Our Hero Disbelieving

Our Hero Disbelieving

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Mount Royal University in Calgary is doing everything right

Everywhere he goes, Our Hero runs into a life-size image of himself.
This is happening at Mount Royal University in Calgary, where he is spending a week as writer-in-residence.  Last night, all kinds of old friends turned up for a talk entitled Our Story Begins in Calgary. And the introductions and expressions of thanks left even our grizzled road warrior blushing. This photo comes courtesy of Michelle Bodnar. Word has it that she has taken a few more to illustrate a looming article. Can you rely on Our Hero to keep you apprised? You betcha.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

The days fly away like wild horses over the hills


The days fly away like wild horses over the hills. The poet Charles Bukowski said it first. But I've been feeling it as I get set to spend a week as writer-in-residence in Calgary.
I'll be at Mount Royal University from March 23 through March 27, courtesy of the English Department. For my public presentation (March 25), Our Story Begins in Calgary, I've been sorting through photos from my days as books editor at the Calgary Herald.  Above, we find me and Mordecai Richler . . . drinking coffee! To our left: Mavis Gallant in Banff with my old beater, aka the Silver Bullet. She was spending time at the Banff Centre and asked me to take her into town for groceries. She hated the elk! Could not understand why such dangerous animals were allowed to roam around freely. Below we have Tim Findley and his partner, William Whitehead, at Mescalero, one of my old favorite haunts. Richler, Gallant, Findley:
giants of Canadian literature . . . all of them gone. That's what struck me. That's what called up those horses. But not to worry: my subtitle is An Adventure in Creative Nonfiction. We'll venture beyond nostalgia. Even so, eh?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Our Hero goes public on Franklin, the Scots, and the Irish

The hue and cry is deafening. Where can we see Our Hero? Where is he appearing next?
Last night, Ken entertained the Canadian chapter of The Explorers Club. He talked about Chasing John Franklin into the Northwest Passage. You missed that? Not to worry.
On the evening of March 4, Ken will give a presentation at the Badminton and Racquet Club in Toronto. This time, he'll talk about How The Scots Invented Canada and, for the first time ever, preview Celtic Lightning: How the Scots and the Irish / Created a Canadian Nation.  He treats Oscar Wilde and Flora MacDonald in that book, which will appear this fall courtesy of Patrick Crean Editions / Harper Collins Canada. Then, on March 25, while spending a week in Calgary as writer-in-residence at Mount Royal University, Ken will go public about the Franklin expedition and the Scots and the Irish in Our Story Begins in Calgary, which would appear to be shaping up as a tour-de-force.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Richard Dawkins + Celtic figurines = Who Do We Think We Are?

Whoosh! Away it goes to the copy editor.  Beneath that title page, the manuscript reminds us that, despite our perpetual obsession with our collective identity, we Canadians have never investigated a crucial demographic reality  -- the fact that more than nine million Canadians claim Scottish or Irish ancestry. Did the ancestors of more than one quarter of our population arrive without cultural baggage? No history, no values, no vision? Impossible.

Canadians in search of their roots soon realize that an ocean is an artificial barrier. We revel in tracing our personal stories to ancestors who lived centuries ago. Too many Canadian intellectuals turn their backs on this model. Instead of voyaging with genealogists, they huddle at home with geographers and sociologists. And so they produce paper-thin surveys of the present and recent past.

Drawing on the work Richard Dawkins, who contends that ideas and values (“memes”) can be transmitted from one generation to another, I will argue that Canadians should look to cultural genealogy. Scottish and Irish immigrants arrived in Canada with values they had learned from their forebears. And they did so early enough, and in sufficient numbers, to shape an emerging Canadian nation. . . . 
At this point, the manuscript has been back and forth several times between me and the substantive editor, Patrick Crean. He has made suggestions -- eg. maybe rewrite this section, which is not working, and move that section nearer the front.  And, because he is really, really astute, and usually right, I have acted on those ideas. So now the copy editor will do a line edit: on page xx, you say she was born in 1572, but then, on page xxx, you say 1582?
Directly ahead: the proofing, the index, the photos, the design, the typesetting, the choosing of the cover. And then comes additional feedback: early readers say this book will become part of the national conversation. Ken is clamoring to go on the road. What are the advance orders like?  Has anybody checked out this preview?
HarperCollins Canada will publish Celtic Lightning in October. These are still early days. But look: the book-specific figurines are already working magic. Great success will surely follow.

