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2017 Greatest Hits feature Scotland, Atwood, and the Arctic

Last day of the year, I find myself driven out of bed at 5 am to look back at 2017, and to say hey to readers who have been checking in here. We're up over 20,000 views per month -- a far cry from pop-culture blogging numbers, but I'll take it. And I'll defer to the "overview stats" page at the back of this blog to offer up an orderly, top-five guide through the past year. . . .

And so we beat on, as F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, like boats against the tide, borne back ceaselessly into the past . . . .


Ken McGoogan
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2019 John Rae Arctic Return Expedition rockets into cyberspace

The website is live. The expedition is all systems go. The team is still growing. Sponsors are flocking to the cause. To learn all about the Arctic Return expedition, click on . . . this link! Meanwhile, see below for truncated introductions to some key players.

Expedition Team:

For over 20 years, expedition leader David Reid has been involved in the Arctic expedition and travel business. To date he has led, organized or participated in more than 300 Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, trips and projects. In that time he has traveled thousands of miles by dog sled, ski, snowmobile, boat, kayak, ship, foot and most recently by bike, becoming the first person to cross Baffin Island by fat-tire bike.

Andrew Bresnahan is a physician and anthropologist from Labrador, Canada. An explorer and visual storyteller, Andrew's work brings him from rural and remote northern clinics to the communities and wild backcountry of the circumpolar world. Andrew has worked as an expedition doctor and anthropologist throughout Inuit Nunaat, from Greenland and the Labrador coast across the Northwest Passage to the western Arctic. An avid skier, climber, kayaker, and outdoor educator, Andrew is at home on Canada’s north coast.

Expedition Partners:
Ken McGoogan is an award-winning author-historian who has published more than a dozen books, among them Fatal Passage, Lady Franklin's Revenge, and Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage. In 1999, with Louie Kamookak and Cameron Treleaven, he placed a memorial plaque in the High Arctic beside the ruins of the cairn that John Rae built in 1854.

GJOA HAVEN CONSULTANT: Louie Kamookak is an Inuit historian and educator whose research into Inuit oral history has been crucial in unlocking the secrets of the lost Franklin Expedition, including the whereabouts of Franklin's ship, the Erebus. Louie is an honorary vice-president of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society, which awarded him the Erebus Medal for his role in the search and discovery of HMS Erebus. He spends a lot of time out on the land, teaching younger people the ways of his ancestors.

Andrew Appleby: "I was drawn to Orkney and John Rae since childhood. On a tall ship cruise in Scapa Flow in 1992, we passed The Hall of Clestrain. The Captain remarked on the state of The Hall. I determined I would do something about it. I helped form The Orkney Boat Museum at Clestrain. When that dissolved I was determined to initiate The John Rae Society. We have achieved a great deal since then!"

Ken McGoogan
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BIG ICE never fails to work MAGIC!

Final posting from our Adventure Canada voyage Out of the Northwest Passage . . .
Day 15: Ilulissat

Late afternoon in Ilulissat, voyagers returned from a 90-minute zodiac cruise among the icebergs looking and sounding exhilarated. The message they carried: BIG ICE! BIG! FANTASTIC! Ilulissat is the third-largest town in Greenland, with 4,541 people (as of 2013) and 6,000 dogs. This is the birthplace of explorer-anthropologist Knud Rasmussen (1879-1933), and his childhood home has become a notable museum. But the main attraction is the Jakobshavn Glacier, a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2004.
The Ilulissat Icefjord flows past the town at 45 metres per day. It produces 35 billion tons of ice each year, and spawns vastly more icebergs than any glacier in the Canadian Arctic. And that explains why, for the cruise, our expedition leader, M.J., put a full complement of 20 zodiacs in the water.
After debarking in the morning, most voyagers undertook the avidly awaited three-kilometre walk through the colorful town, where construction is the order of the day. We hiked to the boardwalk and beyond, scrambling up a hilltop vantage point to look out over the flowing river of ice. This river is believed to have spawned the iceberg that sank the Titanic. Instead of retracing our steps, a couple of us followed the Big Blue Dots and mini-cairns around the back, looking out over the ice all the while, switching eventually to a line of Red Dots that led us back to the start of the boardwalk. This was a good stiff hike and scramble.
Back on the ship, we had intended to follow the zodiac cruise, on this super-packed day, with the polar plunge. But because a good number of people were feeling the chill, we postponed that until tomorrow and set out sailing south through Disko Bay. That inspired the inevitable Disko Party in the Nautilus, complete with crazy costumes, and the rest is best passed over in dignified silence.
[Merry Christmas, y'all!]
Ken McGoogan
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Arctic landscape calls out for Return

Voyaging Out of the Passage with Adventure Canada
Day 13: Qikiqtarjuak

“The whalers used to call us Yaks,” Billy Etooangat said as he rode back to the ship in the zodiac to retrieve his luggage. He was arriving home in Qikiqtarjuak in the sunshine. “After Yaks, we were Eskimos.” He took a beat. “I didn’t mind that, but then I became aboriginal . . . an aboriginal person. Now I am indigenous.” The man at the helm of zodiac, David Reid, said, “What would you like to be called?” Billy answered: “A Canadian.”
Billy’s hometown, called Qik by those in the know, has a population of 600, which makes it the smallest community we visited. The handy-dandy postcards that people were giving out note that Qik is 100 km north of the Arctic Circle and 483 north of Iqualuit. A favorite slogan, especially popular on the backs of white sweatshirts, is, “Qik’in It / Above The / Artic Circle.” The town has everything you find in the larger centres – health centre, visitor centre, Co-Op, Northern Store – and also a larger percentage, or so it seemed, of fluent and friendly English speakers.
The scenery is the biggest highlight. We made our way, most of us, to the massive inukshuk on a high hill at the back of town, wending upwards along a rock-lined path, and wow! what a vista of harbor, beaches, mountains and, as it happened, a large flat iceberg, sparkling in the sun. The half dozen snorkelers who went out with Rick Stanley and Neil Burgess returned to the ship abuzz with the excitement of ranging along near the iceberg.
Mid-afternoon found travelers partying at an Inuit Social in the Nautilus Lounge. People crowded around a table near the back to sample Narwhal muktuk, char, smoked or dried, and dried caribou. Fifteen or twenty were playing a game on the dance floor when a whale sighting – “Bowhead! thar she blows!” – lured everyone outside, including master of ceremonies Derek Pottle. He called it a “whale break” and afterwards returned to the festivities.
As we sailed southeast along the coast of Baffin, we spotted a cargo ship at work. It was clearing detritus from an old Dew Line Site. Then came a sighting of multiple bowheads fluting and blowing, and the captain managed to draw the ship to within less than 200 metres. Marine mammal expert Pierre Richard said we saw more than ten bowheads. Best viewing of the voyage!
Later, during recap, David Reid stepped forward. Last spring, Reid led a four-person, four-dog expedition in circumnavigating Bylot Island: 29 days, 540 kilometres. During this Adventure Canada voyage, while chatting with friends, Reid settled on a challenging new project -- a re-enactment. As an emigrant Scot who worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and lived two decades among the Inuit in the High Arctic, Reid feels a special affinity for 19th- century explorer John Rae.
For his next project, he will reprise Rae’s 1854 expedition – the one on which he discovered both the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage and the fate of the Franklin expedition (cannibalism among some later survivors). This will mean traveling on skis or snowshoes roughly 650 km from Repulse Bay to Gjoa Haven via Point de la Guiche, where Rae built a cairn on the west coast of Boothia.
Reid will undertake this 35-day Arctic Return Expedition to call attention to the magnificence of Rae's achievements, and in hopes that it will draw attention to the drive to restore the Hall of Clestrain in Stromness, where Rae was born. He will put together a three-or-four person team with a view to setting out from Repulse on March 31, 2019.
Ken McGoogan
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Wrestling Visions of Climate Change in the Northwest Passage

