Thursday, July 20, 2017

Advance readers discover 'a brilliant reclaiming of history'

The advance readers are encouraging. Bob Rae writes: "Finally! A page-turning book about Arctic exploration that puts the heroism and leadership of indigenous people at the centre of the story." Ronald Wright calls it "a lively and gripping tale of heroism, folly and icy death . . . by highlighting the role of the Inuit, Dene and Metis, Ken McGoogan shows how the most successful white explorers were those who learned from the locals." Katherine Govier discovers "our national myth finally recast on our own shores . . . A brilliant reclaiming of history." Modesty, long known to be my bugbear, precludes my offering more extensive quotation. Dead Reckoning arrives in September.
In response to overwhelming popular demand (see comment below) I am adding two more advance bits: The legendary Peter C. Newman hails Yours Truly as "the ultimate guide to our last frontier." And the equally legendary Louie Kamookak writes: "This is Ken's best book yet. I am going to post a picture with all of his books so that he can show it around. I will even put on a seal-skin vest and tie."

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Opinionated? Moi? Q&A turns up in Celtic Life International

[The following is a shortened version of the original article.]

Prolific, profound, witty, and opinionated, Canadian author Ken McGoogan made waves recently when he suggested that Canada adopt Scotland as a new territory. Celtic Life International recently spoke with the scribe about his Celtic connections. 

What are your own roots? My roots are Scottish, Irish, and French Canadian. In Scotland, DNA research led me to meeting Jim McGugan, a long-lost “cousin” who lives in Arbroath; and from there to the island of Gigha in Kintyre, where our earliest ancestor is buried. In Ireland, I have tracked my ancestor Michael Byrnes to New Ross, County Wexford, where he was a contemporary of Patrick Kennedy, a forebear of American president John F. Kennedy.

Why are those roots important to you? Tracking my roots drove me to scrambling around on Cruach MhicGougain in Kintyre, and to having many other fun adventures. The process not only gave me a whole new sense of self, but inspired two books: How the Scots Invented Canada and Celtic Lightning: How the Scots and the Irish Created a Canadian Nation. Unearthing my own roots inspired me to conceive of what I call “cultural genealogy.” Canadian intellectuals hunker down with geographers and sociologists. That’s a mistake. We assume geography’s limitations and cease investigating our collective past at the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, like genealogists, we should keep sleuthing. This nation’s history crosses the Atlantic. And, given that nine million Canadians trace their roots to Scotland and Ireland, it does so more often to those two countries than to anywhere else.

From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges facing Celtic Canadians today? I see Celtic culture in Canada as egalitarian, pluralistic, and progressive. So I worry about the emergence onto the world stage of a powerful right-wing partnership led by Theresa May and Donald Trump, or the Tories of Little England and the Republicans of the ‘Wild Wild West.’ I worry that, together, they might create some great libertarian beast and set it slouching towards Canada.

Are Celtic Canadians doing enough to preserve and promote their heritage? Not really. In my own small world, that of books and authors, we have regressed. Once upon a time, Canada and Scotland shared a writers-in-residence program. One year, a Scottish writer would come to Canada for three months. The next, a Canadian writer would spend three months in Scotland. One of the founders of that program told me recently that we Canadians were the ones who dropped the ball. We should be fostering closer relations with Scotland and Ireland, creating linkages of all kinds - cultural, economic, and political - not watching excellent initiatives wither and die.

What can be done to change this? We could start by waking up to the great wide world. Obviously, we face domestic challenges. But the current leadership of the country next door, backed by tens of millions of citizens, wants to create a society in which everyone carries a gun and only the wealthy can afford education or health care. Celtic Canadians should smell the coffee and start casting about for stronger alliances elsewhere - beginning with Scotland and Ireland.

