Sunday, August 20, 2017

A younger male writer crosses swords with Margaret Atwood

Over on Twitter, I find myself arguing with Margaret Atwood. When I mentioned that I am proud to be part of The Atwood Generation, she objected: "Now Ken. You are WAY younger than me!" Yes, I am younger. But future scholars will talk of The Atwood Generation of Canadian writers as comprising those born 15 or 20 years before or after the warrior queen herself. I suggested as much in my 2013 book 50 Canadians Who Changed the World.  First, I launched a section on Artists (painters, writers, and film-makers) with a quick look at Atwood in action on the global stage. . . .  

Speaking in Jerusalem while accepting the Dan David Prize for Literature, Margaret Atwood noted that writers are easy to attack because they don’t have armies and can’t retaliate. She and Indian novelist Amitav Ghosh, with whom she shared the $1 million award, had “both received a number of letters,” she said, “urging and indeed ordering us not to attend, on the grounds that anything connected with Israel is tabu.”
Those letters “have ranged from courteous and sad,” she added, “to factual and practical, to accusatory, outrageous, and untrue in their claims and statements; some have been frankly libelous, and even threatening. Some [of the correspondents] have been willing to listen to us, others have not: they want our supposedly valuable ‘names,’ but not our actual voices.” In other words, Atwood said, “the all-or-nothings want to bully us into being their wholly owned puppets. The result of such a decision on our part would be – among other things – to turn us into sticks with which to beat other artists into submission, and that we refuse to do.”
The Dan David Prize for the Present, as distinct from those prizes awarded for the Past and the Future, was ear-marked in 2010 for “an outstanding author whose work provides vivid, compelling, and ground-breaking depictions of 20th-century life, rousing public discussion and inspiring fellow writers.” Atwood was cited specifically for enabling “the emergence of a defined Canadian identity while exploring . . . issues such as colonialism, feminism, structures of political power and oppression, and the violation and exploitation of nature.”
. . . As an artist, and more specifically a writer, Margaret Atwood is more politicized than most, and also more politically effective. Here in Canada, she long ago established herself as the Warrior Queen of Canadian Literature. Globally, as we see from her words and actions in Jerusalem, Atwood remains fearless. She defends the diminishing space afforded to art in the broad sense -- the psychological space an artist, writer, or film-maker requires to work. . . .
Later in the book, in a chapter about Atwood, I wrote:
As a novelist, poet, essayist, and, indeed, activist, Margaret Atwood is a global figure. She has published more than fifty acclaimed books and won a still greater number of awards, including prizes from France, Germany, Ireland and the United States, as well as the Booker Prize (she was shortlisted five times), the Giller Prize, and two Governor-General’s Awards (she has been a finalist seven times). Here in Canada, Atwood has been doing cutting-edge work for decades. Her influence is so far-reaching that, in the minds of many, she leads a generation of writers: the Atwood Generation. . . .

The image above is from 1999: Atwood walking the picket line at the Calgary Herald.
And with that, the younger writer rests his case.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Sailing Out of the Northwest Passage launches Dead Reckoning

More Dead Reckoning events are in the works. But at this point, Our Hero is sailing with Adventure Canada Out of the Northwest Passage from Sept. 7 to 23. After that, the confirmed schedule looks like this:
Sept. 27: Toronto: Ben McNally
Oct. 1: Stratford Writers' Festival 
Oct. 14, 15: Calgary Wordfest
Oct. 17: Victoria: Bolen Books
Oct. 18, 19: Vancouver Writers' Fest
Nov.6: U of T series, Oakville
Nov. 9. U of T series, Markham
Nov. 15. U of T series, St. George 
Nov. 18: Niagara: Hotel Dallavalle
Nov. 24: Embro, Ont: Caledonian Society, St. Andrews Day
Dec. 6: Burlington, Different Drummer

Monday, July 31, 2017

Log church at Loch Broom commemorates arrival of Scottish immigrants

The little log church at Loch Broom, Nova Scotia, is open seven days a week . . . except on Mondays. Sheena took this shot through a window at the side and I was quite pleased with the result. A memorial cairn out front indicates that this was the site of Pictou Country's first church, erected in 1787. Forty feet long by 25 feet wide, it was built of logs. First services were conducted in Gaelic. A second memorial, to the left of the church,  commemorates the arrival of Alexander Cameron (and other Scottish immigrants) on the Hector in 1773. Born in 1728 in Loch Broom, Scotland,
Cameron saw two older brothers killed at the Battle of Culloden in 1746.  Here in Nova Scotia, he named his land grant Loch Broom and, as a pioneer farmer, turned forest into farm land. A community leader, Cameron lived to the age of 103. He is buried a few miles from this site at Durham Cemetery. Some BBC types have been poking around in these environs. They have produced a documentary that has yet to be seen in Canada.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Prince Edward Island can be REALLY boring. Please stay away!