Sailing Out of the Passage with Adventure Canada
Day 12: Aujuittuq National Park

Katabatic winds came roaring down off the mountains of the fjord. By some estimates, they were gusting up to 80 km, carrying higher-density air under the influence of gravity. Just before noon, the winds forced a brief closure of all decks for safety sake. But then, without explanation – though maybe we rounded a corner -- the winds suddenly died to nothing. The whitecaps ceased frothing and, once again, all was right with the world. We were back out on deck, cruising along among spectacular mountain peaks. Afternoon would bring more adventure.
But first, early in the morning, Jackie Dawson gave a memorable presentation, arguing that the Canadian Arctic is not experiencing a shipping boom and won’t be doing so any time soon. Currently serving as Canada Research Chair at the University of Ottawa. Dawson has been examining Arctic shipping trends for more than ten years with as many as 15 graduate students at a time.
Dawson said climate change is causing reductions in sea ice. “We have 19 more days of open water in the Northwest Passage than we did ten years ago.” But the break-up of the ice-pack in the Arctic Ocean is pouring multi-year ice directly into the northern route of the Passage. “It could be 75 to 100 years before that ice pack is melted,” she said. “The northern route will be choked with ice for a long time.”
The Northwest Passage is nowhere near “open for business.” Canada has a long way to go to make the Arctic a viable region for ship traffic: “We don’t have the infrastructure.”
More ships are indeed sailing through the southern route of the Passage. But the traffic volumes in Arctic Canada remain tiny as compared with those of other regions, such as Svalbard, Greenland, and Franz Josef Land. ‘We don’t have a million vessels,” she said, “but the risks in Canada are much higher.” Ice and wind are among the greatest hazards for ship navigation, and while Canada has established corridors, most of its Arctic waters remain uncharted.
While climate change is reducing the amount of ice in the Canadian Arctic, other factors play a major role in any decision to ship goods through the Passage. The cost of insurance, for example, is currently creating a bottleneck. And the port and railroad facilities available via Prince Rupert, British Columbia, may well offer a cheaper alternative for decades.
But did I mention the afternoon? At Auyuittuq, we went ashore onto the mud flats of an alluvial plain that wound slowly uphill among striking mountain peaks. We went for various hikes – extreme, long, medium, short – and we wandered within a wide perimeter. Many passengers went for a half-hour zodiac cruise, and were surprised to see the hotel manager, Eckhart, arrive in a white polar bear suit, along with two assistants. They brought hot chocolate and Bailey’s, and most of us managed to choke it down.
Come evening, host David Newland built on the presentation of Jackie Dawson by showing everyone an especially cogent table demonstrating that the American Navy believes in climate change. The table predicts that by 2025, a viable passage will cross the Arctic region from east to west– but it won’t be the Northwest Passage. Rather, climate change will open a route almost directly across the North Pole.
[Pix by Sheena Fraser McGoogan]
Ken McGoogan
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Beechey Island whiteout inspires Dead Reckoning video

Scenes from September, voyaging Out of the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada.

Day 8: Beechey Island
For visiting Beechey Island, the best-known historical site in the Arctic, the day was perfect: cool and overcast. We went ashore in zodiacs and climbed the rocky, snow-swept slope to the graves of the first three sailors to die during the 1845 Franklin expedition. The men perished here in 1846 and, given that Sir John was famous for his sonorous sermons, we can be sure he buried them with due ceremony. Franklin and 125 men sailed on south down Peel Sound in their two ships, the Erebus and the Terror, to meet their own fate.
On Beechey, in the 1980s, forensic scientist Owen Beattie autopsied the bodies of Franklin’s men, John Torrington, William Braine, and John Hartnell. At the gravesite, archaeologist Latonia Hartery vividly described the process. A fourth sailor was buried here in 1854 – Thomas Morgan, a man from Robert McClure’s ship, the Investigator. He had been rescued from that vessel, which was trapped in Mercy Bay on Banks Island, some distance west, but was already so sick that he did not survive.
After viewing the graves, first discovered in 1850, most passengers hiked 1.6 kilometres along the shoreline to check out Northumberland House (now a ruin). Searchers built it in 1852-53, mainly from the wreckage of an old whaler. They deposited supplies for the use of Franklin, should he return this way, and also for any later searchers. Several later memorials and markers placed here are of tangential interest.
But on the ground behind the remains of the house, we saw tin cans from the original expedition, filled with stones and lined up to form a cross. Also, we saw a wooden two-by-four etched with the name of another explorer: “J.E. Bernier / 1906.” Canadian Joseph Bernier visited here during his multi-year expedition to assert Canadian sovereignty over the entire Arctic archipelago.
Finally, here too we saw what’s usually called the Bellot monument, which features a marble slab sent from England by Lady Franklin. It was installed to the memory of the Franklin expedition by Leopold McClintock in 1857. Four years before that, while anchored nearby, Joseph-Rene Bellot had volunteered to trek north along the ice of Wellington Channel to deliver a message. He took two men. The ice broke off as they walked and they spent the night in a tent on a large ice floe. Come morning, Bellot stepped outside the tent . . . and never reappeared. Obviously, he had slipped off. The other two men waited until the floe returned to shore and jumped off to safety . . . . and sorrow.
Back on the Ocean Endeavour, Dr. Andrew Breshnehan -- always merry and bright -- gave an insightful talk on Circumpolar Health. Later, while in the Nautilus Lounge we studied an image of the Beechey Island graves, passenger Keith MacFarlane introduced a moment of silence with a moving tune on the bagpipes. And later still, a number of staffers – David Newland, Julie Bernier, Daniel Freeze, Lynn Moorman, Julie Knox, Gay Peppin, Dr. Andrew – went the extra mile to organize an unforgettable book launch for Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage. They made the author mighty grateful.
[You can check out the dazzling, 3-minute, Beechey Island book-launch video by clicking here.]
[Pix by Sheena Fraser McGoogan]

Ken McGoogan
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Gjoa Haven features Amundsen, Kamookak, Martin Bergmann

Voyaging Out of the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada, September 2018:

Day 4: Gjoa Haven

The little kids stole the show. Five to seven years old, they emerged in pairs, jigging out into the centre of the high school gymnasium. Within seconds, we visitors were dabbing at our eyes. These innocents were dancing so intently, trying so hard, that somehow it was beautiful -- one of the most beautiful moments, for one jaded writer, of this or any previous Arctic voyage.
We had arrived in Gjoa Haven, in the heart of the Northwest Passage, the previous evening. Population in the 2016 census: 1324. When morning dawned, there it was, snow-dusted and clearly visible in the sunshine. Matthew James got things moving early and passengers were piling into zodiacs by 0830. On shore, having accomplished our first wet landing, we split into half a dozen groups, said hello to one of the local guides, and headed out to explore the town.
While making for the Amundsen cairn on the hill, apparently the only group to do so, we saw the Martin Bergmann tied up to a dock.
Last year, while sailing on that ship, searchers found the long-lost HMS Terror. Following our Inuit guide, George Bachmann (“like in BTO”), we waded through the occasional snow drift and got to see where, on the hills around us, Amundsen placed magnetic instruments in a bid to locate the ever-shifting Magnetic North Pole.
He never quite managed, though starting in 1903, he spent two winters here in Gjoa. While wandering through town, George pointed out “the house of Amundsen’s grandson,” and revealed that he himself is “married to the great granddaughter” of that explorer. Together, they have four boys. Along the way, we deked into the hamlet office, where we admired a massive bust of Amundsen and saw some impressive soapstone carvings.
We gravitated to the high school – apparently, we were the sixth set of passengers to arrive in ten days – and enjoyed Inuit hospitality. We saw drum-dancing, we heard throat-singing, and we announced the winners of both writing and art-making competitions. I touched base with historian Louie Kamookak, my friend and fellow traveler. And then came those beautiful children. The zodiac ride back to the ship, pounding through six-foot waves in winds gusting to thirty knots, reminded us why, when confronted with rougher-still gale-force conditions, Adventure Canada prefers to avoid putting zodiacs in the water.
Back on the Ocean Endeavour, David Reid, who lived in the High Arctic (mostly Pond Inlet) for more than two decades, walked us through life in an Arctic village. He noted that Nunavut occupies one fifth of Canada’s land mass, but has a population of only 33,000. Villages rely on supply ships for supplies, though First Air provides most of them with three to five flights a week. Expectations to the contrary, he said, the Arctic does not get much snow, not compared with, say, Montreal.
Reid explained the genius of the komitik. That wooden sled, thanks to its flexibility, enables travelers to cross crevasses in the ice. He noted that more northerly communities do experience three months of darkness, and also three months of never-ending light – and that these last can be harder to endure.
In a talk entitled Land and Sea-Ice Journey, Susie Evyagotailak brought to life several travel adventures. And Ashley Savard provided a final highlight with a unique one-woman show that mixed poetry, song, and drum dancing. All those who were there adjourned saying: yes!
[Photos by Sheena Fraser McGoogan]
Ken McGoogan
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Parks Canada expects to find human remains on Franklin ships

Voyaging Out of the Northwest Passage last September with Adventure Canada.
Day 3: Simpson Strait

“I expect to find human remains.” So said Marc-Andre Bernier this morning in response to a question about diving on the Erebus. “Most likely bones, skeletons.” He noted that Inuit testimony speaks of at least one body on what would appear to be Erebus, and added that he had seen flesh on bones before. Many artifacts on Erebus are covered in sediment, he said, “and if sedimented, the remains could be very well preserved.” Bernier cited the example of a wreck from 1770, the HMS Swift, which researchers located in Patagonia: “They found a complete skeleton in uniform.”
Since discovering the Erebus in 2014, Bernier said, Parks Canada has conducted more than 250 hours of diving – “open water, through the ice, and now we’re setting up to dive from a barge.” That barge arrived recently in Gjoa Haven. The top of the Erebus is just 10 feet below the surface of the water, and that has facilitated the initial exploration of the ship.
“Some of the deck planks are gone,” Bernier said, “and in some instances we have been able to peek inside to the lower decks.” Using state-of-the-art technology and computerized graphics, the underwater archaeologists have been able to create a three-dimensional, grid-system map of the wreck. From the headquarters of the Royal Marines, they have recovered shoes, ceramic pestles, and medicine bottles reused as shot glasses. Parks Canada has established a protected zone, a national historic site 10 kilometres square, around the Erebus. The Inuit guardians at the site, where yesterday three tents blew down, were being evacuated today.
The Erebus is not badly preserved, Bernier said, but the Terror – discovered just last year – “is in phenomenal condition.” There, researchers have identified a ship’s boat, a 23-foot cutter, sitting on the ocean floor directly under the davits designed to release it. They also identified two outhouses sitting on the top deck. To laughter, he said: “Imagine all the DNA samples in there.” He noted that the window over the officer’s mess is partly open. So far, the team has collected about ten hours of video, and the next step will be to introduce Remotely Operated Vehicles (ROVs) into the ship.
Just before lunch, many passengers went out on the top deck to stand in the wind – still gale force – and gaze out at King William Island. Those men who, in the late 1840s, abandoned Terror struggled along this coastline. On his 1857-59 expedition,
Leopold McClintock found the skeleton of one of the men who died here, and identified him as Thomas Armitage. After experiencing those winds, nobody with any sense harbored dreams of going ashore.
Late in the afternoon, with the wind still wailing at more than 20 knots, Matthew James made it official: we would attempt no landing. The sun came out and the Ocean Endeavour set off eastward through Simpson Strait, bound for Gjoa Haven. Passengers crowded onto the top deck and marvelled at the nearness of the shore, the narrowness of the strait.
Ken McGoogan
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Lighting the Kudlik in the Northwest Passage

As a rule, when we sail in the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada, I end up writing the "official" logbook that goes out to passengers as an illustrated booklet. Towards the end of the year, I like to post a few excerpts. It gets me remembering . . . and excites me about next year.

Day 2: The Erebus Site
We sailed into a blizzard at around 1530 hours. The timing seemed fortuitous. Marc-Andre Bernier, manager of underwater archaeology for Parks Canada, was halfway through a presentation on The Search and Discovery of Sir John Franklin’s Lost Ships. Suddenly we could see for ourselves the kinds of conditions the Franklin expedition encountered in the mid-1840s in relatively tiny, wooden ships. We could see and hardly fail to understand.
Bernier planned to remain with the Ocean Endeavour for the next three days. He would lead us to the site of the wreck of the Erebus and proceed to Gjoa Haven. While outside a gale-force wind gusted to upwards of 50 knots, Bernier talked about Parks Canada search operations over the past eight years. His presence on board – and that of four other federal government agency representatives – emerged as part of a new partnership between Adventure Canada and Parks Canada.
In this first of three presentations, Bernier highlighted the importance of Inuit accounts as relayed through such explorers as John Rae, Charles Francis Hall, and Frederick Schwatka, who relied on interpreters William Ouligbuck, Tookoolito, and Ebierbing. He noted that these accounts “gave us an area, but did not establish a location.” That is why the search required so much time and energy. It consumed eight years, covered an area equal to 215,686 soccer fields, required 322 person-days of field work, and entailed the consumption, roughly speaking, of more than 500 litres of coffee.
The storm continued unabated into the late afternoon, as passengers sat entranced through an Inuit ceremony of welcome. Led by Susie Evyagotailak (who lit the kudlik/ qulliq), John Houston, Louee Okalik and Derek Pottle, it involved no fewer than eight culturalists (all speakers of Inuktitut), and was highlighted by Jennifer Kilibuk, who charmed passengers by combining a song with a drum dance.
The day had begun with an archaeological briefing by Dr. Latonia Hartery, who explained guidelines for visiting any sites or features more than 50 years old, and a talk by the resource historian (yours truly) based on Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.
Through the afternoon, the blizzard raged. And at evening briefing, what had seemed fortuitous in the morning stood revealed as foreboding: we would not, after all, be visiting Erebus. Expedition leader Matthew James Swan (MJ) laid it on the line. The weather had gotten worse instead of better. On land near the wreck, Parks Canada had built a five-tent campsite that would enable visitors to warm up after snorkeling. Marc Andre Bernier took the microphone to reveal that “three of those tents have been blown off.”
Bernier and his team had also arranged for a Twin Otter to fly in from Gjoa Haven, bringing Inuit historian Louie Kamookak and several elders to interpret the site. But while that plane could handle the expected winds of 35 to 40 knots, the pilot needed at least 1,000 feet of visibility. And the Inuit guardians on the spot said that, engulfed by fog, they had no visibility whatsoever.
Finally, the thought of putting zodiacs into the water when the winds were blowing at more than 25 knots . . . and sending passengers out in what, because of the ship’s location, would be a 40-minute zodiac ride each way . . . no, MJ couldn’t see it: “The zodiacs would just flip.” What about waiting in the vicinity for a couple of days? Bernier explained that, by stirring up sediment, the storm had already rendered that a non-starter. Nobody would be able to see a thing in the water – not for days.
Our leaders were unanimous, their decision ineluctable. We would not be visiting the Erebus site. Like the explorers themselves, as host David Newland suggested, we would have to swallow this disappointment and sail on. And for the first of many evenings, Newland did yeoman service, singing us into the night with The Northwest Passage in Story and Song.
[Pix: Jennifer & Susie, and Marc-Andre Bernier by Sheena Fraser McGoogan; and a favorite image I used in Dead Reckoning: Frederick Schwatka crossing Simpson Strait . . . together with those unsung heroes, Tulugak and Ebierbing.]