(To read this piece in full, along with much else, pick up the magazine by going here.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Save Rae's Clestrain with actions in Orkney and the High Arctic

Arctic explorer John Rae, who died in 1893, is alive and well in the news. The BBC reported on July 5 that the Orkney Islands Council is conferring the Freedom of Orkney on that Stromness-born explorer, albeit posthumously. Bravo for that action! Here's hoping it draws attention to the ongoing drive to fund the restoration of Rae's childhood home, the Hall of Clestrain.
In 2014, after a relentless, ten-year campaign, Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish member of Parliament for Orkney, managed to get Rae recognized at Westminster Abbey with a modest ledger stone. Carmichael had been promised a plaque on the wall identifying Rae as the "discoverer of the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage."  As I write in Dead Reckoning, the plaque got beaten down to a ledger stone on the floor by an anti-Rae protest, "a particularly shameful episode in a tedious tradition of repudiation that dates back to the Victorian era."
We can return to that another day. This latest news reminded me that St. Giles Cathedral, Scotland's answer to Westminster Abbey, has no statue of John Rae. Shouldn't that be rectified? Then I thought of a statue of three figures which can be found in both Scotland and Canada. Near Helmsdale, it is called The Emigrants. In Winnipeg, it is The Selkirk Settlers.
Then I remembered that the famous statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn was financed by a (Scottish) Canadian named Eric Harvie, who erected an identical statue in his hometown of Calgary, Alberta.
Meanwhile, I had been chatting online with Louie Kamookak, the Inuit historian and leading expert on the Franklin expedition. In 1999, Louie and I and Cameron Treleaven had placed a plaque beside the ruins of a cairn that John Rae built in 1854, marking his discovery of Rae Strait in the heart of the Northwest Passage. 
Rae had been accompanied by an Inuk, William Ouligbuck, and an Ojibway, Thomas Mistegan. Without these indigenous companions -- expert hunters and travelers, and the only two men who could keep up with Rae -- the Orcadian explorer would not have made his crucial discovery.
Shall I cut to the chase? We need two identical statues of three figures in action: Rae, Ouligbuck and Mistegan. One of these statues could go into St. Giles . . . OR, even better, into a refurbished Hall of Clestrain. The other could go into the heart of the Arctic, to the John Rae Memorial Site on Boothia Peninsula where in 1854 Rae built his cairn.
Louie reminded me that our modest plaque probably saved the life of an Inuk who, while lost in a blizzard, had stumbled across it. Just imagine what a MASSIVE, three-person statue could do. All we need to make this happen is a present-day Eric Harvie -- a no-nonsense philanthropist of vision. Yo, can anybody hear me?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Make that Ocean to Ocean to Ocean: Canada's Really BIG!

Over the past few days,  I have been revisiting 50 Canadians Who Changed the World and shamelessly reliving The VIA-Rail, 50 Canadians, Ocean-to-Ocean, Book-Tour Extravaganza.  Rail-trip of a lifetime, courtesy of VIA-Rail and Harper-Collins Canada. Sure, I had to talk endlessly about one of my books and write a few articles for VIA-Destinations, a now-defunct magazine, but that’s what I do anyway. Lots of defunct publications out there.
Along the way I remembered that Canada borders on not two but three oceans -- that the country is so big, in fact, that the Arrogant Worms wrote a song about it. If we can't have Northwest Passage as our national anthem, I vote for Canada's Really Big.
But three oceans. One image each for Canada Day, why not? First up, a good-looking young couple literally ON the Arctic Ocean. This is from a couple of years back, one of our voyages with Adventure Canada. And, yes, this September we'll again go voyaging with AC and ride around among the icebergs. Someone's gotta do it, right?
Ocean number two is the Pacific. Soon after Sheena took this photo, we made our way to Granville Island, home of the Vancouver Writers Festival, where one sunny afternoon, I had chatted with Australian novelist Peter Carey. I was puffed up with irrational pride at the way Vancouver sparkled in the sun, and I said, “So what do you think of Vancouver?”
Carey smiled and said it was great, but then he took a beat: “Have you ever been to Sydney?” At that point, I had not, and he encouraged me to visit. Later, when I did get there, I went to the top of the tower, Centrepoint, and found myself gazing out over the most spectacular harbour in the world. Just keeping things in perspective.

