Exploration is for Everyone

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AC passengers enjoy the midnight sun while exploring Ragged Island, Nunavut

The June issue of Canadian Geographic magazine names Canada’s Greatest Explorers. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the minds of those who seek new horizons—and return to tell the tale.

In our epoch, the poles, the peaks, and even the moon have all been visited, mapped, and made familiar. Exploration is no longer just about being the first one there (and back). As editor Aaron Kylie, diver Joe MacInnis, and author James Raffan all note, today’s explorer also has a responsibility to tell stories.

Director, diver, and documentarian James Cameron understands this implicitly. Having created two of the great popular myths of our time in Titanic and Avatar, he has also delved the ocean depths, whose stories most of us can only know through such work.

Likewise, Jill Heinerth, who has explored the iceberg caves of Antarctica and swum with Team Sedna, an all-female snorkelling expedition from Labrador to Greenland. Team Sedna brought back a story of disappearing sea ice that affects us all.

It’s important who tells the story—and where the story came from. Louie Kamookak gathered oral history from Inuit elders that would prove essential to finding the Erebus, Sir John Franklin’s flagship, off King William Island. Louie’s work reminds us there is a vast web of indigenous oral tradition only now being given its due.

Too frequently, we picture an ‘explorer’ as a bearded man, pitting himself against the unknown. Women like ocean rower Mylène Paquette are changing that perception. We must remember that some of history’s greatest feats of exploration have been undertaken not by lone trekkers, but by family units, migrating, on foot or horseback or by boat, all over the world. The umiaq, or ‘women’s boat’ played a pivotal role in the pre-European exploration of the Arctic.

We must consider that when known places are visited in novel ways, new and important stories are born. Think of Rick Hansen’s Man in Motion tour, or the empowering trek of the Cree youth who walked from James Bay to Ottawa, at the height of Idle No More. Are artists who plumb the human experience, like Buffy Ste. Marie or Leonard Cohen or Margaret Atwood not explorers, too? What of the philosophical journey of Jean Vanier?

Ilulissat ice fjord, Greenland

AC passengers at Ilulissat Icefjord, Greenland

Most importantly, we must remember that exploration is not just for heroes. Every one of us faces the terra incognita of his or her own life, an exploration we symbolically enact when we travel. We are forever exploring not just the new places we may visit, but the vast frontiers of our emotional, intellectual, and spiritual geography as well.

As with the living legends among the 100 Greatest Explorers, it’s the stories we come home with that matter most. That’s what makes exploration for everyone.

Adventure Canada is proud to have worked with Louie Kamookak, James Raffan, Jerry Kobalenko, Mike Beedell, Edward Burtynsky, Geoff Green, Bill Lishman, David Pelly, Peter Rowe, Mark St-Onge, and David Suzuki—all listed among Canada’s 100 Greatest Explorers. Congratulations to all!

 

 

 

 

 

 

What Farley Knew

The late Canadian author, environmentalist, self-promoter, and shit-disturber Farley Mowat was born on this day in 1921. Nearly ninety-two years later, on May 6 of 2014, he died. Between those dates Mowat led a legendary life. A polarizing personality, he was widely loved and yet frequently reviled.

Pinocchio MowatIt’s Mowat’s storytelling that will remain his greatest legacy, and drew his most vociferous criticism. “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story” was his mantra, and Mowat was duly dubbed “Hardly Know It” by many serious scientists, experts, and ordinary folk—especially Northerners—fed up with his penchant for myth-making. Saturday Night magazine depicted Farley Mowat as Pinocchio in a cover story that catalogued his errors, exaggerations and outright fibs.

For his part, Mowat claimed his wildly popular books—he sold 17 million of them, all over the world—brought much needed attention to serious causes: the starvation of the Ahalmuit (People of the Deer); the demonization of wolves (Never Cry Wolf); the plight of whales (A Whale for the Killing), seals and other marine life (Sea of Slaughter).

The factuality of Mowat’s work may often be sketchy, but his skill as a storyteller is undeniable. As Up Here noted in a reevaluation in 2009, (Farley Mowat: Liar or Saint?) the North has been hard on its writers at the best of times, and Hardly Know It might well have been reviled for his unpopular stance even if he’d been a stickler for accuracy.