Ken McGoogan
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Arctic Return Expedition backs Orkney vision of a John Rae World Heritage site

While announcing the 2019 Arctic Return Expedition, which will follow in the footsteps of Arctic explorer John Rae, team leader David Reid spoke of yearning to do something about the dilapidated condition of Rae’s birthplace in Stromness, Orkney: the Hall of Clestrain. “Clestrain stands as an example of something once proud, dignified, and strong,” he said. “The passing years have not been kind to it.” He and his fellow travelers are hoping that this expedition will inspire the funding of a restoration – indeed, a transformation.
Clestrain was built in 1769 by Patrick Honeyman, whose family had been prominent in Orkney for more than a century. The architect is unknown, but Clestrain bears a notable resemblance to Gayfield House in Edinburgh, built five years earlier for the Earl of Leven by Charles and William Butter. According to architect Leslie Burgher, Clestrain was “the first Palladian Villa and the first significant building in Georgian style in the far north of Scotland.” It became one of a handful “of buildings of national quality and importance in the Northern Isles.”
Patrick Honeyman’s son William (1756-1825) became a Session Court judge: Lord Armadale. He married a lady, Mary McQueen, who became the subject of a 1790 painting by Alexander Nasmyth: Lady Honeyman and her family. Later that decade, a storm blew the roof off Clestrain and Honeyman had to replace it.
Early in the 1800s, with properties in Edinburgh, Sutherland, Lanarkshire, and Lothian, Honeyman appointed a factor to oversee his holdings in Orkney. That factor, John Rae Senior, moved with his family into Clestrain. And there, John Rae was born (in 1813) and raised, eventually to become one of the greatest explorers of the 19th century. That story figures in Dead Reckoning, but I tell it most fully in Fatal Passage.
In August 1814, Sir Walter Scott visited the Standing Stones of Stennis with Rae Sr., and wrote later that “the hospitality of Mrs. Rae detained us to an early dinner at Clestrain.” Scott drew on this visit to Orkney for his novel The Pirate, and Rae’s older sisters are said to have inspired his fictional characters Brenda and Minna. John Rae grew up in and around Clestrain, hunting and fishing and sailing small boats.
Flash forward to 1925, when a farming family, the Craigies, acquired the estate and moved into Hall. They occupied it until 1952, when a devastating gale blew off the slate roof, forcing the family to move into a new farmhouse. Since then, Burgher writes, “the house has suffered a slow decline.” The Craigies replaced the roof with corrugated sheeting and used Clestrain as an outbuilding for farm animals.
Since 1990, several local bodies have tried and failed to raise enough money to restore the Hall – the Orkney Heritage Society, the Orkney Building Preservation Trust, the Orkney Islands Council, the Friends of the Orkney Boat Museum. In 2004, Clestrain showed well in a Britain-wide BBC Restoration Programme, but could not win out over buildings in more populous areas.
Late in 2007, backers of the boat-museum idea secured a Heritage Lottery Planning Grant, but their proposal went no further, rejected in 2009 as artificially appended to the site. The Landmark Trust showed interest in 2010, but bailed out late in 2012 after a downturn in the market for “large holiday lets.”
In 2013, the John Rae Society took up the challenge . It’s a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organization bent on increasing knowledge about Rae’s achievements, and on advancing arts, heritage, culture and science while fostering friendship between “the people of Orkney, and those in Canada,” particularly in those areas associated with Rae. More urgently, with the Hall deteriorating -- windows broken, chimneys decaying, water damage -- the Society is striving to raise funds to salvage and restore Clestrain, and to turn it into the heart of an international John Rae Centre -- a World Heritage site for exhibitions, lectures, research, and scientific study.
Society patrons include the Earl of Orkney (Winnipeg-based professor Peter St. John), writer and broadcaster Ray Mears, author-historian Ken McGoogan (yours truly), and, most recently, actor Michael Palin,
best-known for his work in Monty Python. Last month, a Scottish woman living in Canada donated 40,000 pounds to the cause -- almost $70,000 Cdn!
Still, much more is needed. And David Reid -- who hails from Bishopton near Glasgow, not 300 miles south of Stromness -- is hopeful that the Arctic Return Expedition will inspire donations for both the expedition and the restoration of Clestrain. “It would be wonderful if our expedition could help to breathe new life into the Hall -- not just for the people of Orkney, but for people from around the world.”
Ken McGoogan
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Arctic Return Expedition will seek Northwest Passage in the footsteps of John Rae

“A snow storm of great violence raged during the whole of [April] 14th, which did not prevent us from making an attempt to get forward; after persevering two and a half hours, and gaining a mile and a half distance, we were again forced to take shelter.” -- John Rae on his 1854 expedition

