Our Hero Disbelieving

Our Hero Disbelieving

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Halifax gets a dazzling library to go with a ground-breaking MFA

Hello, Halifax!
Your new central library really is spectacular. It wasn't here when I visited last August. I'm especially
excited to see the Paul O'Regan Hall, in which, on Nov. 28, I will present my new book, Celtic Lightning: How the Scots and the Irish Created a Canadian Nation. Clearly, given the name O'Regan, that hall is the perfect venue. I'm here to do some teaching in the country's first MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. So everything is coming up bookish. . . One more shout-out: Yo, Atlantic News! Just a couple of blocks from the library, it's thriving as a quintessential magazine and newspaper vendor . . . . Call it old-fashioned, but one man who works there says the store is four decades old and still humming.  Awright!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Writing a book is tough work . . . but someone has to do it?

Here we see the Ocean Endeavour. Come September 5, we'll board that vessel in Kugluktuk (Coppermine) and sail east through the Northwest Passage . . . all the way to Greenland, there to climb into a zodiac and wend among the most spectacular icebergs in the northern hemisphere. As the Adventure Canada historian on board, I'll give talks and presentations while we sail. Gotta love that!
Before we head out on that voyage, we'll spend two weeks in Halifax at University of King's College, where I'll do some teaching in Canada's first MFA program in Creative Nonfiction. Ready, aye, ready to entertain a new cohort of writers.
On September 22, Celtic Lightning hits the bookstores. Subtitle: How the Scots and the Irish Created a Canadian Nation. Spreading the word will involve a series of events that looks something like this: -- Sept. 27, Toronto: Word on the Street. -- Oct. 1, Toronto launch: Ben McNally Books (bagpipes + kilt). -- Oct. 3, Westport, ON., Writers Reading; -- Oct. 6, Calgary: Owl's Nest bookstore. -- Oct. 8, Winnipeg: McNally Robinson. -- Oct. 23, Fort Erie, Ontario: Ridgeway Reading Series. -- Nov. 12, Toronto: Eh List, Toronto Reference Library. -- Nov. 15, Montreal: Paragraphe Bookstore -- Nov. 18, Halifax: Central Library. -- Dec. 1, Hamilton: Different Drummer Books. If you've read this far, can I hope to see you at one of these events?



Friday, July 10, 2015

The Franklin-search tempest: adding pieces to the jigsaw

A few social media threads are following the Franklin-search tempest whirling around Paul Watson, Jim Balsillie, John Geiger, and The Lost Franklin Ships. This documentary, full disclosure, includes riveting footage of yours truly talking history (see left). Since the story broke, one researcher (Wolfgang Opel) turned up the Jim Balsillie letter that Watson quoted to Canadaland. Here's a link:  http://aptn.ca/.../4/2015/07/Arctic-Research-Foundation.pdf

John Geiger, CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (F.D.: yes, I am a Fellow), has stated that the RCGS had no editorial control over the documentary.
"We saw it for the first time when it aired on CBC," Geiger told the Canadian Press, "just like the rest of the viewing public."I believe any concerns or comments are best directed to the filmmakers." 

Those film-makers, Andrew E.M. Gregg and Gordon Henderson, stand behind their documentary. In a Facebook post, catching up, Gregg wrote that he knew some some partners in the Erebus search were upset because "they didn't get as much attention as some others did. We've already addressed the stuff Watson trudges up in the Canadaland interview and much of it is not accurate. If you think back to our film our main characters were the two principal underwater archaeologists from Parks Canada. No one else. To claim otherwise is nonsense. . . . To be honest I'm not exactly sure what the story is here -- the PMO reportedly tried to meddle in how the Erebus discovery was rolled out to the press? Should that shock anybody? I'll be interested to find out more over the next few days but we stand by our doc and challenge anybody to poke holes in how we told the story."

And in that same thread, Gordon Henderson wrote: "Our film focused on Marc Andre Bernier and Ryan Harris from Parks Canada. They were the stars. They drove the narrative. Not John Geiger. Not anyone else. The film was about the search and the story. What happened to Franklin and his men. The accuracy of the Inuit testimony. Watch the film -- it's on The Nature of Things website -- and judge for yourself."

In a parallel universe, exploration expert Randall Osczevski noted that Balsillie's letter "refers to studies of ice flow as key information. This was not mentioned in the video, or since." He recalled posting a link and noted:  "At the time, my response and that of others was that we had never heard of this man . . . or his contribution." He and all the rest of us went about our business. But now he wonders.

So, here is the article, which tells us that Tom Zagon, an ice climatologist with expertise in remote sensing, made an important contribution to locating the Erebus by analyzing satellite images. Zagon works for Environment Canada, and as we all know (Old News alert), the Harper regime has muzzled government scientists. To me, it looks like Zagon deserves more kudos than he has received. So that would be one puzzle piece. But is that all there is?



