaceted, booby-trapped roadblocks near a river. The driver of an armoured bulldozer found himself struggling to dismantle a final obstacle, unable to see which way to turn from his restricted seat. A young lieutenant jumped onto the vehicle and, standing outside the protective cage surrounding the driver, gave him directions, hopping down occasionally to scurry alongside and shout the way forward. For this, Lieutenant Victor Alexander Moore earned a Military Cross.
Elsewhere in the field, Major Allen Brady led a section of men through flooded streets to occupy a house overlooking a canal. He ran a telephone line back to tactical headquarters, but then the house suffered a series of direct hits from a massive, self-propelled gun (SPG). Knocked unconscious, Brady awoke to find four men dead and the telephone line severed – the only way to request help. He ran outside, repaired the line, and then directed artillery fire in knocking out the SPG. Despite “great pain” and heavy bleeding from undressed wounds, Brady led his men along the river to a better position. He was later recognized with a Distinguished Service Order.
From time to time, Zuehlke pulls back from the battlefield to provide context, focusing on shifts in command structure and changes of strategy. He shows how, viewed from a lofty distance, troops comprising up to 250 men become pieces in a chess game. When Canada’s defence minister, Colonel J. Layton Ralston, returns to Ottawa and pushes for conscription to address the worsening manpower shortage, Prime Minister Mackenzie King replaces him.
Later, Zuehlke notes that as the Canadians struggled forward, the supreme commander, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, “was less interested in winning ground in Italy than in preventing enemy divisions” from abandoning this territory to fight elsewhere.
Canada’s Italian campaign, which culminated in these river battles, lasted 20 months and was the longest undertaken by the Canadian army. Those killed included 408 officers and 4,991 of all other ranks, while 1,218 officers and 18,268 other ranks were wounded. Including those taken prisoner, total casualties were 26,254. Although the campaign was essential to achieving victory, such numbers make one wary of lightly going to war. Perhaps that is the greatest achievement of books like The River Battles.

Ken McGoogan recently published his 15th book, Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada.

  • The River Battles: Canada’s Final Campaign in World War II Italy
  • Mark Zuehlke, Douglas & McIntyre, 470 pages
Image above: Infantrymen and tanks of the Eighth Army push along a road to Ferrara, Italy, in April 1945.
Ken McGoogan
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Descendant adds detail to a violent Clearance

It's always great to get a glowing review. But nothing beats the kind of email I've just received from Carol Annett, who was born a MacKinnon.
Those who have read Flight of the Highlanders will recall that Chapter One treats the violent eviction of a great number of McKinnons from Knoydart in 1853. It draws on an eyewitness account by activist Donald Ross. But here is Carol Annett:
"Thank you for writing Flight of the Highlanders. You have done an amazing job of telling this story. I can appreciate what an enormous amount of research was involved. What a feat to pull the disparate threads together.
"This subject has been my passion for the past ten years as I have been researching and writing the story of my ancestors. I am a direct descendant of Highlanders from Knoydart who sailed to Canada in 1853 aboard the Sillery. It was exciting to read the familiar, though horrific account of events at Knoydart in your first chapter.
"In 2016, I had the amazing good fortune to live for a week with a couple whose house is at Samadalan, Knoydart, the exact location of the village where my McKinnon ancestors lived. My friend had a keen interest in the history of her home and property, which was essentially an archeological site.
"On census records my friend had for the post-clearance years, I noticed that Allan McKinnon was still living at Samadalan. That led me to research every single family mentioned by Donald Ross in his account. What I found surprised me.
"My research shows that Allan McKinnon and John McKinnon, both mentioned by Ross, were the brothers of my great-great-great-grandfather, Archibald McKinnon, who left on the Sillery. The records show that 11 of the 16 families interviewed by Donald Ross remained on Knoydart for the rest of their lives, despite repeated efforts to evict them. I have census and death records for each of them. The last person died in 1909 at the age of 82. Many, but not all of them, died in poverty.”
Ms. Annett attached a PDF of an article she published in a genealogical quarterly called Anglo-Celtic Roots. It begins as follows:
Imagine you are Archibald McKinnon and the year is 1853. Your homeland, Knoydart, lies within a rugged region of the Scottish Highlands called the “Rough Bounds” or “Na Garbh-Criochan,” as you say in Gaelic. The place-name, Knoydart, is not of Gaelic origin. It means “Knut’s Fjord,” named by the Norse who once occupied the west coast of Scotland.
Though centuries have passed since the Vikings departed, this stark wilderness has not changed. Across the water from your house you see the mountains of Skye— the jagged Cuillin and the cone-shaped Red Hills—depending on the weather. It rains often and storms can be severe. On fair evenings, you are dazzled by a brilliant sunset or awed by the occasional sight of the shimmering aurora borealis. You live in this austerely
sublime landscape with an abundance of wildlife—seals, dolphins, whales, eagles, gannets, otter and deer—and about 1,000 people.
In August of this year, one-third of these people—including you—will leave Knoydart, and Scotland, forever. . . .
You can read the rest here:

Me again: you can see why I love this, right?

Ken McGoogan
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Trouble at Indigo? Bring back Canadiana!

Indigo Books and Music is having a bad year. Canada's number one book retailer is dealing with declining sales. Compared with this time last year, sales are down roughly eight per cent. Those who want detailed figures can find them easily enough. Indigo CEO Heather Reisman points to some "promising early results on key performance measures." And Indigo recently introduced a new rewards program.
Let's hope that pays off. Meanwhile, I've got another idea. Let's bring back Canadiana!
Yes, I have written about this before. But my unsolicited advice has as yet gone unheeded -- though I offer it freely not just to Indigo, but to every independent bookseller in Canada. 
Once more into the fray. I would suggest that the way to differentiation -- and so salvation -- lies through an assertion of collective identity. 
Not long ago, I visited the main Waterstone's bookstore in Edinburgh. There I found one entire wall -- one long wall, mind, floor to ceiling -- devoted to Scottish books: fiction, biography, history, travel, children's, crime, you name it. In Scotland, that approach sells books. And it serves additionally as an assertion of national identity: och, aye, this is us! We are here!
A short while later, in Dublin, I visited the Eason bookstore in O'Connell Street. This time, I found one long wall, floor to ceiling, offering Irish books: fiction, biography, history, travel, children's, crime . . . . it's glorious.
Here in Canada, we went wrong some decades ago when we moved away from hiving off  sections in bookstores for Canadian books. Yes, I say "we" because Canadian writers were complicit in this change. Proudly we proclaimed that we didn't need a ghetto to survive. We were just that good. By gosh, we could stand with the best in the world. 

Well, now, surely, we have proven whatever we needed to prove. And we have stumbled into a brave new world in which the digital (algorithmic) weather is against us and the wind blows hard and the rain is turning into hail. 
Surely it's time for writers and publishers to call a halt to destructive infighting. Let's admit that, in our hubris, we made a mistake. Let's urge Indigo -- and other booksellers -- to start solving their problems by reviving the Canadian bookshop ghetto. Yup! I say we bring back Canadiana!
Ken McGoogan
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The Great Famine marked Ireland forever