So you hear about the glorious red-sand beaches and the entrancing sites pertaining to Anne of Green Gables and the culinary, architectural and historical delights of Charlottetown. And the 75-minute ferry ride from Nova Scotia, and the boating and the lobster dinners and the shocking friendliness of the people, and like that. And that's how Prince Edward Island ends up being over-crowded all summer long!  So I am here to show you
that PEI can be really, really boring. Look: above we have St. John's Presbyterian Church in Belfast. The Selkirk settlers, having arrived here starting in 1803, built it in the 1820s. That's boring, right? Behind the church, you might stumble upon a stone marking the grave of Mary Douglass . . . the only daughter of the 5th Earl of Selkirk, who brought several hundred Highlanders here from Scotland in three ships. I have no doubt that the story of this daughter is well-known. She had a family, after all, as you can deduce from adjacent gravestones, and lived quite a long life. Still, because in my ignorance I had not expected this, the site made me wonder. Selkirk himself rambled all over the place, and died in France. How did his only daughter end up living out her life in PEI? Boring, right? Wait! There is more. Below, we have a view of the beach behind Prim Point. This is where the Selkirk settlers, and the Acadians before them, first came ashore. Nondescript, right? There's a graveyard above the beach, and also a nine-hole golf course. Boring, boring, boring. In short, I recommend that you take a miss on PEI. Leave this boring little island to me and my history-minded ilk. We'll find ways to cope.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Advance readers discover 'a brilliant reclaiming of history'

The advance readers are encouraging. Bob Rae writes: "Finally! A page-turning book about Arctic exploration that puts the heroism and leadership of indigenous people at the centre of the story." Ronald Wright calls it "a lively and gripping tale of heroism, folly and icy death . . . by highlighting the role of the Inuit, Dene and Metis, Ken McGoogan shows how the most successful white explorers were those who learned from the locals." Katherine Govier discovers "our national myth finally recast on our own shores . . . A brilliant reclaiming of history." Modesty, long known to be my bugbear, precludes my offering more extensive quotation. Dead Reckoning arrives in September.
In response to overwhelming popular demand (see comment below) I am adding two more advance bits: The legendary Peter C. Newman hails Yours Truly as "the ultimate guide to our last frontier." And the equally legendary Louie Kamookak writes: "This is Ken's best book yet. I am going to post a picture with all of his books so that he can show it around. I will even put on a seal-skin vest and tie."

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Opinionated? Moi? Q&A turns up in Celtic Life International

[The following is a shortened version of the original article.]

Prolific, profound, witty, and opinionated, Canadian author Ken McGoogan made waves recently when he suggested that Canada adopt Scotland as a new territory. Celtic Life International recently spoke with the scribe about his Celtic connections. 

What are your own roots? My roots are Scottish, Irish, and French Canadian. In Scotland, DNA research led me to meeting Jim McGugan, a long-lost “cousin” who lives in Arbroath; and from there to the island of Gigha in Kintyre, where our earliest ancestor is buried. In Ireland, I have tracked my ancestor Michael Byrnes to New Ross, County Wexford, where he was a contemporary of Patrick Kennedy, a forebear of American president John F. Kennedy.

Why are those roots important to you? Tracking my roots drove me to scrambling around on Cruach MhicGougain in Kintyre, and to having many other fun adventures. The process not only gave me a whole new sense of self, but inspired two books: How the Scots Invented Canada and Celtic Lightning: How the Scots and the Irish Created a Canadian Nation. Unearthing my own roots inspired me to conceive of what I call “cultural genealogy.” Canadian intellectuals hunker down with geographers and sociologists. That’s a mistake. We assume geography’s limitations and cease investigating our collective past at the western edge of the Atlantic Ocean. Instead, like genealogists, we should keep sleuthing. This nation’s history crosses the Atlantic. And, given that nine million Canadians trace their roots to Scotland and Ireland, it does so more often to those two countries than to anywhere else.

From your perspective, what are the biggest challenges facing Celtic Canadians today? I see Celtic culture in Canada as egalitarian, pluralistic, and progressive. So I worry about the emergence onto the world stage of a powerful right-wing partnership led by Theresa May and Donald Trump, or the Tories of Little England and the Republicans of the ‘Wild Wild West.’ I worry that, together, they might create some great libertarian beast and set it slouching towards Canada.

