Our Hero Disbelieving

Our Hero Disbelieving

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]

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Robert Burns kicks off spring showboating

Linden MacIntyre and the McGoogans. Yes, it sound like the name of an emerging Celtic music band. But really it is the speakers line-up for this year's Robert Burns Dinner sponsored by the Toronto St. Andrews Society. That event, slated for Jan. 23, 2015, finds Linden delivering The Immortal Memory, and Sheena and I presenting the toasts to the Lassies and the Laddies. I don't know why she gets the last word. Lots of folks keen to hear Linden, whose latest novel is called Punishment, so apparently the event is sold out.
Next up: the Explorers' Club. On Feb. 13, Our Hero will entertain the Canadian chapter with a presentation called “Chasing John Franklin into the Northwest Passage.” Yes, I will draw on my own adventuring. I've just done a count, and see that our September voyage with Adventure Canada, Out of the Northwest Passage, will be our seventh. Be great to sail again with Margaret Atwood and Graeme Gibson, not to mention certain other fun-loving rascals (you know who you are). Check out the voyage and tell 'em I sent you.
But spring showboating. In March, Our Hero will spend a week as writer-in-residence at Mount Royal University in Calgary. Sheena and I still have friends and relations in that town, and we're hoping a few of them will turn out on the evening of March 25, when I'll give a public presentation called "Our Story Begins in Calgary." That's in the Lincoln Park Room at MRU. Circle the date, will you?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Creative Nonfiction: the online face of University of Toronto?

One participant wrote that "the weekly notes were very helpful, introduced new stylistic tools, and provided clear instruction on how to complete the exercises and assignments." Another said "this was my first online course and overall it provided me with a great learning opportunity while in virtual community with like-minded learners." A third observed that Our Hero "is clearly an expert in his field and I'm happy to have worked with him in this course!"
We had a great run in autumn 2014. Can we match or better it? A lot depends on who logs in. This year, autumn brings a voyage with Adventure Canada and the launch of a new book. More on those later. Bottom line: for 2015, I have only one chance to include YOU in my online course in Creative Nonfiction. It's called The Art of Fact: An Introduction to Writing Nonfiction, and it's available through the University of Toronto. We launch mere weeks from now, on January 26. And the particulars look like this: "The hallmarks of Creative, Literary or Narrative Nonfiction are truth and personal presence. The genre includes subjective and objective streams, and encompasses memoir, autobiography, biography, history, adventure, travel, and true crime. The writer of nonfiction employs memory, imagination, analysis, and research, and adapts literary techniques from fiction, journalism, and the essay. This craft-oriented course aims to enhance your ability to tell true stories." You can find out more at the link above.  In the past, folks have "attended" from as far away as Japan and Uganda. Oh, and we do have a favourite text: Textbook: The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism, edited by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda. (Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, ISBN 0-684-84630-6). Maybe see you in cyberspace?

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The ROM launches a 3-year, cross-country, Franklin celebration



  Ryan Harris felt a first rush of “absolute jubilation” when the sonar image of a ship popped up onto his monitor. As a senior underwater archaeologist with Parks Canada, Harris had spent the past six field seasons searching for a Franklin ship. Now, at last, he was looking at one of them. Harris and his fellow divers soon determined that the ship was the Erebus. During a panel discussion earlier tonight on the Franklin expedition, an event that drew more than 600 people to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) in Toronto, Harris said he was equally exhilarated when he got into the water and began investigating the find.
With winter closing in, Harris and his team had two days. They managed to do seven two-person dives of 60 to 70 minutes each. After that, because the water was just 2 or 3 degrees, “we began to get chilled and lose coordination.” Next year, when the team returns, they will probably use “hard hat air supply,” or a diving helmet with an air hose running to the surface. This will enable divers to stay down longer.
Louie Kamookak, a leading Inuit Franklin expert, put in an appearance via videotape from Gjoa Haven on King William Island in Nunavut. He was delighted with the find, especially because it vindicated Inuit oral history. He also admitted that, as a Franklin searcher, he has not focused mainly on the ships: “You can’t go and look down in the water and see a ship.” Rather, he has been looking for Franklin’s grave. “I believe he is buried on the island.”
Archaeologist Doug Stenton, director of heritage for the Nunavut government, mentioned the importance of the early expeditions led by Charles Francis Hall and Frederick Schwatka. And British naval historian Andrew Lambert stressed that Franklin was part of a long quest to understand the Earth’s magnetic field.
The event kicked off a three-year Franklin Outreach Project led by the ROM and Parks Canada, which will feature exhibitions and lectures across the country. A replica of the bell taken from the Erebus, created by Edward Burtynsky using 3-D printing technology, was unveiled, and will be displayed at the ROM until mid-March, 2015.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Yo, Roald Amundsen! Happy South Pole Day . . . .

Hats off to Roald Amundsen, the most accomplished polar explorer of them all. One hundred and three years ago today, on Dec. 14, 1911, he reached the geographical South Pole as leader of the first Antarctic expedition to do so. Fifteen years later, in 1926, he also became the first to reach the North Pole -- at least if you disbelieve the claims of Robert Peary and Frederick Cook. And, yes, in 1903-06, Amundsen became the first to navigate the Northwest Passage. In so doing, he sailed through Rae Strait, which the Scottish-Orcadian John Rae had discovered half a century before. Amundsen reached the South Pole 33 days before a competing expedition led by Robert Falcon Scott, thanks in part to what he had learned from the Inuit (especially about using dogs) while spending two winters at what is now Gjoa Haven. This photo, taken earlier this year by Sheena Fraser McGoogan, finds Our Hero out front of Amundsen's house, which is now a museum. Situated on the water some distance outside Oslo, it remains exactly as Amundsen left it in 1928, when he set out on a rescue mission from which he would never return. Tip of the day: do not try to reach Amundsen's house without a GPS.