Books

Canada's History - - CONTENTS -

Arc­tic afresh. Re­lief work­ers. Pic­tur­ing the land. More books: Con­tentious fed­er­a­tion, high-seas ad­ven­ture, POW hor­rors, nurs­ing life. Q&A: Busi­ness his­to­rian Joe Martin.

With re­cent dis­cov­er­ies and new ways of think­ing, it’s time for the his­tory of north­ern ex­plo­ration to be rewrit­ten.

by Ken McGoogan Pa­trick Crean Edi­tions, 430 pages, $33.99

There is no short­age of books on the ex­plo­ration of the North­west Pas­sage, so can there re­ally be a story left un­told? Au­thor Ken McGoogan, who has writ­ten four other books on the Arc­tic, be­lieves the an­swer is yes.

With Dead Reck­on­ing, McGoogan re­con­sid­ers the com­mon theme — about brave ex­plor­ers from Europe find­ing their way, slowly, through a great ice-cov­ered mys­tery.

McGoogan builds a strong case for the im­por­tance of the roles played by peo­ple who were able to draw from gen­er­a­tions of knowl­edge about the re­gion. His book re­flects the in­creas­ing aware­ness and ac­knowl­edge­ment of In­dige­nous in­volve­ment in the ex­plo­ration of the North, as well as of res­cue mis­sions. With­out the help of those who lived in the area, many more peo­ple would have died, and it would have taken much longer to de­ter­mine the best wa­ter route through Canada’s North.

For more than a cen­tury and a half, much of the at­ten­tion paid to the early years of Arc­tic ex­plo­ration has put a spot­light on Sir John Franklin, who led an ill-fated ex­pe­di­tion in the 1840s as he searched for the North­west Pas­sage to the Ori­ent.

Franklin, all of his men, and his ships dis­ap­peared — but, in the past few decades, ad­di­tional ev­i­dence has been found. As a re­sult, we now know more about the fate of the Franklin ex­pe­di­tion.

Parks Canada re­searchers found one of Franklin’s ships, Ere­bus, in 2014, and the other, Ter­ror, 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 in the 1840s.

With new dis­cov­er­ies and new ways of think­ing, the his­tory of north­ern ex­plo­ration needs to be rewrit­ten. Books writ­ten a decade or more ago are out-of-date.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.

McGoogan’s Dead Reck­on­ing helps to fill that need. He draws from his past work but weaves it all to­gether in a more com­plex and yet highly read­able ac­count that is en­hanced with fresh in­sights based on new dis­cov­er­ies as well as more ex­ten­sive re­search.

For too long, the con­ven­tional nar­ra­tive of the Arc­tic has fo­cused on Eu­ro­pean names such as Franklin, Parry, McClure, Ross, Peary — and that of John Rae, who trav­elled through the area in the 1850s and dis­cov­ered the fate of Franklin and his men. McGoogan goes deeper into the story, in­tro­duc­ing us to In­dige­nous fig­ures such as Thanadelthur, Akaitcho, Tat­te­noeuck, Ebierb­ing, Tu­lu­gaq, and Tookoolito.

In the 1840s, Inuit saw liv­ing mem­bers of the Franklin ex­pe­di­tion, and oth­ers later found their bodies. The in­for­ma­tion they pro­vided to search par­ties led by Charles Fran­cis Hall and Fred­er­ick Sch­watka helped to un­cover cru­cial clues about the fate of the Franklin party. More re­cently, in­for­ma­tion from the Inuit helped to drive the dis­cov­ery of the two ships.

Lady Franklin, Sir John’s wife, pushed her hus­band to em­bark on his fi­nal ex­pe­di­tion. Later, she led the way (along with Charles Dick­ens) in dis­miss­ing the rev­e­la­tions of Rae and in den­i­grat­ing his Inuit in­for­mants. As a re­sult, Franklin’s fate be­came a mat­ter of great con­tro­versy in Eng­land, with plenty of mis­in­for­ma­tion tossed this way and that. McGoogan sifts through the pol­i­tics for us.

Dead Reck­on­ing is a su­perb work of Cana­dian his­tory, and there is lit­tle to crit­i­cize. It sets a new stan­dard and will be the start­ing point when con­sid­er­ing the story of Arc­tic ex­plo­ration from the six­teenth cen­tury on­ward.

Re­viewed by Dave Obee, the pub­lisher of the Vic­to­ria Times Colonist and a mem­ber of the board of Canada’s His­tory So­ci­ety.

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