Are Celtic Canadians doing enough to preserve and promote their heritage? Not really. In my own small world, that of books and authors, we have regressed. Once upon a time, Canada and Scotland shared a writers-in-residence program. One year, a Scottish writer would come to Canada for three months. The next, a Canadian writer would spend three months in Scotland. One of the founders of that program told me recently that we Canadians were the ones who dropped the ball. We should be fostering closer relations with Scotland and Ireland, creating linkages of all kinds - cultural, economic, and political - not watching excellent initiatives wither and die.

What can be done to change this? We could start by waking up to the great wide world. Obviously, we face domestic challenges. But the current leadership of the country next door, backed by tens of millions of citizens, wants to create a society in which everyone carries a gun and only the wealthy can afford education or health care. Celtic Canadians should smell the coffee and start casting about for stronger alliances elsewhere - beginning with Scotland and Ireland.

(To read this piece in full, along with much else, pick up the magazine by going here.)

Friday, July 7, 2017

Save Rae's Clestrain with actions in Orkney and the High Arctic

Arctic explorer John Rae, who died in 1893, is alive and well in the news. The BBC reported on July 5 that the Orkney Islands Council is conferring the Freedom of Orkney on that Stromness-born explorer, albeit posthumously. Bravo for that action! Here's hoping it draws attention to the ongoing drive to fund the restoration of Rae's childhood home, the Hall of Clestrain.
In 2014, after a relentless, ten-year campaign, Alistair Carmichael, the Scottish member of Parliament for Orkney, managed to get Rae recognized at Westminster Abbey with a modest ledger stone. Carmichael had been promised a plaque on the wall identifying Rae as the "discoverer of the final link in the first navigable Northwest Passage."  As I write in Dead Reckoning, the plaque got beaten down to a ledger stone on the floor by an anti-Rae protest, "a particularly shameful episode in a tedious tradition of repudiation that dates back to the Victorian era."
We can return to that another day. This latest news reminded me that St. Giles Cathedral, Scotland's answer to Westminster Abbey, has no statue of John Rae. Shouldn't that be rectified? Then I thought of a statue of three figures which can be found in both Scotland and Canada. Near Helmsdale, it is called The Emigrants. In Winnipeg, it is The Selkirk Settlers.
Then I remembered that the famous statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn was financed by a (Scottish) Canadian named Eric Harvie, who erected an identical statue in his hometown of Calgary, Alberta.
Meanwhile, I had been chatting online with Louie Kamookak, the Inuit historian and leading expert on the Franklin expedition. In 1999, Louie and I and Cameron Treleaven had placed a plaque beside the ruins of a cairn that John Rae built in 1854, marking his discovery of Rae Strait in the heart of the Northwest Passage. 
Rae had been accompanied by an Inuk, William Ouligbuck, and an Ojibway, Thomas Mistegan. Without these indigenous companions -- expert hunters and travelers, and the only two men who could keep up with Rae -- the Orcadian explorer would not have made his crucial discovery.
Shall I cut to the chase? We need two identical statues of three figures in action: Rae, Ouligbuck and Mistegan. One of these statues could go into St. Giles . . . OR, even better, into a refurbished Hall of Clestrain. The other could go into the heart of the Arctic, to the John Rae Memorial Site on Boothia Peninsula where in 1854 Rae built his cairn.
Louie reminded me that our modest plaque probably saved the life of an Inuk who, while lost in a blizzard, had stumbled across it. Just imagine what a MASSIVE, three-person statue could do. All we need to make this happen is a present-day Eric Harvie -- a no-nonsense philanthropist of vision. Yo, can anybody hear me?

Saturday, July 1, 2017

Make that Ocean to Ocean to Ocean: Canada's Really BIG!

Over the past few days,  I have been revisiting 50 Canadians Who Changed the World and shamelessly reliving The VIA-Rail, 50 Canadians, Ocean-to-Ocean, Book-Tour Extravaganza.  Rail-trip of a lifetime, courtesy of VIA-Rail and Harper-Collins Canada. Sure, I had to talk endlessly about one of my books and write a few articles for VIA-Destinations, a now-defunct magazine, but that’s what I do anyway. Lots of defunct publications out there.
Along the way I remembered that Canada borders on not two but three oceans -- that the country is so big, in fact, that the Arrogant Worms wrote a song about it. If we can't have Northwest Passage as our national anthem, I vote for Canada's Really Big.
But three oceans. One image each for Canada Day, why not? First up, a good-looking young couple literally ON the Arctic Ocean. This is from a couple of years back, one of our voyages with Adventure Canada. And, yes, this September we'll again go voyaging with AC and ride around among the icebergs. Someone's gotta do it, right?
Ocean number two is the Pacific. Soon after Sheena took this photo, we made our way to Granville Island, home of the Vancouver Writers Festival, where one sunny afternoon, I had chatted with Australian novelist Peter Carey. I was puffed up with irrational pride at the way Vancouver sparkled in the sun, and I said, “So what do you think of Vancouver?”
Carey smiled and said it was great, but then he took a beat: “Have you ever been to Sydney?” At that point, I had not, and he encouraged me to visit. Later, when I did get there, I went to the top of the tower, Centrepoint, and found myself gazing out over the most spectacular harbour in the world. Just keeping things in perspective.