In the Canadian Arctic, the month of April means below-zero temperatures, ice-jammed waterways, blinding blizzards and challenging traveling conditions. April is the month, in 2019, when Arctic explorer David Reid will lead a four-person team on a 640-kilometre trek across Boothia Peninsula in the Central Arctic. Travelling on skis and snowshoes, Reid and his team will follow the route Scottish explorer John Rae took in 1854, when with two indigenous companions, he accomplished one of the three most significant expeditions in the history of Arctic exploration.
Together with the Inuk William Ouligbuck and the Ojibway Thomas Mistegan, Rae discovered both the catastrophe that had engulfed the failed Franklin expedition and the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage. On Friday night David Reid, who recently led the first-ever circumnavigaton of Bylot Island on skis, unveiled his next undertaking -- the ARCTIC RETURN EXPEDITION: Discovery, Northwest Passage, John Rae -- while presenting in Toronto at a meeting of the Canadian Chapter of the Explorers Club.
His 540 km Bear Witness journey in 2017 around Bylot required 29 days. Reid proposes to complete this longer expedition -- 640 km from Repulse Bay (Naujaat) via Point de la Guiche to Gjoa Haven -- in 35 days. He is now selecting team members, each of whom must be capable, he says, “of hauling a 200-pound sled every day for a month while meeting the mental and physical challenges of travelling in a harsh, cold environment -- one of the most extreme on earth.”
This expedition is his most ambitious yet, the Scotland-born explorer said, because it is not just linear, man against nature, a purely physical test. Certainly it is that, but it also has a significant historical dimension that invites multi-faceted comparison between today and yesterday. Climate? Technology? Culture? Gear and equipment? Communications? All completely transformed since Rae’s time. Not only that, but Reid has also enlisted an experienced co-author -- full disclosure: yours truly -- to write a book about the expedition, one that we hope will give rise to a documentary film.
“This is purpose-driven travel,” Reid said. “And it’s a serious undertaking. It is certainly not lost on me that people die doing things like this, travelling in this part of the world at the time of year Rae did.” Reid notes that for centuries, Inuit have travelled through this area, and “because of blizzards, whiteouts, and other dangers, the reality is some have not made it home.”
Then he asked rhetorically: “Why do it? Why, at considerable personal risk, why try follow in the tracks of John Rae? Well, because historical achievement needs to be recognized, honoured, and celebrated. This expedition is designed to highlight and bring attention to excellence and achievement. It will bear witness in a remote part of Canada where history was made.”
History, he added, is often evoked in bricks and mortar. And that brought him to another motivating factor -- the dangerously run-down condition of Rae’s birthplace in Stromness, Orkney: the Hall of Clestrain. For the past several years, the John Rae Society has been striving to raise funds to purchase, salvage, and restore the edifice, with a view to turning it into an international John Rae Centre -- a World Heritage site for exhibitions, lectures, research, and scientific study. Last month, a Scottish woman living in Canada donated 40,000 pounds (almost $70,000 Cdn.) to the cause.
But much more is needed, and Reid -- who hails from Bishopton near Glasgow, not 300 miles south of Stromness -- is hopeful that the ARCTIC RETURN EXPEDITION will attract funding not just for the undertaking itself, but also for the restoration of the Hall. “Clestrain stands as an example of something once proud, dignified, and strong,” he said. “The passing years have not been kind to it. It would be wonderful if our expedition could help to breathe new life into the Hall -- not just for the people of Orkney, but people from around the world.” Reid would also like to see some private funds go to a youth group based on King William Island -- a group identified as deserving by historian Louie Kamookak, who has agreed to serve as Gjoa Haven consultant.
And the three most significant Arctic expeditions? The first was that of John Franklin, who in 1846 established the existence of an open waterway from Parry Channel as far south as King William Island. The second was that of John Rae, who with Ouligbuck and Mistegan, discovered Rae Strait -- the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage. The third was that of Roald Amundsen, who vindicated both Franklin and Rae when, in 1903-06, he became the first to navigate the Northwest Passage. Of these, the only expedition that did not require a ship was John Rae’s.
And that, in 2019, is the one ARCTIC RETURN will re-enact.

[Potential sponsors should contact David Reid at]

[Next up here: The remarkable true story of the Hall of Clestrain.]

Ken McGoogan
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Geologist finds relic from Franklin search

Canadian geologist Francis Manns was prospecting for lead and zinc.
The mid-summer day was bright and literally endless -- 24-hour sunlight.
Manns was working his way along the Abbott River in the middle of Cornwallis Island, some distance north of Resolute Bay, when he spotted a cairn on a ridge or pinnacle.
"It was two or three feet high," he told me earlier today. "You couldn't miss it."
Manns went to investigate, picked up a couple of loose rocks, and found three identical pieces of paper. Maybe I should mention that he did this forty-odd years ago, between June 20 and August 20 of 1973.
The high-rag-content pieces of paper had been deposited there, in the middle of Cornwallis Island, in 1851 by a search party from the Felix, under the command of Sir John Ross. The previous year, Ross had been present off Beechey Island during the discovery of the gravesites of the first three men to die from the lost Franklin expedition.
Together with several other captains, Ross had wintered over and resumed searching north up Wellington Channel -- along the east coast of Cornwallis Island. As the Manns discovery shows -- and though I, for one, have not been able to locate the Abbott River -- Ross's men ventured some distance inland during their hunt.
"The paper lasted because it is very good quality," Manns said, "and the Arctic is a desert. The pages were just loosely placed -- gently folded and nestled in the rocks. A high wind blows constantly, and the rain when it comes is sparse and horizontal and dries in minutes. I would guess that the cairn had never been wet inside."
When he got home to Toronto, Manns sent the two other copies he found to the national archives in Ottawa . . . and never heard a word.
"We used to go out in pairs," he recalled at his home in the Beaches, which is where in Toronto all the cool folks live. "A helicopter would put us down and we'd go prospecting and mapping." This was before GPS, of course, but even their compasses were useless. "The North Magnetic Pole was just off Little Cornwallis Island," Manns explained. "It's now a thousand miles away."
One geologist with whom he was working -- Malcolm Wilson -- came upon another cairn on a different traverse. He never said a word about it back at camp, but inside that cairn, he found a piece of paper identical to the three pages Manns had discovered -- only this page had been dated and signed. Wilson published an article about it in a Saskatchewan-based journal called The Muskox. In recent decades, Manns has looked for that article a few times, but has never managed to lay hands on it.
Ken McGoogan
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Polar Bears explain the Fate of Franklin

What happened to the Franklin Expedition? Researchers have been debating that since 1847, two years after Sir John Franklin disappeared into the Arctic with 128 men. From the note found at Victory Point on King William Island, we know that in April 1848, 105 men left the two ice-locked ships. The note tells us that already, nine officers and fifteen seamen had died. That represents 37 per cent of officers and 14 per cent of crew members. Historians have wondered: why such disportionate numbers?
Researchers have spent vast amounts of time and energy inquiring into the deaths of the first three sailors to die, whose graves remain on Beechey Island. Did lead poisoning kill them? Botulism? Zinc deficiency leading to tuberculosis? But wait. Maybe those three early deaths were anomalies. Perhaps the nine officers and twelve other sailors died as a result of some accident or injury. Some have wondered if the dead men ingested something that others did not.
But nobody, to my knowledge, has publicly invoked the calamitous Munk expedition of the early 1600s, which lost sixty-two men out of sixty-five. In 1619-20, while seeking the Northwest Passage, the Danish-Norwegian explorer Jens Munk wintered in two ships at present-day Churchill, Manitoba. In Dead Reckoning, drawing on Munk’s journal, I detail the unprecedented miseries that ensued. During my research, I had turned up an article by Delbert Young published 44 years ago in the Beaver magazine (“Killer on the ‘Unicorn,’" Winter, 1973). It blamed the catastrophe on poorly cooked or raw polar-bear meat.
Soon after reaching Churchill in September 1619, Munk reported that at every high tide, white beluga whales entered the estuary of the river. His men caught one and dragged it ashore. Next day, a “large white bear” turned up to feed on the whale. Munk shot and killed it. His men relished the bear meat. Munk had ordered the cook “just to boil it slightly, and then to keep it in vinegar for a night.” But he had the meat for his own table roasted, and wrote that “it was of good taste and did not disagree with us.”
As Delbert Young observes, Churchill sits at the heart of polar bear country. Probably, after that first occasion, the sailors consumed more polar-bear meat. During his long career, Munk had seen men die of scurvy and knew how to treat that disease. He noted that it attacked some of his sailors, loosening their teeth and bruising their skin. But when men began to die in great numbers, he was baffled. This went beyond anything he had seen. His chief cook died early in January, and from then on “violent sickness . . . prevailed more and more.”
After a wide-ranging analysis, Young points to trichinosis as the probable killer —a parasitical disease, unidentified until the twentieth century, which is endemic in polar bears. Infected meat, undercooked, deposits embryo larvae in a person’s stomach. These tiny parasites embed themselves in the intestines. They reproduce, enter the bloodstream and, within weeks, encyst themselves in muscle tissue throughout the body. They cause the terrible symptoms Munk describes and, left untreated, can culminate in death four to six weeks after ingestion.
So, back to the Franklin expedition. Could trichinosis, induced by eating raw polar-bear meat, have killed those nine officers and dozen seamen? And galvanized the remaining men into abandoning the ships? And rendered many of them so sick that they could hardly think straight or walk. And made the faces of some look black, so that they had to be quarantined into a separate tent?
In recent years, while visiting Beechey Island with Adventure Canada, more than once my fellow voyagers and I have been driven off by polar bears. We retreat into the zodiacs at first sign of approach. In that same situation, how would Franklin’s men have responded? They would have killed those curious bears and eaten them -- perhaps bringing some of the meat onto the ships. That undercooked polar-bear meat, unevenly distributed among officers and crew, might well have led to the lopsided fatality statistics . . . and to all the rest.
So, anyway, I suggest in Dead Reckoning. Within the next few years, Parks Canada will almost certainly turn up some decisive evidence -- written records or human remains or both -- as divers investigate the Erebus and Terror. Until then, my money is on polar-bear-meat-induced trichinosis.
Ken McGoogan
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Say goodbye to defenders of the Royal Navy narrative of the Northwest Passage