Monday, January 19, 2015

The Internet has spawned a latter-day Industrial Revolution

Why is it so much harder to make a living these days? Especially if you're a writer, a musician, a photographer, a visual artist. . . .
We all know why: the Internet. Everything we once got paid to create is now available for free. OK, that's an exaggeration. But I do like this book by Andrew Keen. We may have heard his message before. But in The Internet is Not the Answer, Keen describes the new reality with striking clarity. Today's digital upheaval is a latter-day industrial revolution. Internet behemoths like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Google exist to create wealth for their founders. Those founders are far, far richer than the robber barons of yore. But here's a surprise: the answer to the Internet juggernaut, Keen writes, "is history." Only through the lens of 19th- and 20th-century history can we "make sense of the impact of the Internet on 21st century society." The past makes the present legible, and offers "the most effective antidote to the libertarian utopianism of Internet evangelists." There's lots more where that came from. Check it out.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Searching for John Franklin: 2015 should bring major revelations . . .

Why are people highlighting the search for the Terror?
That’s what I found myself wondering. The most exciting discoveries will almost certainly be made aboard the Erebus. Last September, with winter coming on, time ran out before Parks Canada divers could investigate that long-lost Franklin vessel. When they return this year, they will have time to look around.
Will they find any readable records? Journals, logbooks, letters? Even daguerrotypes (antique images) would be immensely valuable. Such documents could revolutionize our understanding of what happened to the Franklin expedition. For those interested in the history of Arctic exploration, they constitute the Holy Grail.
Second question: Will the divers find any dead bodies? Some Inuit claimed they boarded one of the ships and discovered the remains of a large man. John Franklin was a large man. He commanded the expedition from the Erebus. His remains have never been found.
So, what does the Erebus have to tell us? For this year’s search, that should logically be top priority. Finding the Terror has to be secondary. Inuit testimony suggests that it was crushed by ice and then sank. Chances are that it looks less like the still-extant Erebus than like a debris field.
Why, then, focus on locating the Terror? Wait, I think I see it.
Back in 1992, the Erebus and the Terror were designated National Historic Sites, wherever they might be located. The undeclared hope was that, when found, the ships could be upgraded into UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Such a designation would strengthen Canada’s hand with regard to controlling the waters of the Northwest Passage: you can’t have oil tankers sailing willy-nilly over a world-heritage site.
As a Canadian environmentalist (yes, we exist!), I support that position. But here is the rub: the location of the Erebus, off the Adelaide Peninsula, does not help matters. It is outside any potential shipping lane. So that would be why finding the Terror remains crucial. Most informed observers think it will be found in Victoria Strait off the west coast of King William Island. And, given the effects of climate change, that waterway does constitute a possible shipping lane.
Where does that leave us? Both objectives are high priority -- one to resolve a haunting mystery, the other to strengthen Canadian control over disputed waters. Bring on the summer melt!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Our Hero explains why Canada abounds in 'overstepping women'

Our Hero turns up in "Talking History," a biweekly series happening over at the 49th Shelf.The series focuses on a wide range of topics in Canadian history, exploring the notion of history as a compelling form of storytelling of interest to large audiences.
Ken McGoogan
One of the most evocative moments of a recent circumnavigation of Ireland with Adventure Canada came as we arrived at Inishbofin, a small island off Connemara. As we rode from our ship into the harbour, eight or nine to a zodiac, we passed Dun Grainne, the remains of a fortress used in the 1500s by legendary pirate queen “Grainne” or Grace O’Malley.
Born into a powerful west-coast family, O’Malley rejected the traditional roles available to females and became a skilled sailor and a ferocious fighter. She gained control of a merchant fleet, conducted trade into the Mediterranean and North Africa, and, in an effort to rid western Ireland of a ruthless autocrat, visited Queen Elizabeth in London. Her enemies declared her “the most notorious sea captain in Ireland,” and complained that she “overstepped the part of womanhood.”
If contemporary Canada can boast few notorious female captains, the country abounds in “overstepping” women. In 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, I hailed a multitude of them: Margaret Atwood, Naomi Klein, Alice Munro, Irshad Manji, Louise Arbour, Maude Barlow, Joy Kogawa, Deepa Mehta, Michaelle Jean, Joni Mitchell, Samantha Nutt...
But what struck me while circumnavigating Ireland was that all of these Canadian women, regardless of ethnic origin, can be seen as emerging from the same Celtic or Norse-Gaelic cultural tradition as Grace O’Malley. That tradition of audacious women also includes the Scottish Flora MacDonald, who in 1746, after the Battle of Culloden, risked her life to save Bonnie Prince Charlie. And it spins forward through time into Canada. Viewed culturally, O’Malley and MacDonald belong to Canadian history. They are Canada’s ancestors . . . .[TO READ THE REST, GO TO 49TH SHELF]