Our Hero Disbelieving

Our Hero Disbelieving

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Hats off to the Irish! And to the witty genius who led the charge . . . .

 Hats off to Ireland, the first country to recognize gay marriage by popular vote.  Following an emotional campaign, the Irish voted 62.1 per cent favor of this move, which signals a social revolution. Overnight, Ireland has become a model of inclusivity and tolerance. Yet I would suggest that this transformation could have been foreseen. Faithful readers (hi, Mom!) know that I hate to quote myself. But in Celtic Lightning, while tracing Canada’s Scottish and Irish roots, I write of how an “equally singular figure, then completing his education on the east side of the Atlantic, was preparing to make a courageous stand for another kind of tolerance and diversity—one that is often overlooked in discussions about pluralism. By insisting on the right to be different, Oscar Wilde pointed the way to a broad-mindedness that would lead, eventually, to a more pluralistic Canada." A few pages later, we read: “LGBT literature springs from a more closeted tradition that runs from Wilde through such Canadians as John Glassco and Timothy Findley. . . . That LGBT writers have been able to thrive in this country—as much as any writer can be said to thrive—is owing first and foremost to Oscar Wilde, who cleared a space for difference and pointed the way to broadening our definitions of tolerance, diversity, and pluralism.” The book will be published in September by Patrick Crean Editions / Harper Collins Canada.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Explorer John Rae turns up in latest Ripcord Adventure Journal



 A lovely bit of mix-and-match turns up in the latest Ripcord Adventure Journal. The illustration above, found as a double-truck on pages 21 and 22, combines the new Stromness statue of John Rae with the Hall of Clestrain in which the explorer grew up. Based in Ireland, backed by the World Explorers Bureau, Ripcord is "a new 'old school' bi-monthly Journal dedicated to adventurous travel from around the world." You can find out more at http://www.ripcordadventurejournal.com. Our Hero is thrilled to have a piece about Rae in the latest issue. This profile, like another recent yarn, begins in the heart of London, but veers off in a different direction. You can read the whole thing at the link above. Meanwhile, we begin as follows:
On September 30, 2014, about sixty people crowded into a chapel in Westminster Abbey to witness the unveiling of a modest ledger stone that reads: “John Rae / 1813-1893/ Arctic Explorer.”  Installed directly beneath an ornate bust of Sir John Franklin in the chapel of St. John the Evangelist, the red sandstone ledger represents a completion. 
At the ceremonial unveiling, I was invited to say a few words, mainly because I had written a book about Rae (Fatal Passage). I spoke of how the Orkney-born Scot  had finished the work that engaged Franklin. In 1854, eight years after Franklin and his two ships got trapped in the Arctic ice, John Rae solved the two great mysteries of 19th-century Arctic exploration.
While surveying Canada’s northern coastline for the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC), Rae discovered both the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage and the tragic fate of the Franklin expedition, whose final survivors had resorted to cannibalism. By reporting this melancholy truth and defending the integrity of the Inuit who revealed it to him, Rae became one of the most controversial figures in the history of northern exploration.
On returning to Victorian England, he faced a campaign of denunciation and vilification led by Jane, Lady Franklin, the widow of Sir John, and Charles Dickens, the country’s most influential writer. The Orcadian Rae, the greatest rough-country traveller of the age, saw his geographical achievements credited to others. He became the only major Arctic explorer never to receive a knighthood. And even today, after a years-long campaign culminated in the installation of that memorial ledger stone, many who should know better still deny him his rightful recognition.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Who really discovered the Northwest Passage?

Gotta love the latest issue of Canada's History. Check out the portrait of Arctic explorer John Rae by contemporary artist David Seguin. The question they asked me was: Who discovered the Northwest Passage? Editor Mark Reid writes that, in answering that question, I have "set the record straight" and sorted "the contenders from the pretenders, once and for all." Dagnabit, I do believe he's right. The piece begins like so . . . .

The ledger stone is brilliantly placed. It reads: “John Rae / 1813–1893 / Arctic Explorer.” Made of red sandstone from Orkney, it was installed last September at Westminster Abbey in London, and is situated directly beneath an elaborate bust of Sir John Franklin, which has stood there since 1875.
            The effect is one of completion, since John Rae completed the collective work to which Franklin had made a considerable contribution — the discovery of a navigable Northwest Passage. The story behind the centuries-long quest for that passage has been attracting renewed attention since last autumn, when a Canadian expedition located the Erebus, one of Franklin’s lost ships.
            In 1846, Sir John sailed that ship and one other, the Terror, south down Peel Sound from Parry Channel. At the northern tip of King William Island, he turned west and got trapped in the perennial pack ice. According to Inuit testimony, the Terror was crushed by ice and sank off King William Island. Over the next two or three years, the pack carried the Erebus south and then east into Queen Maud Gulf, where it sank.
            The Erebus was not seen again until September 2014, when Canada’s Victoria Strait Expedition located it on the sea floor with an underwater search vehicle in one of the most significant archaeological discoveries made in Canada. This finding has already changed how we reconstruct the fate of the Franklin expedition. But it offers no answer to the question, who discovered the Northwest Passage? . . . .
To read the rest, you will have to pick up the June-July of Canada's History.

          

U of T summer course in narrative nonfiction . . . .

First, the good news. We're almost two months from starting (July 13) my one-week intensive course in narrative nonfiction (aka creative nonfiction) and a good number of folks have already registered. That is also the bad news, if you're still weighing options. BUT: more good news! U of T is offering a $50 discount for early-bird registration. Maybe that is why things are moving early? Anyway, you can click here for Course Detail.
Yes, I ask for brief submissions (up to 1,500 words) so we can hit the ground running. To the right, that's the official "me." Dr. Jekyll. Below, a nutshell description. Hey, we have a good time. Hope to see you in July? . . .