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Certainly, if history judges his books by their emotional substance, Farley Mowat’s legacy will be a favourable one. Sympathy for wild creatures was once considered sentimental. Criticism of British and Canadian patriarchal authority in the North was weak-kneed. And advocacy for the Inuit way of life was anything but common when Farley Mowat first put pen to paper.

These were ideas Mowat introduced, and stood by, early on in his career. All are clearly in evidence in his Top of the World Trilogy. This compendium of old explorer’s journals, spanning several centuries, edited with commentary by Mowat, is well worth re-reading now: it’s vintage Mowat, and yet, published in 1973, it was well ahead of its time.

Favouring overlooked, underdog explorers like Samuel Hearne, Francis McClintock, and Captain Thierry Mallet, Mowat’s selections and commentary subvert the typical hero narrative, heaping scorn on hapless colonizers of the North acting on orders from far away, including the otherwise iconic Sir John Franklin.

Such views are common, if not dominant today, even in the South. Would that be the case without Farley Mowat? Clearly his most egregious missteps and misstatements will not stand the test of time, nor should they. But on what would have been his ninety-fourth birthday, perhaps we can admit that on some subjects, at least, Farley Knew It after all.

Editor’s note: the late Farley Mowat travelled as a special guest aboard Adventure Canada expeditions in 1995 and 1997. Among his many contributions he taught us invaluable lessons about garnering cheap publicity.

For a definitive take on this issue, see Ken McGoogan‘s thorough and beautiful overview of Farley Mowat’s literary legacy from the National Post.

C.W. Nicol: The Raven’s Tale

CWNicolC.W. Nicol is one of those writers whose own life is a dramatic story in itself. Born in Wales, he now makes his home on a nature preserve in Japan, having made stops along the way as a game warden in Ethiopia, a bird researcher in the Canadian Arctic, and as a writer aboard a whaling ship.

Today Nicol is a well-known nature author and advocate in Japan, but his work ought to be required reading for Canadians interested in the North.

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The Raven’s Tale (Harbour Books, 1994) is a perfect example. As Robert Bateman notes of this wondrous work whose characters are Arctic animals:

The artist in me revelled in the colours, forms and moods of the Arctic landscape. The naturalist in me nodded in recognition at the detail of appearance and behaviour of all the creatures. C.W. Nicol carries us through a world of drama and vitality in a way that captures both the surface and the soul.

It is the expression of surface and soul that makes The Raven’s Tale so compelling. Like myths of old (and kids’ books of late), The Raven’s Tale gives voice to the creatures of the Arctic landscape.

The story is one of an unlikely friendship, between a three-legged fox and a lone wolf. Beginning with the eponymous raven, the animals of the Arctic—fox, wolf, owl, hare, lemming, caribou, seal, orca, polar bear—each tell a part of the pair’s great journey over land and ice from their own unique points of view. Thus The Raven’s Tale, unfolding through the eyes of the denizens of the North, reveals the intricate web of relationships that binds all creatures to one another, as to the land and sea and sky.

Simply phrased and lightly told, with great care for the unique voices of each creature, The Raven’s Tale would make wonderful reading for children. Yet the story, like the Arctic landscape itself, is much deeper than what is easily seen on the surface.

Ultimately, what The Raven’s Tale expresses is a cosmology of kinship that is the abiding spirit of the Arctic.

Travel with C.W. Nicol aboard our Heart of the Arctic expedition, July 17 – 29th, 2015.

 

The Floating Book Club

author-coversAcclaimed publisher, editor, and storyteller Doug Gibson—whose authors have won every major book award in Canada—will lead our first-ever onboard Book Club, featuring bestselling authors Terry Fallis and Kathleen Winter.

Kathleen Winter will guide readers through her groundbreaking novel, Annabel. Set in coastal Labrador, Annabel was a #1 Canadian bestseller, and a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Governor General’s Literary Award, and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize.

Terry Fallis will present the first of his four national bestselling books. His hilarious debut novel, The Best Laid Plans, won the 2008 Stephen Leacock Medal for Humour and the 2011 Canada Reads competition. A CBC TV miniseries based on the book aired in January 2014.