But before revisiting Granville Island, having walked much of the Seawall around Stanley Park, we sat down on one of those big grey logs on the beach and I removed my shoes and socks and rolled up my pantlegs. Carrying a copy of 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, I strode across the sand in manly fashion and waded into the cold, salty water of the Pacific. 
What I had forgotten was that those waters were relatively warm. I was reminded of this a few weeks later, when we reached Halifax and I felt obliged to make some corresponding gesture. One afternoon, assisted by three volunteers -- Sheena and the Mallorys, Mark and Carolyn, fellow voyagers in the Arctic -- I ventured into a hard-to-reach corner of Point Pleasant Park. There, at least twenty metres from the main parking lot, despite a driving rain and a rocky shoreline that would have deterred a less intrepid author, I waded into the Atlantic Ocean.
I wanted to build a cairn to mark the occasion, but my companions convinced me to adjourn instead to a nearby pub. At the Lord Nelson, looking into the future, we raised a glass and drank to the greatest country -- or at least the second biggest -- in the world. Happy Canada Day!

Friday, June 30, 2017

This Canadian moment symbolizes achievement & reconciliation

Here I stand on King William Island in August, 1999. Matheson Point. Behind me is Rae Strait. Three of us were about to cross that strait -- Louie Kamookak, Cameron Treleaven, and I -- to see if we could find a cairn built in 1854 on Canada’s Arctic coast.  We were bent on honoring the three men who had put it there: an Orcadian Scot (John Rae), an Inuk (William Ouligbuck), and an Ojibway (Thomas Mistegan).
Together, these three had marked a location overlooking the final link (Rae Strait) in what would prove to be the first navigable Northwest Passage. Is that a Canadian moment or what? To me it symbolizes achievement and points to reconciliation. As it happens, that moment -- which finds "white" and indigenous succeeding together -- is at the heart of Dead Reckoning: The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.
The book recognizes the contributions to Arctic exploration of the Dene, the Ojibway, the Cree and, above all, the Inuit, without whom John Franklin’s ships, Erebus and Terror, would still be lying undiscovered at the bottom of the Polar Sea. Slated to appear from 
HarperCollins Canada in September, the work encompasses both naval and fur-trade explorers, but also such figures as Thanadelthur, Akaitcho, Tattanoeuck, John Sacheuse, Ebierbing, Hans Hendrik, Tulugaq, and Tookoolito.
Louie Kamookak is the latest to join that sterling list. Those of us sailing Out of the Northwest Passage with Adventure Canada this September are thrilled that, circumstances permitting, Louie will join us in visiting the site of the Erebus. So, yes, autumn will find me still celebrating reconciliation with furious passion. Shall we start on Canada Day? Why not? Let the party begin!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Crossing Canada by train gave me three reasons to hate Calgary