Some of the most exciting writing today is found in Narrative Non-Fiction, an emerging genre in which writers apply narrative strategies and techniques to factual material. This course will orient writers within the genre, which includes both personal streams (memoir, autobiography, travelogue) and impersonal ones (true-crime writing, biography, immersion reporting). It will include lectures, discussions, craft exercises and workshopping student writing.
Early Bird fee $649 until June 14, $699 thereafter.  Please register first before submitting material.  Please submit a story--maximum 1,500 words: scs.writing@utoronto.ca  Please note that these pieces will be uploaded so that all students can read other's work before the start of the course.
Required Textbook: The Art of Fact: A Historical Anthology of Literary Journalism by Kevin Kerrane and Ben Yagoda, ISBN-13: 978-0684846309--available at the U of T Bookstore

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Next time out, divers will probably find human remains on the Erebus

What happens next with the Erebus? I've been thinking about this because tonight will find me just north of Toronto, speaking to roughly 120 women about Searching for Franklin: The Lost Ships, the Discoveries, and the Woman Who Created a Legend. The occasion is the celebratory May Dinner of the Aurora/Newmarket branch of the Canadian Federation of University Women.
Last month's dive to the Erebus, projected to last 10 days, was cut in half because stormy weather interfered with the delivery of almost 12,000 kg of gear. But the Parks Canada team did manage to bring back massive amounts of high-definition video, photos, and laser-scan images from outside and inside the ship.
In late August or early September, searchers will revisit the Erebus, which is sitting just west of Adelaide Peninsula in Wilmot and Crampton Bay. The greatest possible on-board discovery, from an historical perspective, would be a log book or series of status reports sealed in metal canisters. The finding of human remains would prove still more sensational. And to me, this last seems a near certainty.
In the 1860s, a number of Inuit told American explorer Charles Francis Hall about visiting the ship at this location not long before it sank. Hall reported that "they broke into a place that was fastened up & there found a very large white man who was dead, very tall man. There was flesh about this dead man, that is, his remains quite perfect -- it took 5 men to lift him. The place smelt very bad. His clothes all on. Found dead on the floor -- not in a sleeping place or birth [sic]." This is just the clearest report among several. Maybe I am wrong, but I am guessing that corroboration will come later this year. 
(The image above is a reconstruction from Franklin's Lost Ships, that marvelous new documentary.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Alberta election? Forget the valium. Break out the champagne!



So how about that Alberta election?
And where is Terry Mosher (aka Aislin) when we need to be told, "OK, everybody, take a valium." Political change on this scale? Here in Canada? The last time it happened was thirty-nine years ago. November 15, 1976. That was when Quebecers elected their first Parti Quebecois government, led by Rene Levesque. Outgoing premier Robert Bourassa had counted on a boost from rescuing the recent Summer Olympics, which had run into trouble in Montreal. But his government had been plagued by scandals, and under the wily Levesque, the PQ campaigned on providing “good government.” It swept to victory by downplaying its objective: Quebec independence. Canadians across the country expressed shock that Quebecers had elected a separatist government . . . shock on a scale that we are all experiencing right now. An NDP majority government in Alberta? I never thought I would see the day. I lived for two decades in Calgary and became all too painfully aware that, thanks to our first-past-the-post electoral system, 33% of Alberta voters remained invisible. How did that unseen minority become a majority? Hubris, Nenshi, Notley, certainly. But I do think that, above all, we owe a shout-out to Danielle Smith. When she crossed the floor of the legislature, she woke the electorate to the shamelessness that had suffused Alberta politics. On second thought, forget the valium. Let's go straight to the champagne.
(Image courtesy of McCord Museum)




           

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Authors for Indies sparks talk of Leonard Cohen and Celtic Lightning

Two authors, three buyers, and one professional bookseller. Yes, here we see Our Hero with Glenda McElwain, George A. Walker, and Ian Donker. This is the calm before the storm at Book City in the Beach. Shortly after Sheena Fraser McGoogan snapped this photo, a mob descended, clamoring for photos, counsel, and signatures on books. Donker, general manager of the Book City stores in Toronto, reeled around this outlet, slapping his forehead: "I've never seen anything like it." I bought a copy of Walker's Wordless Leonard Cohen Songbook, a biographical narrative in wood engravings. The mesmerizing of the family maid. The emergence of the Buckskin Boys. Suzanne taking Leonard down to her place by the river. The visit (let's call it) with Janice Joplin. The threatening of Leonard by the madman Phil Spector. Walker tells the story in 80 woodblock prints. Turns out  the name "Walker" derives from MacGregor, so he bought a copy of  How the Scots Invented Canada. And McElwain, a Beaches-based force at City Hall, has a keen
interest in her Gaelic roots, even to the point of knowing about the 14th-century incursion from Scotland into Ireland led by Edward Bruce and backed by brother Robert. That yarn turns up in Celtic Lightning, which shows why and how the leading figures of Scottish and Irish history, from Somerled of Argyll, William Wallace, and Flora MacDonald to Michael Collins, Daniel O'Connell and The Irish Pirate Queen rightly belong also to Canadian history. That book, currently in galleys on my desk, is coming this September from Patrick Crean / Harper Collins Canada. All this emerged courtesy of Authors for Indies, that new-born national celebration of independent booksellers. You'd better believe we'll be seeing it again next year, bigger and better than ever.