A few days ago, in the comments section below the Globe and Mail review of Dead Reckoning, I placed a link to my rejoinder. The review's author, Janice Cavell, has responded in that same forum. She says nothing about my two main criticisms, and so apparently concedes -- first, that her review short-shrifted the Inuit, failing to name even a single Inuk, and second, that it suggested white males are interchangeable. Instead, Cavell again takes up the cudgels in defence of the Royal Navy narrative of the Northwest Passage -- a story that does change to suit new information, but that ALWAYS manages to keep those old familiar naval officers front and centre.
Ever since Lady Franklin in the 1850s, the defenders of Official History have relied on geographical confusion and misunderstanding to make their case. But check the map attached, taken from the endpapers of Dead Reckoning. As you can see, despite Cavell's contention, Bellot Strait is more than 100 km northeast of King William Island. It played no role whatsoever in the first navigable Northwest Passage, as established by Roald Amundsen in 1903-06. Click on the map and check out the route he took.
Far from denying that John Franklin “discovered” Franklin Strait -- which is simply the southern extension of Peel Sound, south of Bellot Strait -- I argue and show clearly that Franklin sailed directly through that waterway. By so doing, he established a navigable passage through those waters, all the way south to near the top of King William Island (KWI). Whether the coastline was charted is irrelevant. In January 1830, travelling with several Inuit, James Clark Ross had crossed the ice from Boothia to the northern tip of KWI -- but surmised, in snowy conditions, that the waters to the east of that island ended in a bay. The map Franklin carried showed precisely that, which is why he turned west and got trapped in the ice.
In 1854, after travelling overland across Boothia with an Inuk, William Ouligbuck, and an Ojibway, Thomas Mistegan, John Rae determined that what James Clark Ross, and so Franklin, had believed to be a bay was in fact a strait: Rae Strait. Aware of Rae’s discovery, which had been verified by Leopold McClintock, Amundsen followed in the wake of Franklin to KWI, then veered east through Rae Strait to Gjoa Haven, before proceeding onward. So, once more with feeling: Dr. John Rae -- that Orcadian Scot, that Hudson’s Bay Company fur trader, that first great champion of Inuit oral history -- John Rae discovered the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage.

Ken McGoogan
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Arctic expert Kenn Harper sings the unsung in solidarity with Dead Reckoning heroes

Over at The Arctic Book Review, Kenn Harper begins by declaring that I have "produced yet another worthy northern book." Harper, an Arctic historian and formerly Denmark's honorary consul in Nunavut, continues: "Dead Reckoning sets out to tell, as its sub-title proclaims, “The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.” The book is peopled with the usual suspects in the history of Arctic exploration and the search for the elusive Northwest Passage. I needn’t name them here; if you are reading this, you already know who they are. But this book introduces other names that will be unfamiliar to many readers, even some well-versed in northern history. Their stories are the “untold stories” of the sub-title. . . ."
Harper observes, rightly, that my goal "is 'to restore the unsung heroes to their rightful eminence.' [McGoogan] recognizes not just the physical work, but the contributions, of the fur-trade explorers, and of Dene, Ojibway, Cree, and especially Inuit. He points out that Franklin’s ships would still be undiscovered at the bottom of the ocean were it not for Inuit and their oral histories. And so the reader encounters unfamiliar names in this sweeping tale. McGoogan’s point is that they have largely been nameless to date, so I feel compelled to name them here, in solidarity with McGoogan’s championing of them, and to help in rectifying the injury that past histories have done them." Harper carries on at some length, and in considerable depth, as you can read here.
So, a tip of the hat to editor Russell Potter for assigning a knowledgeable, fair-minded reviewer. To Harper's questions, I offer a few answers. Yes, I included Hall's voyage to the North Pole because that yarn extended the stories of Tookoolito, Ebierbing, and Hendrik. I included the Peary-Minik story because it is the quintessential example of abusive Inuit-white relations. I omitted Kalli and Beck with a view to maintaining focus on the Northwest Passage rather than the search for Franklin. Harper correctly identifies the map-glitch that will turn some first editions of Dead Reckoning into collectors' items! He is mistaken about Moses Norton, however, who started at Prince of Wales Fort as chief factor but became governor; and Samuel Hearne, who was made governor from the get-go (1776).
Why did I make no reference to recent scholarship casting doubt on Hearne's authorship of the Bloody Falls massacre? Well, in 2007, after writing a biographical narrative about Hearne (Ancient Mariner), I undertook a foreword to a new edition of Hearne's journal (A Journey to the Northern Ocean), which tells the story of how the Dene leader Matonabbee led the former navy man to the Arctic coast of North America. After perusing the Hearne passages in Dead Silence by John Geiger and Owen Beattie, and then delving further into the archives, I ended up repudiating that scholarship. I detailed my analysis in the foreword I wrote. And I considered rehashing it in Dead Reckoning. But then I decided that doing so would take me too deeply into the eye-glazing arcane, which we are fast approaching, given that I am writing not for scholars but for a broad general audience. Too much such detail has killed many a readable book. And so I refer you to the works themselves.
Ken McGoogan
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Globe review fails the Inuit, declares white males interchangeable, earns an F

[According to the Victoria Times-Colonist: "This book is a masterpiece, setting the standard for future works on Arctic exploration." The Georgia Strait put it this way: "Dead Reckoning is an outstanding 21st-century Canadian history that refutes myths about the Franklin expedition promoted by Victorian England, its modern-day media and academic apologists." Those reviews required no rejoinders, but . . . .]