But before revisiting Granville Island, having walked much of the Seawall around Stanley Park, we sat down on one of those big grey logs on the beach and I removed my shoes and socks and rolled up my pantlegs. Carrying a copy of 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, I strode across the sand in manly fashion and waded into the cold, salty water of the Pacific. 
What I had forgotten was that those waters were relatively warm. I was reminded of this a few weeks later, when we reached Halifax and I felt obliged to make some corresponding gesture. One afternoon, assisted by three volunteers -- Sheena and the Mallorys, Mark and Carolyn, fellow voyagers in the Arctic -- I ventured into a hard-to-reach corner of Point Pleasant Park. There, at least twenty metres from the main parking lot, despite a driving rain and a rocky shoreline that would have deterred a less intrepid author, I waded into the Atlantic Ocean.
I wanted to build a cairn to mark the occasion, but my companions convinced me to adjourn instead to a nearby pub. At the Lord Nelson, looking into the future, we raised a glass and drank to the greatest country -- or at least the second biggest -- in the world. Happy Canada Day!

Friday, June 30, 2017

This Canadian moment symbolizes achievement & reconciliation

Here I stand on King William Island in August, 1999. Matheson Point. Behind me is Rae Strait. Three of us were about to cross that strait -- Louie Kamookak, Cameron Treleaven, and I -- to see if we could find a cairn built in 1854 on Canada’s Arctic coast.  We were bent on honoring the three men who had put it there: an Orcadian Scot (John Rae), an Inuk (William Ouligbuck), and an Ojibway (Thomas Mistegan).
Together, these three had marked a location overlooking the final link (Rae Strait) in what would prove to be the first navigable Northwest Passage. Is that a Canadian moment or what? To me it symbolizes achievement and points to reconciliation. As it happens, that moment -- which finds "white" and indigenous succeeding together -- is at the heart of Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.
The book recognizes the contributions to Arctic exploration of the Dene, the Ojibway, the Cree and, above all, the Inuit, without whom John Franklin’s ships, Erebus and Terror, would still be lying undiscovered at the bottom of the Polar Sea. Slated to appear from 
HarperCollins Canada in September, the work encompasses both naval and fur-trade explorers, but also such figures as Thanadelthur, Akaitcho, Tattanoeuck, John Sacheuse, Ebierbing, Hans Hendrik, Tulugaq, and Tookoolito.
Louie Kamookak is the latest to join that sterling list. Those of us sailing Out of the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada this September are thrilled that, circumstances permitting, Louie will join us in visiting the site of the Erebus. So, yes, autumn will find me still celebrating reconciliation with furious passion. Shall we start on Canada Day? Why not? Let the party begin!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Crossing Canada by train gave me three reasons to hate Calgary

We called it The VIA-Rail, 50 Canadians, Ocean-to-Ocean, Book-Tour Extravaganza.  By using voodoo magic, my book publisher, Harper-Collins Canada, had worked a deal with VIA-Rail to send me and my artist-photographer-wife, Sheena Fraser McGoogan, back and forth across the country by train to promote 50 Canadians Who Changed the World.  All I had to do was write a few articles for VIA-Destinations, a now-defunct magazine. No, I didn't inquire too deeply.
But with Canada 150 directly ahead, now is the time to reveal how that played out. Having boarded The Canadian in Toronto, we rocked westward into the night, bound for Vancouver and the Pacific. The Atlantic leg would happen later. Now, we would stop off in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, and Banff, and stay in each city at a classic railway hotel. The idea was Canadian history, right? I would talk to any media outlet that would have me, and then we would board VIA-Rail’s next Canadian. Hey, I said someone worked magic.
True, our train looked nothing like the Countess of Dufferin (pictured below), which is housed at the Railway Museum in Winnipeg. But we ate our meals in a dining car complete with friendly servers, four-person tables, and white-linen tablecloths. We slept in a private compartment. And if we wanted a better view of the countryside, we would make our way to one of the dome cars.
We whirled through a kaleidoscope of landscape, history, and memory. It was the rail-trip of a lifetime, and it taught me a few things. It taught me to hate Calgary, for example, where Sheena and I lived for two decades while raising our now-adult children. I shared three of those reasons in the city itself, while praising 50 Canadians at Pages on Kensington. Looking back, I see that those reasons stand up. 
The first reason I hated Calgary was Naheed Nenshi. We chanced to be in the city when Calgarians elected this brilliant, charismatic leader to a second four-year term. Why should Calgary get the Best Mayor in Canada, that's what I wanted to know. Meanwhile, in Toronto, we were suffering the death of a thousand cuts under a certain Mortifying Blowhard. Nenshi alone would have been sufficient to make me gnash my teeth with envy. Come to think of it, I'm still gnashing.
That brings me to my second reason. I hated Calgary because it has the C-Train, a Light Rapid Transit system that runs like a dream. A multi-stop C-Train is precisely what Toronto needs to run out Scarborough way. Instead, our new and slightly improved mayor remains committed to building a radically inferior and far more expensive subway line. Don't get me started. 
The third reason I hated Calgary was the superabundance of swimming pools. They are everywhere, wonderfully clean, always half-empty. By comparison, swimming in Toronto is like something out of The Hunger Games. Nasty, brutish, and hard to survive. So: Nenshi, the C-Train, the swimming pools. All these I found hard to forgive.
But at Pages, I didn’t say a word about the most hurtful thing of all. I couldn't even speak of Calgary’s proximity to the Rockies. Did I mention that in summer we camped and hiked in those mountains, and in winter we skied every weekend at Sunshine or Lake Louise. You want justified hatred? Think about that.
In fairness, I have to say that the Calgary Herald ran an insightful article about 50 Canadians. The CBC Homestretch and Global TV gave me prime-time exposure. And I saw a whack of old friends at Pages on Kensington. Yes, we adjourned to a still-familiar pub. My hatred of Calgary is not unmitigated.

