University of Calgary

Bestselling Calgary author to give talk on Arctic explorer John Rae

UToday HomeAugust 28, 2013

Calgary author and researcher Ken McGoogan will give a presentation, “Return to Rae Strait: Beyond Fatal Passage.” Photo courtesy Sheena Fraser McGooganCalgary author and researcher Ken McGoogan will give a presentation, “Return to Rae Strait: Beyond Fatal Passage.” Photo courtesy Sheena Fraser McGooganBestselling author and former Calgary Herald literary editor Ken McGoogan will speak on Aug. 30 about John Rae, the Arctic explorer who discovered the fate of Franklin.

John Rae (1813 – 1893), surgeon, explorer and fur trader for Hudson’s Bay Company, is the subject of McGoogan’s Fatal Passage: The Untold Story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer Who Discovered the Fate of Franklin, published in 2001 by HarperCollins.

The lost Franklin expedition, which had set out in 1845 to find a northwest passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean, was a subject of great curiosity and interest in British North America and Great Britain. Franklin’s disappearance prompted 30 search expeditions between 1847 and 1859.

Rae made several surveying expeditions to learn the whereabouts of the Franklin expedition. In 1854, following discussions with Inuit hunters and the acquisition of relics from Franklin’s crew, Rae was the first to relay news of the demise of Franklin. Victorian society was shocked to hear accounts of starvation and cannibalism. Through Rae’s realization that King William Land was in fact an island, he established the final link in the Northwest Passage. The navigable channel became known as Rae Strait.

In 1999, Ken McGoogan and Cameron Treleaven, of Calgary’s Aquila Books, travelled to the Arctic. Along with Louie Kamookak, the three travelled to the Boothia Peninsula to locate a rock cairn erected by Rae in 1854. There they erected a plaque commemorating his achievements. In 2012, McGoogan revisited the site of the plaque.

McGoogan’s expeditions and research are reflected in his papers, held in Special Collections at the University of Calgary. McGoogan is the author of seven works of non-fiction and three works of fiction. His most recent book is How the Scots Invented Canada (HarperCollins, 2010). 50 Canadians Who Changed the World will be published by HarperCollins in October.

McGoogan’s presentation, “Return to Rae Strait: Beyond Fatal Passage,” is set for Friday, Aug. 30 at 7 p.m. in the Alberta Room at the Dining Centre. (Prior to the flood, the event was to be held at the Calgary Public Library.) The lecture is co-sponsored by Libraries and Cultural Resources and The Clan MacRae Society of Canada on the bicentennial of John Rae’s birth. 

Questions may be directed to Annie Murray, curator of rare books and special collections, at

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