In her Globe and Mail review of Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage, academic Janice Cavell hits her stride in the second paragraph, when she asks what this book has to offer that is truly new? She answers: “Actually, something very important. Over the years, historians have become more careful about giving credit to the Indigenous men and women who acted as guides, hunters, cartographers and more. But McGoogan goes beyond any other previous writer in highlighting their deeds. A book like his is long overdue – and he deserves all possible praise for it.”
At that point, one might logically expect elaboration. Even a selected list of chapter titles would work well: What Thandelthur Made Possible. Matonabbee Leads Hearne to the Coast. An Inuit Artist Sails with John Ross. The Yellowknife Rescue John Franklin. Tattannoeuck Prevents a Second Debacle. What If This Inuk Had Sailed with Franklin? Greenlandic Inuit Save the Kane Expedition. The Scot, the Inuk, the Ojibway. Tookoolito and Hall Gather Inuit Accounts. Inuit Hunters Keep Castaways Alive. Ebierbing and Tulugaq Work Magic for Schwatka. ‘Give Me My Father’s Body.’ Rasmussen Establishes Unity of Inuit Culture. Erebus and Terror Validate Inuit Testimony.
Building on that list, Cavell might have named Akaitcho, Hoeootoerock, John Sakheouse, Eenoolooapik, Hans Hendrik, Puhtoorak, Kamookak, Kogvik, all of whom figure in the book.
Instead, she turns immediately to circling wagons: “Yet even so, in the end McGoogan champions a white explorer.” So, wow! Has it really come to this? To the idea that no white explorer could possibly merit celebration? Sure enough, Cavell doubles down: “And if historians are going to follow McGoogan's bold example and give Indigenous people a true leading part, why is it necessary to exalt any white explorer?” And again: “[John Rae] and [John] Franklin were both 19th-century Brits, and the differences between them were differences of degree, not of kind.” I guess that’s it, then: distinguish among explorers? Don’t even try. Dead white males are interchangeable.
Funnily enough, a few years ago, I did develop a book proposal focusing exclusively on the Inuit contribution to Arctic exploration. That got shot down as too-small-audience and now I am glad, because the inclusive Dead Reckoning is vastly superior to the book that might have been.
Errors of fact in the Globe review? William Kennedy (1852) never explored Rae Strait, that “crucial track east of King William Island.” I have never claimed that Rae was "the Northwest Passage's true discoverer." I do say that he discovered the final link in the first navigable Passage. Franklin, Rae, Amundsen: check the map that serves as endpapers. Differences of opinion? Cavell ignores 90 per cent of the book to grandstand (me, me, me) and ingratiate herself with her fellow academics. Hers is an old argument. Any areas of agreement? “McGoogan is an adept storyteller and Dead Reckoning is an engrossing read.” Sorry, too little, too late. For this one, Cavell gets an F.

Cavell’s review appeared in the Globe and Mail on Oct. 28, 2017).

From the Times-Colonist: "This book is a masterpiece, setting the standard for future works on Arctic exploration."

From the Georgia Strait: "Dead Reckoning is an outstanding 21st-century Canadian history that refutes myths about the Franklin expedition promoted by Victorian England, its modern-day media and academic apologists."

From CBC-Radio / Victoria: Indigenous explorers in Ken McGoogan's new book
Ken McGoogan
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Disdain for the Inuit won't fly in Canada when Franklin exhibition moves to Ottawa

The disdain for the Inuit is palpable . . . and worrisome. We can only hope that the people bringing this project to Canada are planning major revisions. Yes, I have laid hands on a copy of Sir John Franklin’s Erebus and Terror Expedition / Lost and Found by Gillian Hutchinson (Bloomsbury). It grows out of and presumably reflects the current Death in the Ice exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich -- an extravaganza that moves to Ottawa and the Canadian Museum of History on March 2, 2018.
The book is well-written, beautifully illustrated, professionally produced. But also it is disappointing, above all in its disregard for the crucial Inuit contribution to Arctic exploration generally, and to the search for the lost ships in particular. [See NEWSFLASH at bottom.]
The book serves up the same old, same old, rehashing what I call the "official" or “orthodox” history of Arctic exploration -- the Royal Navy version of events, with its familiar roll call of personalities.
This movie invariably begins around 1818. It features such naval officers as Edward Parry, John Richardson, John Ross, John Richardson, James Clark Ross, and George Back. And of course it stars that well-meaning bungler Sir John Franklin as the tragic, windblown Arctic hero.
The author deals with John Rae and his inconvenient truth-telling in a cursory aside and, while admitting that Charles Dickens created a “racist fiction” about the Inuit, approves of his holding the fort until yet another Royal Navy man, Leopold McClintock, could distract people from the intolerable business of cannibalism.
Hutchinson summarizes Franklin’s two overland expeditions without crediting Akaitcho and Tattanoeuck, who saved his life on the first and second respectively. She treats those American searchers Charles Frances Hall and Frederick Schwatka without so much as mentioning the Inuit who were absolutely necessary to their achievements: Tookoolito, Ebierbing, and Tulugaq. And what of John Sakheouse, William Ouligbuck, Louie Kamookak, Sammy Kogvik. The list goes on and on.
Here, too, we discern the decades-old yearning to make a success of the Franklin expedition. Hey, maybe some of his men trekked to the mouth of the Mackenzie River, and then we could argue that they achieved a Passage? Sigh.
Anyway, here we see, yet once more, what drove me to write Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage. And given that the Canadian Museum of History is on record as promising to explore "the critical role played by the Inuit,” I am reasonably confident that it will undertake a major overhaul before bringing this show before a Canadian public.
[Painting above by John Sakheouse / Hans Zachaeus]

[NEWSFLASH: One of my field agents writes to inform me that, although marketed as a tie-in to the exhibition, Hutchinson's book was planned and executed by a different branch of the National Maritime Museum. Neither the UK nor the Canadian curator of the show became aware of the book until late in the day. The British show proper opens with a section on the importance of the Inuit in the Franklin story, and the Canadian show promises to be still more emphatic about this. Says I: Glad to hear it!]
Ken McGoogan
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Our Hero sacrifices modesty to preserve insightful review in Cyberspace

Dead Reckoning offers lively account of Inuit contributions to discovery of Northwest Passage

Review by Charlie Smith
(Georgia Strait, Oct. 22, 2017)

Charles Dickens is deservedly seen as the greatest novelist in Victorian England. The author of such masterpieces as David Copperfield and Great Expectations was also an influential social activist, campaigning for various reforms, including an end to child labour.
In light of this, who would have thought that Dickens and the widow of explorer Sir John Franklin would have conspired to cover up one of the worst debacles in North American exploration history?
Yet that's exactly what Canadian historian Ken McGoogan has documented in his crackling new book, Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.
In this epic examination of the nearly 400-year struggle to find a sea route through the Arctic, McGoogan also offers page-turning portraits of several courageous and highly intelligent Cree, Dene, and especially Inuit people who are central to the story.
Indigenous giants like Matonabbee, Thanadelthur, Akaitcho, Tattanoeuck, Ouligbuck, Tookoolito, and Ebierbing—names unfamiliar to the vast majority of Canadians—take their rightful place in history alongside far more famous explorers, such as Martin Frobisher, Henry Hudson, Samuel Hearne, Franklin, and the first man who completed the Northwest Passage by sea, Norwegian Roald Amundsen.
What's so remarkable about Dead Reckoning is how McGoogan demonstrates that some of the most successful northern explorers—notably Amundsen, Scottish surgeon John Rae, and Americans Elisha Kent Kane and Charles Francis Hall—were invariably those most eager and open to learning from their Indigenous guides and translators.
Many of the English explorers on the other hand, including Franklin, tended to be less open-minded. This reflected a colonial attitude that made them less able to adapt to the harsh and unforgiving northern climate.
[Read the published version of this review, complete with pix, by clicking here.]
[Painting above: Beechey Island by Sheena Fraser McGoogan]
Dead Reckoning is an outstanding 21st-century Canadian history that refutes myths about the Franklin expedition promoted by Victorian England, its modern-day media and academic apologists, and Dickens himself.
The book's only serious shortcoming is its lack of detailed attribution because of an absence of footnotes.
According to McGoogan, one of the most crucial 19th-century developments in the discovery of the Northwest Passage was not the bumbling Franklin expedition that led to the sinking of the HMCS Erebus and Terror near King William Island in the late 1840s.
Rather, it was Rae's recognition of a small strait separating what was previously known as King William Land and the southwestern side of the Boothia Peninsula. Had Franklin's two ships taken this route rather than through Victoria Strait west of King William Island, the expedition might have reached Alaska rather than getting stuck in the ice.
More than a half-century later, Amundsen traversed this Rae Strait and later gave credit to Rae for making it possible for him to complete the Northwest Passage.
The Norwegian could do this in the early 20th century because pack ice from the north did not make Rae Strait impassable: this waterway was sheltered by the Boothia Peninsula and King William Island.
With great storytelling skills, McGoogan shows how Rae was thwarted in receiving sufficient credit for his discovery because of the machinations of Lady Jane Franklin.
Sir John Franklin's widow couldn't abide by Rae's report that members her husband's voyage ended up eating human remains.
So she summoned Dickens to tell a different tale, which generated widespread publicity and which was more in accord with the colonial mindset of the era.
"John Rae relayed Inuit testimony, as translated by William Ouligbuck, that many of Franklin's men had starved to death while trekking south, and that some of the final survivors had been driven to cannibalism," McGoogan writes. "Victorian England refused to believe this and, through Charles Dickens, suggested that the Inuit had murdered the weakened white sailors. Lady Franklin decreed that the final survivors had completed the Northwest Passage."
Dickens maintained that Franklin's men were murdered to paper over the truth. And this work of fiction by Dickens gave rise to the myth of Franklin as a great explorer and his subsequent commemoration in countless books and even in a statue in Westminster Abbey.
In fact, McGoogan demonstrates that Franklin was a rather uninspiring, sometimes blundering, seriously overweight, and hen-pecked former lieutenant-governor of Van Diemen's Land (modern-day Tasmania) who was sent back to England for incompetence.
Franklin was only appointed to head the expedition to find the Northwest Passage in the mid 1840s because of his wife's influence over the Royal family.
"In truth, Franklin discovered no Passage," McGoogan writes. "The man himself died a few months after his ships got tracked in pack ice. And when his crews marched south to seek help, they forged no link in any chain."
In many respects, the relentless and detail-oriented Lady Franklin is the villain in Dead Reckoning. But her ability to influence the British government and wealthy American Henry Grinnell to mount several expensive voyages in search of her husband actually accelerated the discovery of the Northwest Passage.
That's because these subsequent explorers, including Rae, made genuine discoveries that enabled Amundsen to successfully complete his journey in 1906.
This is not the Canadian history that we learned in school. But it is a far more nuanced and objective view of Indigenous people in North America. For that reason alone, McGoogan's book deserves wide readership in our country. But Dead Reckoning also deserves to be read because it's so enthralling.

