Arctic expert Kenn Harper sings the unsung in solidarity with Dead Reckoning heroes

Over at The Arctic Book Review, Kenn Harper begins by declaring that I have “produced yet another worthy northern book.” Harper, an Arctic historian and formerly Denmark’s honorary consul in Nunavut, continues: “Dead Reckoning sets out to tell, as its sub-title proclaims, “The Untold Story of the Northwest Passage.” The book is peopled with the usual suspects in the history of Arctic exploration and the search for the elusive Northwest Passage. I needn’t name them here; if you are reading this, you already know who they are. But this book introduces other names that will be unfamiliar to many readers, even some well-versed in northern history. Their stories are the “untold stories” of the sub-title. . . .”

Harper observes, rightly, that my goal “is ‘to restore the unsung heroes to their rightful eminence.’ [McGoogan] recognizes not just the physical work, but the contributions, of the fur-trade explorers, and of Dene, Ojibway, Cree, and especially Inuit. He points out that Franklin’s ships would still be undiscovered at the bottom of the ocean were it not for Inuit and their oral histories. And so the reader encounters unfamiliar names in this sweeping tale. McGoogan’s point is that they have largely been nameless to date, so I feel compelled to name them here, in solidarity with McGoogan’s championing of them, and to help in rectifying the injury that past histories have done them.” Harper carries on at some length, and in considerable depth, as you can read here.

So, a tip of the hat to editor Russell Potter for assigning a knowledgeable, fair-minded reviewer. To Harper’s questions, I offer a few answers. Yes, I included Hall’s voyage to the North Pole because that yarn extended the stories of Tookoolito, Ebierbing, and Hendrik. I included the Peary-Minik story because it is the quintessential example of abusive Inuit-white relations. I omitted Kalli and Beck with a view to maintaining focus on the Northwest Passage rather than the search for Franklin. Harper correctly identifies the map-glitch that will turn some first editions of Dead Reckoning into collectors’ items! He is mistaken about Moses Norton, however, who started at Prince of Wales Fort as chief factor but became governor; and Samuel Hearne, who was made governor from the get-go (1776).

Why did I make no reference to recent scholarship casting doubt on Hearne’s authorship of the Bloody Falls massacre? Well, in 2007, after writing a biographical narrative about Hearne (Ancient Mariner), I undertook a foreword to a new edition of Hearne’s journal (A Journey to the Northern Ocean), which tells the story of how the Dene leader Matonabbee led the former navy man to the Arctic coast of North America. After perusing the Hearne passages in Dead Silence by John Geiger and Owen Beattie, and then delving further into the archives, I ended up repudiating that scholarship. I detailed my analysis in the foreword I wrote. And I considered rehashing it in Dead Reckoning. But then I decided that doing so would take me too deeply into the eye-glazing arcane, which we are fast approaching, given that I am writing not for scholars but for a broad general audience. Too much such detail has killed many a readable book. And so I refer you to the works themselves.

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