We called it The VIA-Rail, 50 Canadians, Ocean-to-Ocean, Book-Tour Extravaganza.  By using voodoo magic, my book publisher, Harper-Collins Canada, had worked a deal with VIA-Rail to send me and my artist-photographer-wife, Sheena Fraser McGoogan, back and forth across the country by train to promote 50 Canadians Who Changed the World.  All I had to do was write a few articles for VIA-Destinations, a now-defunct magazine. No, I didn't inquire too deeply.
But with Canada 150 directly ahead, now is the time to reveal how that played out. Having boarded The Canadian in Toronto, we rocked westward into the night, bound for Vancouver and the Pacific. The Atlantic leg would happen later. Now, we would stop off in Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Calgary, and Banff, and stay in each city at a classic railway hotel. The idea was Canadian history, right? I would talk to any media outlet that would have me, and then we would board VIA-Rail’s next Canadian. Hey, I said someone worked magic.
True, our train looked nothing like the Countess of Dufferin (pictured below), which is housed at the Railway Museum in Winnipeg. But we ate our meals in a dining car complete with friendly servers, four-person tables, and white-linen tablecloths. We slept in a private compartment. And if we wanted a better view of the countryside, we would make our way to one of the dome cars.
We whirled through a kaleidoscope of landscape, history, and memory. It was the rail-trip of a lifetime, and it taught me a few things. It taught me to hate Calgary, for example, where Sheena and I lived for two decades while raising our now-adult children. I shared three of those reasons in the city itself, while praising 50 Canadians at Pages on Kensington. Looking back, I see that those reasons stand up. 
The first reason I hated Calgary was Naheed Nenshi. We chanced to be in the city when Calgarians elected this brilliant, charismatic leader to a second four-year term. Why should Calgary get the Best Mayor in Canada, that's what I wanted to know. Meanwhile, in Toronto, we were suffering the death of a thousand cuts under a certain Mortifying Blowhard. Nenshi alone would have been sufficient to make me gnash my teeth with envy. Come to think of it, I'm still gnashing.
That brings me to my second reason. I hated Calgary because it has the C-Train, a Light Rapid Transit system that runs like a dream. A multi-stop C-Train is precisely what Toronto needs to run out Scarborough way. Instead, our new and slightly improved mayor remains committed to building a radically inferior and far more expensive subway line. Don't get me started. 
The third reason I hated Calgary was the superabundance of swimming pools. They are everywhere, wonderfully clean, always half-empty. By comparison, swimming in Toronto is like something out of The Hunger Games. Nasty, brutish, and hard to survive. So: Nenshi, the C-Train, the swimming pools. All these I found hard to forgive.
But at Pages, I didn’t say a word about the most hurtful thing of all. I couldn't even speak of Calgary’s proximity to the Rockies. Did I mention that in summer we camped and hiked in those mountains, and in winter we skied every weekend at Sunshine or Lake Louise. You want justified hatred? Think about that.
In fairness, I have to say that the Calgary Herald ran an insightful article about 50 Canadians. The CBC Homestretch and Global TV gave me prime-time exposure. And I saw a whack of old friends at Pages on Kensington. Yes, we adjourned to a still-familiar pub. My hatred of Calgary is not unmitigated.

Youngish White Dude says YES to indigenous peoples, visible minorities

I hate to create mysteries during our run-up to Canada Day. But while the book we’re loud-hailing is rightly called 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, it celebrates 49 human beings, give or take -- 19 women and 30 men. Given that the human race is split 50-50, still I felt not too bad about having achieved 38.7 per cent women.
Then Justin Trudeau came along and, with his first cabinet, hit 50 per cent. Talk about raising the bar. I'm not bitter, but will note only that he didn’t have to accommodate the first half of the 20th century.
Then came the voices in my head. What about indigenous people? What about visible minorities? How many of those do we find among your 50 Canadian world-beaters, mister? Just how inclusive are you?
Well, hey, I thought you’d never ask. Turns out we have a dozen -- out of 49, more than 24 per cent. In Canada’s total population, those who self-identify as
indigenous or belonging to a visible minority comprise nineteen per cent. So when it comes to being demographically representative, this dude is ahead of the game. Yes!
The book’s table of contents included no names, only one-line descriptions. My idea was to encourage guessing games -- and it worked, here and there. Now and then. Among a few folks. This time around, I’ll give you bold-face names and then the one-liners:
Sheila Watt-Cloutier: An Inuit activist links climate change to human rights
Irshad Manji: A spirited Muslim calls for an Islamic Reformation.
Douglas Cardinal: A pioneering architect builds on his indigenous heritage
Kenojuak Ashevak: An Inuit artist enriches world culture
Joy Kogawa: A Japanese Canadian clears the way for minorities
Deepa Mehta: A transnational filmmaker gives voice to marginalized women
Michaelle Jean: A Haitian immigrant proves that pluralism works
Jay Silverheels: A talented Mohawk blazes a trail for aboriginal actors
Oscar Peterson: First this Montreal jazzman took Manhattan
K’naan Warsame: A flag-waving rapper tackles trouble in Somalia
David Suzuki: An environmental warrior awakens the world to climate change
Russell Peters: The Canadian comedian makes the world laugh with us
And did I say 19 women? Voila: Louise Arbour, Maude Barlow, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Irshad Manji, Naomi Klein, Jane Jacobs, Kenojuak Ashevak, Alice Munro, Joy Kogawa, Margaret Atwood, Deepa Mehta, Michaelle Jean, Samantha Nutt, Joni Mitchell, Celine Dion, Sarah Burke, Hayley Wickenheiser, Brenda Milner, Sara Seager.
That still leaves our mystery inclusion, our number fifty. No, it is not Northern Dancer -- though I fought hard to include that peerless progenitor. He’s Canadian, right? Anyway, if you can’t stand the suspense, you’ll have to buy the book. 50 Canadians Who Changed the World. It’s available in better bookstores, and here online from Chapters-Indigo.