In addition to his literary leadership, Doug Gibson will perform an exclusive showing of his one-man play, Stories About Storytellers, and offer his unique editor’s insights into the work of Alice Munro.

Join the Floating Book Club on our Newfoundland and Wild Labrador voyage, July 5-17, 2015.

James Raffan: Circling the Midnight Sun

CirclingTheMidnightSunAuthor, paddler, and inveterate traveller James Raffan sets himself a daunting task in his latest book: to make his way around the Arctic Circle, by country, culture, and community. In a time when climate change threatens ways of life that have endured for generations, Raffan hopes his journey may highlight some of the ways northern peoples have been most affected by the changes wrought during the past century or so.

That makes it all sound simple. In fact, it’s anything but. What “Circling the Midnight Sun: Culture and Change in the Invisible Arctic” reveals first is that a journey along the Arctic Circle, like the issues it explores, is complex, difficult, and often disheartening—though potentially rewarding. Raffan’s circumnavigation of the planet at 66.6 degrees North, which takes place piecemeal over the course of three years, spans the Arctic territories of Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Alaska, Canada and Greenland. He travels by virtually every imaginable means, from sled and snowmobile to Adventure Canada’s own former expedition cruise vessel, the Sea Adventurer.

As Raffan makes his way along the ice roads and airways and (emerging) shipping lanes of the Arctic in a journey totalling more than 17,000 kilometres, a pattern begins to emerge: having cleared snarls of red tape and managed to put a first foot forward in the direction of his next (often terribly remote) destination, Raffan, white-knuckled, wide-eyed and keen, winds up in the car, tent, boat, shack, or sled of one generous host or fixer after another, whose insights he carefully and gratefully chronicles.

To Raffan’s own surprise, a similar story seems to arise in every place: for the indigenous peoples who live along the Arctic Circle, from the Sami to the Gwiich’in to the Inuit, climate change is far less a concern than the sweeping cultural changes that have preceded it. Everywhere he goes, the author finds savvy people whose most fervent wish is not to reverse global warming, nor to return to some ancient way of life. Rather, it is to “control their fate”—a key phrase. From Alaska to Siberia, this is the shared goal of the people of the north.

Amid the evocative-sounding names of people, places, languages and nations that make up his travelogue, Raffan introduces a bewildering array of advocacy groups, umbrella organizations, NGOs, territorial and tribal governments. Many (though certainly not all) of these are devoted to ensuring indigenous and northern voices are head amid the din of global politics and the rush to access Arctic resources. This is good news, in a way. Yet the mere necessity of their existence points to the scope of the changes facing people who until recently have been entirely dependent on the land and sea for their sustenance.

And so we meet a shaman with a cell phone, and a reindeer herder who sells Amway. We learn how control of resources may give Inuit Greenlanders a fighting chance at autonomy while the indigenous peoples of Siberia struggle to adapt to the collapse of communism, and Nunavut’s children face a future utterly unlike the one their southern compatriots may enjoy. We learn that while the Arctic comprises a mere six percent of the Earth’s surface, for the millions of people who live there, it is home. That home is changing—it has always been changing. Arctic people, we learn, are everywhere proud adapters. But the key to adaptation is a healthy, thriving, resilient culture: the very thing that is most at risk as climate change, resource extraction, new shipping lanes, communications technology and globalization leave the Arctic directly in the path of ‘progress’.

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The story of any journey is ultimately the story of change. For James Raffan, the change is a personal one: he quickly comes to understand that the imaginary line he follows is just that; roads and rivers, whales and caribou know nothing of lines of latitude. That’s part of what makes his journey interesting. More slowly, Raffan comes to a deeper understanding, personified by the ravens that appear wherever he goes. Symbolizing thought and memory in ancient Norse myth, they reveal to the author, and ultimately to the reader what is truly at stake in the Arctic. We have seen Thought wander, and the results are distressing. But what if we were to lose Memory? The results would be catastrophic. Memory is language. Language is culture. Culture is people. The people of the Arctic represent a critical element of the Earth’s own memory.

The lesson is there for the learning, and to learn it, we, like James Raffan, need to come full circle in the north.