(In the December issue of Celtic Life International, I write about ranging around Ireland while exploring the many dimensions of the Irish famine.)
It's not all that far to Tipperary – not if you start in Kilkenny and make for the Famine Warhouse at the eastern edge of that song-famous county. We simply drove west for about 30 km, which included a short detour because we took a wrong turn and ended up exploring a one-lane road with a ridge of grass down the middle. The Famine Warhouse is the site of an 1848 incident known as the Battle of Widow McCormack's Cabbage Patch – an episode that to me represented a fourth and final dimension of the Great Famine.
By this time, three weeks into our latest Irish ramble, and somewhat to my surprise, I had come face to face with the politics, the science, and the human suffering of the Great Hunger. I saw the Warhouse as symbolizing the active response – the rebellion. But I have gotten ahead of our wanderings around southeastern Ireland, an area that, during the famine years, fared relatively well. Hence my surprise.
In Dublin we were taken, Sheena and I, with the power of the sculpted famine figures on the north bank of the River Liffey. We spent time at EPIC: The Irish Emigration Museum. And we poked around the Jeanie Johnston, the replica famine ship that I wrote about last issue.
But the political dimension didn’t manifest until we went to the Irish Potato Famine Exhibition, mounted upstairs at the St. Stephen's Green Shopping Centre. The exhibition, which included posters, a 15-minute video/DVD, and an hour-long show of panel stills, delivered an overview before turning to specifics. Between 1845 and 1852, approximately one million Irish people died of starvation or disease and two million fled the country, many of them coming to Canada.
Tens of thousands of farmers were forcibly evicted by absentee landlords spouting the free-market doctrine of “laissez-faire.” One photographic image, from County Clare in the west of the country, showed the house of Mathia Magrath "after destruction by the Battering Ram."
Some scholars present slightly different numbers, saying 1.5 million died in Ireland and 1.5 million emigrated. Either way, the three million total explains why some have described the Irish Famine as the worst human disaster of the 19th century – a devastation exceeded in the 20th century only by the Jewish holocaust.
During the decade that followed the Great Hunger, another two million people departed from Ireland. Today, largely as a result of all this, the Irish diaspora encompasses 70 million people around the globe. Among them we find almost five million Canadians and 35 million Americans.
But the politics. This exhibition points a finger at the policies and attitudes of British Parliamentarians, notably Lord John Russell, prime minister from 1846 to 1852, and Charles Trevelyan, the assistant treasury secretary who handled the Irish file. A narrator explains that Trevelyan “believed that God and market forces were on the same side” and that the Irish Famine was “a visitation of God” and a way of solving an overpopulation problem. Bigotry and convenient, self-serving myopia.
After driving due south along the coast for 155 km, we set up in the lively seaport-town of Wexford, cornerstone of Ireland’s “Ancient East” and traditionally a centre of resistance to British rule. At nearby Johnstown Castle, a splendid gem of gothic revival architecture, we walked along beside an ornamental lake and admired a Victorian walled garden. The surprise came when we wandered into the Irish Agricultural Museum, which is housed in refurbished farm buildings. Here we encountered another Great Famine Exhibition – this one lacking a video but comprehensive and notable for its scientific rigor and detail.
Sailing ships from the Americas brought the potato to Europe late in the 16th century. It became a diet staple, especially in agricultural Ireland. Potato blight followed the same route and reach continental Europe in 1843. Blight is a fungal disease that attacks leaves and tubers. Spread by spores in the air, it turns up as a small dark spot on a potato leaf and wreaks havoc. Seed tubers sustain the fungus through winter and so infect a still larger crop the following spring.
The Johnstown exhibition is replete with charts and graphs illustrating and analyzing everything from the decline of small farm holdings to the prevalence of various Famine-related diseases, among them typhus, Asiatic cholera, and scurvy or “black leg.” Up to 85 per cent of those who died during the Great Hunger did so not from starvation but from fever or disease.
Here, too, we read of government-sponsored workhouses, where conditions were so miserable that, by August of 1846, only 43,000 people had taken refuge within. As the Famine intensified, these penitentiary-like buildings came to accommodate hundreds of thousands of people, desperate for the three sparse meals a day they could earn by toiling on make-work projects, usually roads. When the famine ended, 40 per cent of the children who entered the workhouses had been orphaned or deserted.
By the time we reached Kilkenny, that medieval town 80 km northwest of Wexford, we thought we understood the human suffering induced by the Famine. But a visit to the sparkling MacDonough Junction Shopping Centre taught us otherwise. In 2005, developers set about creating this contemporary shopping centre out of a prison-like workhouse from the mid-19th century. . . .

(To read the complete article, pick up the December issue of Celtic Life International. To learn how the widespread famine impacted Scotland, and especially the Hebrides, check out my latest book, Flight of the Highlanders: The Making of Canada.)

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.