Monday, June 26, 2017

These five Canadians created the Digital Revolution

With Canada 150 upon us, I’ve been ransacking 50 Canadians Who Changed the World. Yesterday I turned up half a dozen Canadians, among them Margaret Atwood and Joni Mitchell, who spirited the Sixties into the 21st Century. Today I discover that five Canadians created the Digital Revolution.
Marshall McLuhan: Recognized internationally as the Prophet of the Electronic Age, McLuhan was an obscure English professor when, in the 1960s, he published two visionary books: The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media. He anticipated a “global village” of instantaneous communications. Look around: we all live in a World Wide Web.
James Cameron: After creating the blockbuster movie Titanic (1997), Cameron began developing  the digital 3D Fusion Camera System he would use in Avatar (2009). That movie, which relies heavily on computer generated animation, revolutionized the film industry when we weren’t looking. It replaced traditional 35 mm celluloid with digital 3D technology. Movies are different now.

Mike Lazaridis: In 1999, after creating a series of increasingly sophisticated mobile devices, this electrical engineer invented the Blackberry, the world’s first widely used smartphone. Today, more than 1.2 billion people use smartphones to access the World Wide Web, and many rarely use any other device to go online. Misplace your smartphone and you feel sick inside.
Douglas Cardinal: Best-known for creating the Canadian Museum of Civilization (aka the Canadian Museum of History), Cardinal pioneered the use of digital technology in architectural design. Drawing on his indigenous heritage, he created curvilinear buildings that drove him to develop Computer-Aided Design and Drafting (CADD). Can you imagine these fancy new skyscrapers without it?
Don Tapscott: The author of Wikinomics and Macrowikinomics, the visionary Tapscott explorers and champions the collaborative innovations made possible by the Internet. He argues that the Millennials, born between 1977 and 1997,  are “digital natives” who are changing the way the world does business. 
You can find out more in 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, available online by clicking here (Chapters-Indigo). Oh, and if you worry that the book might be short of women or visible minorities, check back tomorrow.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

These awful Canadians spirited the 1960s into the 21st Century

The 1960s get a bum rap, here in 21st-century Canada. All those awful Boomers who came of age back then have destroyed the economy, the housing market, job prospects, let's just say the whole shebang. But just imagine where we might be if the international “counter-culture” that emerged in the Sixties had never happened. With Canada Day 150 upon us, I’ve been ransacking 50 Canadians Who Changed the World. Here I find world-beaters who challenged authority, rejected consumerism, marched for women’s rights, investigated consciousness, and led the way “back to the land.” I discover Canadians who spirited the Sixties into the 21st century:
       Stephen Lewis. Embodying the anti-materialism of the 1960s, this activist-humanitarian created a foundation that leads the global war against HIV-AIDS.
Margaret Atwood. A feminist leader since the 1960s, she has been hailed internationally for exploring not just women’s issues but political oppression and the exploitation of nature.
David Suzuki. Since the 1960s, when as a young scientist he became aware of threats to the environment, Suzuki has been a leader in awakening the world to climate change.
Leonard Cohen. Having proclaimed early on that Magic Is Alive, this Zen-monk troubabour sang the spirit of the Sixties into his eighties: The Old Revolution, Waiting for the Miracle, First We Take Manhattan, Halleluleah.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau. After emerging onto the political stage in the 1960s, this fluently bilingual intellectual turned Canada into a global beacon of pluralism:  multicultural, multiracial, and multinational.
Joni Mitchell. Not only is she the Picasso of Song, but Mitchell has never ceased to speak out against the double standard applied to female musicians. And one of her lyrics has become an environmentalist refrain: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Where in 2017 would we be without these half dozen Canadians and others like them?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Five Canada Day lessons: Sometimes you have to lie to your mother