Join James Raffan on Adventure Canada’s voyage Out of the Northwest Passage, September 5-21, 2015.

Circling the Midnight Sun:
An Evening with James Raffan

Royal Canadian Geographical Society Spring 2015 lecture
Wednesday, April 15, 2015
at 7:00pm EST
Canada Aviation and Space Museum
11 Aviation Parkway
Ottawa, ON
K1K 2X5

Kathleen Winter: ‘Boundless’

Boundless: Tracing Land and Dream in a New Northwest Passage
Kathleen Winter, August 2014

Boundless_Kathleen_WinterIn 2010, on a last-minute invitation from Noah Richler, best-selling author Kathleen Winter joined an Adventure Canada trip through the Northwest Passage. Winter and her cohort left the coast of Greenland bound for Kugluktuk, Nunavut by way of Ilulissat, Karat Fjord, Baffin Bay, Dundas Harbour, Pond Inlet, Beechey Island, and an infamous uncharted rock off King William Island…

Four years later, Winter’s memoir of that journey, Boundless, appeared in bookstores across the country, garnering excellent reviews. The Globe and Mail praised its “inexorable narrative drive and its keen attention to humanity“, while the Toronto Star noted Winter’s “graceful, poetic, shimmering prose“.

Naturally, I was curious. But having twice travelled a similar route with Adventure Canada as a Zodiac driver and host, I took my time before diving into Boundless. Would my own memories be compromised by reading someone else’s thoughts about places I’ve been to, and people I know?

To my relief, Boundless isn’t the sort of travel memoir that rehashes experiences, day by day and note for note. Winter’s writerly transit of the fabled Northwest Passage (a term she thoughtfully deconstructs) is hers alone. The roles of the various staff, the unique and sometimes frenetic shipboard experience, and all the daily work that goes into making the experience memorable for the passengers really fade into the background in this tale.

Adventure Canada promotes the thrill of Zodiac excursions, the emotion of cultural exchanges, the magnificence of the surroundings. But Winter’s is a journey of the mind, through memories and ideas and the notions we are made of. Taking a cue from the late folk singer Stan Rogers in his anthem Northwest Passage, Winter boldly traces ‘one warm line’ of her own.

Speaking of Rogers: from among over a hundred possibilities among the passengers, staff, and crew, Winter chooses but a few characters on whom to focus. Nathan Rogers, the folk icon’s son, aboard as the trip’s musician, becomes a confidant; we learn that he is tracing his own warm line where his father never went. Geologist Marc St. Onge baffles and beguiles with his enthusiasm for this rocky realm where cataclysm is laid bare. Sheena McGoogan’s watercolour workshops help Winter express what she cannot say. Inuit culturalists Berndadette Dean and Aaju Peter are by turns thoughtful, troubled, resolute, and wise, colouring Winter’s received Anglo-Canadian mythology of the North with insights into Nunavut—Our Beautiful Land.

Kathleen Winter at Karrat Island, Greenland

Kathleen Winter at Karrat Island, Greenland

This very real and contemporary place is more complex and ancient than any myth, as Winter and a few quirky passengers with whom she feels a quiet kinship learn along the way.

Stuffing tufts of musk oxen fur into her journal, donning a woollen beard, sketching an exquisite suit of ladies’ long underwear, Winter colours outside the lines of the classic maps of Meta Incognita.

Dancing on the ceiling of the captain’s quarters, sometimes silly and sometimes serious, Winter subverts the monolithic myth of Exploring the Great White North as she discovers that this journey, like all great journeys, really happens within.

One of the things I love about Boundless is that for Winter, the sublime and the mundane intermingle freely. Surrounded by the splendour of the Arctic, which defies description, she is led instead to remember and to muse over her own earthly passage. As she does, she dissolves the dotted lines across the maps we’ve worshipped, and instead brings the reader into reflection on the things that really matter: what we believe, how we live, whom we love, why we’re here. Boundless, indeed, is the territory of the heart.

Boundless was long-listed for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction. Winter’s previous book, Annabel, won the Thomas Head Raddall Award and was shortlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Governor General’s Awards in 2010. Annabel was also shortlisted for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction and was a Canada Reads selection in 2014.

