Thursday, February 27, 2014

John Diefenbaker becomes Kildonan's Kennedy

In the north of Scotland, they're calling him Kildonan's Kennedy. They're referring to John Diefenbaker, Canadian prime minister from 1957 to 1963. And, yes, they do mean John F. Kennedy, the most charismatic of American presidents, and one who was famously attached to his Irish roots. Not only that, but in the Timespan Museum in Helmsdale, a town 68 miles north of Inverness, they have just launched a months-long Diefenbaker's North project, celebrating the story of Diefenbaker and his Bannerman ancestors.
If you've perused How the Scots Invented Canada, you will understand, but bear with me.  Above, you see Our Hero outside Rogart, which is in the same county as
Helmsdale: Sutherland. I am sitting by a cairn built out of stones from the croft of the grandfather of John A. Macdonald, Canada's first prime minister. Trust me, it is not an easy place to reach. But you see the plaque on that cairn? In 1968, Diefenbaker visited Rogart and unveiled it at a well-attended ceremony. He unveiled a second plaque, not far away, to his own Scottish ancestors, the Bannermans. His mother's people, they were among those who, driven out of Sutherland during the Highland Clearances, left the parish of Kildonan in 1813 and sailed to Canada. They were "Selkirk Settlers" who, after spending one bitter winter on the shores of Hudson Bay, trekked 1,000 miles south to establish Red River Settlement, which gave rise to Winnipeg. Yes, "Dief" was proud of his Scottish roots. Earlier today, while giving a talk in Markham, north of Toronto, I said a few words about that and showed the two images posted here. When I arrived home, I found a letter from Jim McGugan, a second cousin of mine who lives in Letham, Scotland. He enclosed a clipping from the Glasgow Herald of Feb. 19. . . . all about the Helmsdale project that launched last week. Gotta love even a modest synchronicity.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Say Goodbye to John Steinbeck

 
 
FREEDOM TO READ WEEK: (Feb. 23 to March 1)

Say Goodbye to John Steinbeck?
Back in the day, when I was writing songs and fronting a band (Ken McGoogan & the Immoral Minority), an elected government official began lobbying to ban Of Mice and Men from schools. He stood up in the legislature and brandished a petition. Having grown up reading Steinbeck --  along with Hemingway, London, Wolfe, and Fitzgerald, thanks to my father -- I did not take kindly to this. In fact, it brought out the Satirical Ken in me. But you'll see what I mean if you give a listen to Say Goodbye to John Steinbeck. . . .
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aeuGZkSNPPQ . . .
I read a book last Friday for the first time in seventeen years. . . .

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Celebrating John Rae at Wilderness Symposium

No, this is not an image taken at the symposium. But I couldn't resist: I had to show them this slide. Here we have Jenna Andersen doing the only handstand that has ever been done at the site where John Rae discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage. A bunch of us got to this hard-to-reach Arctic location in 2012 with Adventure Canada. I had been there before, in 1998, when three of us put that plaque there: me, Inuk explorer Louie Kamookak, and antiquarian Cameron Treleaven. On this return visit, Sheena Fraser McGoogan captured the handstand for posterity. To the right of the plaque, you can see the remains of the cairn that Rae built in 1854.  Of course, I wrote about this in Fatal Passage.  But earlier today, I outlined the Rae saga here in Toronto at the 29th annual Wilderness and Canoe Symposium -- to an enthusiastic audience of 500, no lie. I had met the woman who introduced at the airport in Kugluktuk. She had just paddled down the Coppermine River -- while reading Lady Franklin's Revenge, I might add -- along the route pioneered by Samuel Hearne. Anyway, hats off to the organizers of that symposium. Thanks to folks like you, we may yet get Rae recognized at Westminster Abbey.