Ken McGoogan
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Sailing the St. Roch through the Northwest Passage

Here I am in the St. Roch, steering the ship through the Northwest Passage.
OK, OK, so I am hard at work in the St. Roch Wheelhouse Experience, which is nearly the same thing, right? This is at the Vancouver Maritime Museum, where tonight I gave a talk called Breaking the Ice: Dead Reckoning in the Northwest Passage. Saw some beautiful people there. But what really got me going was this virtual adventuring . . . and, even more, the St. Roch itself.
This is the ship -- and no mere facsimile -- that Henry Larsen sailed through the Passage from Vancouver to Halifax in 1940-42. That voyage, designed to assert Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic, took 28 months, including two winters in the ice. After installing a 300-hp diesel engine, and making other adjustments, Larsen sailed back to Vancouver in 1944 in just 86 days.
The ship is beautifully restored, and bears comparison with any of the ships you see in Oslo -- and that is not faint praise. Interesting fact: the St. Roch is 31.6 metres long, 7.6 metres wide, and displaces 323 tons. The Terror, recently discovered off King William Island, was almost exactly the same size: 31 metres long, 325 tons. You can draw your own conclusions. But it certainly looks as if, in the right hands, the Terror could have sailed through Rae Strait and even Simpson Strait, and gone on to complete the Passage.(Pic by Sheena.)
Ken McGoogan
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Dead Reckoning hailed as transformative masterpiece

By Dave Obee
Victoria Times-Colonist Oct. 15, 2017

Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage

By Ken McGoogan
HarperCollins, 438 pp., $33.99
The Arctic is not the place it used to be; climate change is taking care of that. It is still a challenging part of Canada, but warmer weather and the relative ease of navigation are opening up a region that contains some of this country’s greatest mysteries.
For more than a century and a half, many of those mysteries have had to do with Sir John Franklin, who led an ill-fated expedition into the Arctic in the 1840s, seeking the Northwest Passage to the Orient.
Franklin, all of his men and his ships disappeared — but over time, more and more evidence has been found, and with that, more has been determined about the fate of the Franklin expedition.
The two greatest discoveries are quite new. One of Franklin’s ships, Erebus, was discovered in 2014, and the other, Terror, was found in 2016. These two ships represent true sunken treasures, because the relics they contain — possibly including human remains — might answer many remaining questions about Arctic exploration.
That’s not the only difference. Today, there is a greater awareness of Indigenous involvement in the exploration and rescue missions. There is an acknowledgment that without the help of those who lived in the area, many more people would have died, and many of the Franklin mysteries would never have been solved.
Put it all together and the history of northern exploration needs to be rewritten. Books done a decade or more ago are out of date. As history is revealed, reshaped and reconsidered, we need a fresh assessment of Franklin and the other early adventurers, including the First Peoples who made it all possible.
Ken McGoogan’s Dead Reckoning helps fill that need. This book is a masterpiece, setting the standard for future works on Arctic exploration.
This is McGoogan’s fifth book on the Arctic and the explorers and adventurers who challenged that icy world. In Dead Reckoning, he draws from his past work, but weaves it all together in a more complex but highly readable account, enhanced with fresh insight based on the new discoveries as well as more extensive research.
For years, the conventional narrative of the Arctic has been based on names such as Franklin, Parry, McClure, Ross and Peary. McGoogan goes deeper into the story, introducing us to such figures as Thanadelthur, Akaitcho, Tattenoeuck, Ebierbing, Tulugaq and Tookoolito.
Some Inuit saw living members of the Franklin expedition, and others later found their bodies. They provided information to search parties led by Charles Francis Hall and Frederick Schwatka that helped them uncover crucial clues about the fate of the Franklin party. More recently, information from the Inuit helped drive the discovery of the two ships.
There are heroes and villains here, with Lady Franklin, Sir John’s widow, at the top of the list of antagonists. She pushed her husband to embark on his final expedition, and she led the way (with Charles Dickens) in dismissing the revelations of John Rae, and in denigrating his Inuit informants.
The end result could best be described as politics. Franklin’s fate became a matter of great controversy in England, with plenty of misinformation tossed this way and that. McGoogan deals with it in detail.
Over the years, many books have been written on the far north — but with the publication of Dead Reckoning, those early ones don’t matter the way they once did.
There is little to criticize in this book. It should be the starting point when considering the story of Arctic exploration from the 16th century onwards.
Beyond that, Dead Reckoning could be the best work of Canadian history this year.
Ken McGoogan will be in Victoria on Tuesday for a reading at Bolen Books in the Hillside shopping centre. The event will begin at 7 p.m.
The reviewer is the editor-in-chief of the Times Colonist.
Ken McGoogan
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Before turning mainly to books about arctic exploration and Canadian history, Ken McGoogan worked for two decades as a journalist at major dailies in Toronto, Calgary, and Montreal. He teaches creative nonfiction writing through the University of Toronto and in the MFA program at King’s College in Halifax. Ken served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission, has written recently for Canada’s History, Canadian Geographic, and Maclean’s, and sails with Adventure Canada as a resource historian. Based in Toronto, he has given talks and presentations across Canada, from Dawson City to Dartmouth, and in places as different as Edinburgh, Melbourne, and Hobart.