Monday, September 30, 2013
Sunday, September 29, 2013
Here in Stromness, we filled in some blanks while visiting the Hall of Clestrain, John Rae's boyhood home. The wealthy Honeyman family, descended from an early bishop of Orkney, built the place in the 1760s. They had just returned from a trip to Italy, where symmetry and balance were all the rage, and applied those principles here.In 1814, Rae's father was running the estate and entertained Walter Scott, who drew on his knowledge of two of the explorer's older sisters for his novel The Pirate. Two of the Canadian visitors who trekked around the grounds, Jane Hamilton and Mary Davey (pictured with Our Hero), are descended from one of those sisters.
Out front of the Hall, Andrew Appleby assured me that the old place is destined to rise again. He is chair of the newly formed John Rae Society. That Society and a leading Orcadian architect have been working with the Vivat Trust, a building preservation trust dedicated to rescuing historic buildings and sensitively restoring them into self-catering holiday homes.
The sortie to Clestrain, which is located across a bay from Stromness, followed a visit to the extraordinary Stromness Museum. The place is chock-a-block with well-researched artifacts pertaining not only to Rae, but to whaling and Orcadian history. And that's before you reach the natural history exhibits. This place is a gem.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
STROMNESS, ORKNEY – A John Rae plaque is going into Westminster Abbey.
Alistair Carmichael, MP for Orkney in the British House of Commons, announced this evening that in 2014, a plaque will be mounted in the Abbey recognizing the Orcadian explorer as “the discoverer of the final link in the Northwest Passage.”
Carmichael made the announcement at a reception following the unveiling of a new statue of Rae (1813-1893) overlooking Stromness harbour.
Carmichael has twice brought motions to the British House of Commons seeking support for what many regard as overdue recognition of Rae. This time, he went straight to the Dean of Westminster Abbey, who quickly agreed.
In a brief chat following his
announcement, Carmichael said final confirmation awaits some “byzantine paperwork, but the Dean is onside, and that is what matters."
In my book Fatal Passage, which is the reason I am here as writer-in-residence, I celebrated the Scottish-Orcadian Rae for charting 1,800 miles of Arctic coastline, and for solving the two great mysteries of 19th century Arctic exploration. He discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage, and also the fate of the 1845 expedition led by Sir John Franklin, whose last survivors were driven to cannibalism.
The plaque will be made of Orkney stone, Carmichael said. “We have identified a spot on the wall near the Franklin bust.” The inscriptions beneath that bust and the larger-than-life statute of Franklin in nearby Waterloo Place have drawn criticism from the growing numbers of people who believe that the credit given to Franklin rightly belongs to Rae.
Several hundred people turned out for the ceremonial unveiling of the bronze statue, which was donated to the people of Orkney by Stromness native Alan Twatt. The inscription celebrates Rae as “the discoverer of the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage.”
[Photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan]
Thursday, September 26, 2013
The pieces of junk you see in these photos (courtesy of Sheena) constitute all that remains of a sturdy ship, the Monomoy, that sailed out of New York and went aground in Marwick Bay on January 6th, 1896. The waves, the wind, and the ice have obliterated the rest. And these scattered pieces, half a century younger than anything from the Frankln ships, lie 30 metres apart. Maybe there is another chunk of rusty metal 40 metres down the coast, held fast by rocks. Such scraps, if located, could tell us what, I wonder?
Wednesday, September 25, 2013
Usually, visitors to Orkney head west to such better-known sites as Skara Brae, the Stones of Stennis, and the Ring of Brodgar. But here we have a spectacular Viking site, with numerous 10th-century buildings just waiting to be dug out from beneath the mossy grasses. And the ruins of the stone-built chapel, built on the site of a wooden temple, pre-Norse, are alone worth a visit -- and that "interesting" climb up and along the cliffside.
Monday, September 23, 2013
Friday, September 20, 2013
Friday, September 13, 2013
academic excellence in completed course work and demonstration of promise in educational publishing." McGoogan, who holds a PhD in physical anthropology from the University of Toronto, will receive the award at a ceremony on October 10. Not long ago, she began working as an Acquisitions Editor at Canadian Scholars' Press.
So that's the straight goods, as reported by an ex-journalist. As Keriann's father, I will confine myself to adding a single word: HOOORAAAAY!!!.
Thursday, September 12, 2013
At first, I felt dismayed. But as a metaphor, a David-and-Goliath, I think the juxtaposition works almost perfectly.
Supercrawl is a wildly successful Hamilton street festival that celebrates arts and culture. Last year, it attracted 80,0000 people. What's not to love?
John Rae, who once lived in Hamilton, is the focus of an alternative event -- an illustrated presentation, razzle-dazzle of course, at McMaster University.
As a centre of attention, Rae has always been up against the massive, never-ending search for the missing ships of Sir John Franklin, who disappeared into the Arctic in 1845. Some question the wisdom of continuing that search.
But that is where the metaphor breaks down. Supercrawl looks fantastic. Best of all, it kicks off around noon on Saturday and runs through the afternoon into the evening. Come to think of it, Return to Rae Strait might best be viewed as an extension of Supercrawl. The Climactic Event of the festival? OK, OK, that's a bridge too far. Even so, Sheena and I propose to arrive early, poke around on James Street, and then head for McMaster. See you there?
Monday, September 9, 2013
On this date 109 years ago -- September 9, 1904 -- James Joyce moved into the Martello Tower in Sandycove, a suburb of Dublin. The place is now a museum -- a shrine to some of us -- and I snapped the above photo a couple of months ago. Joyce arrived here uninvited, having recently fallen out with the legitimate occupant, Oliver St. John Gogarty. Alas, Joyce had no place else to go. Gogarty waited until the young writer had fallen asleep, and then began shouting as if delirious while blasting away in the dark with a gun. Joyce perceived that he was unwelcome and beat a hasty retreat. You get a glimpse of this in the opening to Ulysses, arguably the greatest novel ever written. Don't take my word for it. When, while interviewing Salman Rushdie a few years back,
I said of Satanic Verses: "I seem to see a lot of Joyce in here." Rushdie said, "Ah, Joyce. The Master." Rushdie, too, has poked around inside this tower. Thanks to Tom Keyser for bringing all this back with a Facebook posting. And here we have a Sheena photo: Our Hero with His Hero on O'Connell Street.