Youngish White Dude says YES to indigenous peoples, visible minorities

I hate to create mysteries during our run-up to Canada Day. But while the book we’re loud-hailing is rightly called 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, it celebrates 49 human beings, give or take -- 19 women and 30 men. Given that the human race is split 50-50, still I felt not too bad about having achieved 38.7 per cent women.
Then Justin Trudeau came along and, with his first cabinet, hit 50 per cent. Talk about raising the bar. I'm not bitter, but will note only that he didn’t have to accommodate the first half of the 20th century.
Then came the voices in my head. What about indigenous people? What about visible minorities? How many of those do we find among your 50 Canadian world-beaters, mister? Just how inclusive are you?
Well, hey, I thought you’d never ask. Turns out we have a dozen -- out of 49, more than 24 per cent. In Canada’s total population, those who self-identify as
indigenous or belonging to a visible minority comprise nineteen per cent. So when it comes to being demographically representative, this dude is ahead of the game. Yes!
The book’s table of contents included no names, only one-line descriptions. My idea was to encourage guessing games -- and it worked, here and there. Now and then. Among a few folks. This time around, I’ll give you bold-face names and then the one-liners:
Sheila Watt-Cloutier: An Inuit activist links climate change to human rights
Irshad Manji: A spirited Muslim calls for an Islamic Reformation.
Douglas Cardinal: A pioneering architect builds on his indigenous heritage
Kenojuak Ashevak: An Inuit artist enriches world culture
Joy Kogawa: A Japanese Canadian clears the way for minorities
Deepa Mehta: A transnational filmmaker gives voice to marginalized women
Michaelle Jean: A Haitian immigrant proves that pluralism works
Jay Silverheels: A talented Mohawk blazes a trail for aboriginal actors
Oscar Peterson: First this Montreal jazzman took Manhattan
K’naan Warsame: A flag-waving rapper tackles trouble in Somalia
David Suzuki: An environmental warrior awakens the world to climate change
Russell Peters: The Canadian comedian makes the world laugh with us
And did I say 19 women? Voila: Louise Arbour, Maude Barlow, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Irshad Manji, Naomi Klein, Jane Jacobs, Kenojuak Ashevak, Alice Munro, Joy Kogawa, Margaret Atwood, Deepa Mehta, Michaelle Jean, Samantha Nutt, Joni Mitchell, Celine Dion, Sarah Burke, Hayley Wickenheiser, Brenda Milner, Sara Seager.
That still leaves our mystery inclusion, our number fifty. No, it is not Northern Dancer -- though I fought hard to include that peerless progenitor. He’s Canadian, right? Anyway, if you can’t stand the suspense, you’ll have to buy the book. 50 Canadians Who Changed the World. It’s available in better bookstores, and here online from Chapters-Indigo.