Join Kathleen Winter on Adventure Canada’s voyage to Newfoundland and Wild Labrador, July 5-17, 2015.

Michael Crummey’s changing Newfoundland

MichaelCrummeyNoted author (and frequent AC staffer) Michael Crummey is a thoughtful, empathetic chronicler of the changing culture of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Like many passengers aboard our East Coast trips, Michael has been fascinated by the village of Francois (pronounced Fransway) on Newfoundland’s south coast, as well as other remote communities we visit.

Francois—whose population nearly triples when our ship pays a call— is one of a dwindling number of outports across the province.

Sweetland

Michael’s new book, Sweetland, is set in a fictional outport on the verge of resettlement.

Michael recently penned an article for the Globe and Mail, What it means to be a Newfoundlander is rapidly changing.

And in recent appearances on CTV’s Canada AM, and CBC Radio’s Sunday Morning, Michael mentions his connection to AC and the unique perspective our trips have provided on his native province.

Michael’s insights about the changing ways of life in Newfoundland and Labrador are a boon to our East Coast expeditions, and Sweetland promises to be a fascinating read.

Well done, Michael Crummey!

Michael Crummey will join our Newfoundland Circumnavigation, June 24 to July 4 2015.

Our Ice is Vanishing – Sikuvut Nunguliqtuq

wright colour section1

Who belongs to the North—and crucially, to whom does the North belong? Arctic writer, scholar and advocate Shelley Wright seeks to answer these questions in her eye-opening new book, Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqutuq.

Untitled-6As reduced sea ice in shipping lanes creates new opportunities for transport, travel, habitation and resource extraction in the Canadian Arctic, Canada has re-engaged with the issue of Arctic sovereignty. Wright’s book underlines the fact that when push comes to shove, it takes more than a map to prove who owns what.

Ask the Inuit: In terms of habitation, tradition, and use, the Canadian Arctic belongs to them. And, as Wright notes, Canada’s political claim to the Arctic hinges, in large part, on Inuit occupation. The creation of Nunavut cements that fact in law.

But can colonial Canadian notions, and traditional Inuit notions of land, ice, and sea be reconciled? Herein lies the challenge.

How do we balance elder wisdom, Inuit tradition, European history, Canadian law, and global politics? Considering what ice (by turns ancient, changeable, life-saving, deadly) means in these differing frameworks, Wright spins a kaleidoscopic portrait of the Arctic.

polarbear[1]The polar bear – living icon of the North – has been widely seen as a bellwether for the Canadian Arctic, and Wright touches on nanuq‘s symbolic role in the way the North is perceived elsewhere. But it is the resourceful, constantly adapting Inuit, their language and their relationship with the world who are at the heart of this work.

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Wright’s ability to illustrate the complexities – and incompatibilities – of intertwining world views makes this book an invaluable resource for those interested in understanding the Arctic today. Subtitled “A History of Inuit, Newcomers, and Climate Change”, Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqutuq is essential reading for would-be citizens of the Great White North.

Shelley Wright has travelled with Adventure Canada several times; many of the pictures in the book were taken on our trips. This summer, Shelly will join us for a special Arctic launch of Our Ice Is Vanishing / Sikuvut Nunguliqutuq on our Northwest Passage: West to East voyage.

Photos in this article courtesy Shelley Wright/McGill-Queen’s University Press.

 

Happy Birthday, Margaret Atwood

AtwoodShe’s Canada’s foremost writer and one of the most decorated authors of our time. She’s won far too many awards to list. She’s an inventor, a founder, a visionary, an advocate, and a keen commentator on the foibles of our time. She embraces technology while maintaining an old-fashioned sense of dignity and decorum. And today is her birthday!

Margaret Atwood has travelled with Adventure Canada on no fewer than seven trips. This coming July, Margaret and her partner Graeme Gibson join us for their eighth voyage, on board our sailing to Newfoundland and Wild Labrador.

As Honorary Co-Chairs of BirdLife International’s Rare Bird Club, they’ll be scanning the horizon for the spectacular viewings of wild seabirds that are one of the highlights of the Labrador coast in the early summer.

Meanwhile, we wish Margaret many happy returns, endless flights of fancy, and a glass of fine wine as she celebrates another trip around the sun.