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Scotland awake to celebrating John Rae

By Mike Merritt (The Herald / Scotland)
OVERLOOKING the sea, with views of neighbouring islands, it is enough to inspire a spirit of adventure in any youngster. Now the childhood Orkney home which helped to inspire the man described as the greatest Arctic explorer of his age is set to undergo a multimillion pound restoration as a visitor centre in his honour. Dr John Rae discovered the final stretch of the North West Passage and the fate of the Franklin Expedition. However, his achievements were airbrushed out of history.
Supporters the 19th century surgeon – including explorers Michael Palin and Ray Mears – acquired the Hall of Clestrain on Orkney’s south coast in 2016, after a 20-year campaign to negotiate its purchase.
They plan to restore the house “to its former glory” and open it to the public, as well as making the area around it a visitor attraction. Orkney Islands councillors have now approved funding towards a feasibility works project.
Councillors at a special general meeting gave their backing to a request from the John Rae Society for grant assistance of 50 per cent of the total eligible costs, up to a maximum sum of £14,730, meaning the full funding package of £29,460 has now been secured.
The society is contributing £10,830 of its own resources towards the project and has been awarded £3,900 of grant funding support from the Architectural Heritage Fund. The feasibility work will focus on developing a business plan, options appraisal and a conservation report.
A commissioned feasibility study completed in August 2019 concluded that the project, with an estimated project cost of around £3 million can become a financially viable visitor centre and community resource. John Rae Society president Andrew Appleby said: “The development of The Hall of Clestrain, John Rae’s birthplace and family home, has been such a long-awaited ambition. It’s been a long road this far.
“We have saved the building by making it wind and water tight. Now we want to turn it into a world-class tourist attraction and tell the story of this remarkable man and the Arctic in general.” A service in honour Dr Rae took place in Westminster Abbey in 2015 - helping to right a historical wrong stretching back more than 200 years.
Dr Rae, who was born in Orphir in 1813, discovered the last link of the North West Passage and the fate of the Franklin Expedition. However, his achievements were airbrushed from history after he reported that the Franklin Expedition survivors been forced to resort to cannibalism.
But through the efforts of the John Rae Society, Northern Isles MP Alistair Carmichael saw a plaque honouring him unveiled at Westminster Abbey in 2014. Dr Rae’s achievements are said to rank above all 19th-century Arctic explorations. . . .
Ken McGoogan author of the book ‘Fatal Passage’ featuring John Rae has said: “Because of John Rae, Clestrain is the most important heritage building in Orkney, and one of the most significant in all of Scotland. It will make a spectacular visitor centre.”
(Click link in byline to read the complete story.)

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.