Wednesday, July 8, 2015

This Franklin-search "scandal" looks like sour grapes and grandstanding



Several people have nudged me to comment on this latest Franklin-search “scandal.” Journalist Paul Watson resigning in a huff? Complaining that the Toronto Star has been suppressing a story of great public interest. I get the Star delivered to my doorstep every day, and I have to admit that the response of publisher John Cruickshank resonates with me: “Let me publicly deny this extremely odd idea. . . . Suppressing stories of public interest is something the Star has never done and will never do.”
You have to admit that Watson is positioning himself brilliantly. Champion of the little guy. Voice of the voiceless. But I’ve perused and parsed the long interview published in Canadaland and have to admit that I am still scratching my head. Apparently Jim Balsillie is quite upset. A Russian-flagged vessel was highlighted in the documentary when the CCGS Laurier led the search and carried the crew? A robotic sub was “presented as a key technical help” instead of “the Gannet and the Kinglet launched from the CCGS Laurier.”
Somebody is getting a medal when some other deserving soul is not? Wow, that’s the first time that has ever happened. Maybe I’m missing something, but I’m having trouble finding the great public interest in all this . . . much less evidence of witchhunt-worthy wrong-doing. Apparently, that’s what the Star editors told Paul Watson. And he didn’t want to hear it. What I see here is sour grapes and grand-standing . . . and maybe a touch of hubris.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

When will Franklin searchers discover that dead body on Erebus?

The next step in searching the Erebus, according to Parks Canada's chief underwater archaeologist, is  "to start exploring the inside in more depth, because that is where 97% of the artifacts are, where all the information that is going to tell us what happened is going to be.” Quoted in the digital magazine Tabaret, based at the University of Ottawa, Marc-André Bernier drew attention to interviews collected in 1879 by American searcher Frederick Schwatka (pictured right).  One of the Inuit Schwatka interviewed, Puhtoorak, "had been on the wreck. He recalled seeing the deserted ship ‘in complete order … seeing many spoons, knives, forks, tin plates and china plates.’ The plates that we recovered would have been close to where sailors had their mess tables, really close to the stove … It kind of corresponds to, ‘things were left in order.’ The fact that these things were found together with the medicine bottle," Bernier said, "in that little niche in that part of the deck, we can already link it to the Inuit accounts and testimony.” What Bernier does not mention is that, according to Schwatka, who conducted interviews with the help of (Joe) Ebierbing, Puhtoorak also came upon a white man dead in a bunk: "The body was in a bunk inside the ship in the back part." Other accounts put the dead body on the floor. We can only wait and wonder.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Rachel Dolezal inspires renewed call for a book-world revolution



Some of my writer-friends are (rightly) irritated that Rachel Dolezal "admitted" to indulging in "creative nonfiction." She lied, damn it. Writers of creative nonfiction tell the truth. But Dolezal's "admission" reminds me of why, a few years back, writing in the Globe and Mail, Our Hero called for a book-world revolution.
C'mon, surely you remember that? Going forward, I wrote, requires a slow-motion, two-step action plan. First step: we divide fact-based literature into two broad categories -- narrative nonfiction and polemical nonfiction. The first includes biography, memoir, travel, popular history, true crime, you get the idea; the second comprises thesis-driven works, artful jeremiads – political, scientific, philosophical.  Along these lines, we reorganize our world.
Second step: we abandon "nonfiction." Yes, I take a hard line. We cease to define countless literary works by what they are not, and in relation to some other genre. As a corollary, we recognize that, as a concept, "creative nonfiction" has taken us as far as it can. We let it go. End result: we will be left with two fact-based literary genres, Narrative and Polemic, both on par with Fiction. So: biographical narrative, historical narrative, true-crime narrative . . . .
Alas, this well-conceived insurgency attracted few followers. But you never know. If we get a few more Rachel Dolezals "admitting" to creative nonfiction, we may yet change the narrative. We may yet see literary types embracing the book-world revolution.


Saturday, June 13, 2015

150 Canadian authors illuminate a triple-whammy extravaganza

OK, this one has me clasping my head. We're looking at a multi-media project two years in the making. It's going to showcase photo-portraits of  150 Canadian authors. Yup: 150 from across the country! The photographer, Mark Raynes Roberts, traveled 20,000 km to take 22,500 photos . . . and the story hasn't hit the mainstream media? Picture me clasping AND reeling around the room. Roberts is renowned for his intricate, hand-engraved crystal art . . . and a dozen
pieces will turn up at one of the three Toronto venues slated to showcase Illumination, as the show is called. Those crystal masterpieces will form part of the exhibit at the Gardiner Museum (Oct. 26 to Nov 11).  More author portraits turn up at the Toronto Reference Library (Oct. 11-Nov 1) and the International Festival of Authors at Harbourfront (Oct. 22 to Nov. 1). But look around: here we have Sarah Sheard (on horse), Miranda Hill (thinking), Dave Bidini (hat and piano), Jonathan Kay (on stairs), Ray Robertson (hat and stare) and Michelle Berry looking Scandinavian for good luck . . . AND there are 144 more where these come from (143 if we count that one in the lower left). Find out more from the man himself: info@markraynesroberts.com. Honestly, I think we should spread the word.