With Canada Day looming, I’ve been revisiting my book 50 Canadians Who Changed the World.  A cursory inspection reminds me that these outstanding individuals have a lot to teach the rest of us.
 1. Don’t be afraid to wade in a swamp.  Because, as a boy, he felt like an outsider, David Suzuki took refuge in nature: “My main solace was a large swamp a ten-minute bike ride from our house.” The youth was fascinated by plant and animal life, especially insects. “Anyone who spotted me in that swamp would have had confirmation of my absolute nerdiness as I waded in fully clothed, my eyes at water level, peering beneath the surface, a net and jar in my hands behind my back.” Suzuki would build on those early experiments to earn a doctorate, become a science broadcaster, and awaken the world to climate change.
 2. If you really like a movie, go see it ten times.  As a fifteen-year-old, James Cameron was knocked out by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. At the local theatre in Niagara Falls, Ontario, he went to see it ten times. He decided that, instead of a comic book artist, he wanted to be a filmmaker. He borrowed his father’s Super-8 camera, started shooting film, and didn’t stop. In Hollywood, he helped lead the shift into the digital world. And in 2009, when he released the 3-D movie Avatar, he made digital technology the bedrock of the modern cinema experience.
 3. Sometimes you have to lie to your mother.  Just before she flew into Somalia, which was a war zone, Samantha Nutt left a series of post-dated postcards to be sent to her mother from Kenya. Having a wonderful time on safari. Seeing tons of lions, zebras, giraffes, and elephants. Wish you were here. At age twenty-five, she was researching an advanced medical degree on women’s health in failed states. What she discovered shocked her, and galvanized her into co-founding War Child Canada. By delivering aid to war-torn nations, this charitable, humanitarian organization changed the world.
 4. Do not dismiss your premonitions.  On December 30, 1981, while driving to the arena with a team mate, twenty-year-old hockey player Wayne Gretzky turned to his fellow Edmonton Oiler and said, “Geez, I feel weird. I might get a couple tonight.” Gretzky was chasing a record set in 1945 by Maurice “The Rocket” Richard: fifty goals in fifty games. With thirty-eight games behind him, Gretzky had scored forty-five. But on this night, he wrote later, “it was almost eerie the way things happened.” He registered four goals, “but then the magic suddenly left me.” He missed three point-blank chances. As the game wound down, he mounted one final rush. With seven seconds remaining, he took a cross-rink pass and then fired the puck “into the world’s most beautiful net.” Having scored fifty goals in thirty-nine games -- a record that has yet to be broken -- Wayne Gretzky went on to bring hockey into the mainstream of North American sport.
 5. When all else fails, go lie on a beach. When he was twenty-four, Guy Laliberte went to Hawaii for a holiday. He had been performing with a street festival in small-town Quebec, specializing in juggling, stilt-walking, and fire-eating. The year was 1983, and the provincial government had announced that it was funding projects to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the arrival of French explorer Jacques Cartier. While lying on a beach in Hawaii, watching the sun go down, Laliberte conceived of mounting a Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun). That vision, inspired by a Hawaiian sunset, would enable Laliberte to transform our conception of the circus and give rise to a global empire that today employs thousands of people from more than 40 countries.
 [50 Canadians is available here online and in all the best bricks-and-mortar bookstores.] 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Meet the Inuit activist who made climate change a human rights issue

In December 2005, Inuit author and activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier launched the world’s first legal action on climate change when she presented a 167-page petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Signed by sixty-two Inuit elders and hunters, it charged that unchecked emission of greenhouse gases from the United States had violated Inuit cultural and environmental rights as guaranteed by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Watt-Cloutier changed the world by making climate change a human rights issue. So I argued, rightly I think, in 50 Canadians Who Changed the World. I had organized my Outstanding 50, all born in the twentieth century, into six broadly inclusive groups. Watt-Cloutier I profiled as primarily an activist. In presenting the petition, she  drew on an exhaustive Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) prepared over four years by 300 scientists from fifteen countries. It attested that the Arctic is experiencing some of the most rapid climate change on earth. It predicted that the change would accelerate and produce major physical, ecological, social, and economic consequences, and that these would lead to worldwide global warming and rising sea levels. Some marine species would face extinction, and the disappearance of sea ice would disrupt and might destroy the Inuit’s hunting- and food-sharing culture.
 Identifying the Inuit as “the early warning system for the entire planet,” Watt-Cloutier put a human face on the facts, figures, and graphs. “Climate change affects every facet of Inuit life,” she said. “We have a right to life, health, security, land use, subsistence and culture. These issues are the real politics of climate change.” In 2008, when Time magazine hailed her as one of a handful of “Heroes of the Environment,” Watt-Cloutier said: “Most people can’t relate to the science, to the economics, and to the technical aspects of climate change. But they can certainly connect to the human aspect.” Her aim is to “move the issue from the head to the heart.”
The following year, while accepting an honorary doctor of laws from the University of Alberta, Watt-Cloutier reviewed how the Inuit “have weathered the storm of modernization remarkably well, moving from an almost entirely traditional way of life to adopting ‘modern’ innovations all within the past sixty or seventy years.” But rapid changes and traumas “deeply wounded and dispirited many,” she said, “and translated into a ‘collective pain’ for families and communities. Substance abuse, health problems, and the loss of so many of our people to suicide have resulted.”
Through all this, the Inuit drew strength from “our land, our predictable environment and climate, and the wisdom our hunters and elders gained over millennia to help us adapt.” Now, however, climate change has made the environment unreliable and capricious: “Just as we start to come out the other side of the first wave of tumultuous change, there is yet a second wave coming at us. We face dangerously unpredictable weather, unpredictable conditions of our ice and snow, extreme erosion, and an invasion of new species. These changes threaten to erase the memory of who we are, where we have come from, and all that we wish to be.”
Writing in 2012, I added a lot more. But obviously, I could not include anything from The Right to be Cold, a national bestseller Watt-Cloutier published in 2015. Seems to me that, along with 50 Canadians, we all should have that book on our bedside tables. 

How did Canada become multicultural, multi-racial, multi-national?

"Most developed countries tolerate plural identities. But what they struggle to accommodate, Canada embraces and proclaims." So I wrote four years too early. "This is partly the result of necessity: ours is a country of minorities. But it derives also from historical timing."
In the introduction to 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, published by HarperCollins Canada in 2013, I then clarified and elaborated. The original thirteen colonies of the United States of America adopted a constitution in 1787. Inevitably, that document reflected eighteenth-century ideas about the nation state: one nation, one state, one national identity.
As a result, the United States became proudly one and indivisible, and it fought a civil war to stay that way. Citizens of the U.S. have a single, over-riding identity: they are Americans. Canada, by comparison, did not even begin to emerge as a state until late in the nineteenth century. The country reached a political milestone in 1867 with Confederation. But even then Canada remained subject to the British North America Act, a document that Britain could repeal at any time.
Only in 1982, under Pierre Elliott Trudeau, did this country gain control of its own constitution. By then, Canada was too complex to fit into an eighteenth-century constitutional mould. Trudeau recognized that the country had become pluralistic: regional, multicultural, multi-racial, multi-national.
But wait!  I'm sparing you quotation marks, but I'm drawing from the book. And 50 Canadians Who Changed the World can still be found in better bookstores, among them Chapters-Indigo (which carries the paperback online at this link.) So maybe the timing is right for a few quick hits from the book. In the introduction, I continued:
Trudeau realized that, as a pluralistic state, Canada could become “a brilliant prototype” for the civilization of tomorrow. He convinced Canadians to reject the ethnocentric model (one nation, one state) championed by Quebecois nationalists -- and adopted in the 1700s by Americans -- and recognize that freedom is most secure when two or more nations co-exist within a single state. This pluralistic vision, rendered into reality by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, makes Canada unique among developed nations. That reality means individuals have room to grow, no matter their roots, no matter their complexities. It explains why so many Canadians have changed the world.
It also explains why, instead of arguing ideas, I decided to focus on individuals. That, I reasoned, is where the stories are. I quickly discovered a multitude of extraordinary individuals -- far too many. And so I adopted two basic criteria. First, because I hoped to paint a portrait of contemporary, cutting-edge Canada, I confined my selections to Canadians born in the twentieth century. This meant excluding remarkable figures from an earlier era, but opened up space for those changing the world today. Second, I wanted to focus on Canadians who have made a difference globally. This ruled out people who have worked miracles here at home, but have had little impact in the great wide world. A third criterion emerged as I wrote. 
But I'll produce examples as we approach Canada Day.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Scottish front pages highlight wet, rocky path through Brexit forest

Our guidebook described the hike to Steall Falls as "a pleasant walk with good views of the river." It did concede that the "grass/stone path can be slippery when wet." But as the rain came down, and we found ourselves scrambling up and down a rough, rocky trail that winds through a forest, we realized that we were struggling through the perfect metaphor for Scotland's post-election trauma. 
Which way to turn? What do the signs say? Judging from today's front pages, they aren't easy to read. The 
Scotsman tells us: "SNP admit independence / lost them election seats." But The Inverness Press & Journal delivers a counter-spin: "‘Brexit disaster will boost independence.’"
The Scottish Daily Mail declares: "Tories turn on Theresa." But the Scottish Daily Express claims: "Sturgeon on the Retreat."
The Daily Record tries hard for exhaustive clarity: "The Fate of May // Heaven help us/ because she can’t." But then it delivers the worst pun of the day: "Elephant Indy Room."
The good news is that we kept slogging and saw some spectacular sights. Not only that: as we arrived back at the car park, the sun came out. Visibility? All clear. Full speed ahead.