Celebrating the Indigenous contribution

Season’s greetings and hats off to the folks at the John Rae Society in Orkney. They’re the ones driving the restoration of the Hall of Clestrain, original home of Arctic explorer John Rae. Having purchased the Hall and the lands needed to build an access road, they’ve both broadened and refined their original concept. They’re creating not just a museum but an international heritage centre celebrating the peerless Rae and the contributions of Indigenous Canadians to Arctic exploration.
Yes, I’ve been banging on about this since 1998, when I first visited Clestrain while researching my book Fatal Passage (2001). But look: it’s finally happening. Having secured the backing of key Scottish agencies and been accepted into the Repair Program of Historic Environment Scotland, the Society is forging ahead to make the centre a reality by 2025.
This is not the place for a detailed breakdown, complete with “estimated timetable and cost (excluding VAT).” But I’ve laid hands on the project manager’s development plan. In a nutshell, the Society aims to renovate Clestrain – a Palladian villa completed in 1769 – into a world-class heritage centre “celebrating the memory of John Rae and providing a window into the world of Arctic exploration in the past, present and future.”
The centre “places the John Rae story at the heart of the interpretation, connecting the stories of the Hall, Hudson’s Bay Company and Canada/Arctic exploration.” It will highlight the manner of Rae’s achievements, built upon “respecting other cultures [and] learning from the way of life of the people who lived there.” The interpretative plan is to “challenge views on who writes history; the role of indigenous peoples in Arctic exploration; climate change and the importance of the Arctic ecosystem. People’s changes in perception and intended future actions will be captured using state of the art digital feedback monitors at the end of the exhibition.”
There’s a whole lot more. But as the Society’s Fiona Gould writes, the aim is “to create a centre which looks as much forward as to the past, and which will ensure a truly accurate historic perspective is compiled for future generations.” Is this worth backing? You betcha.


  1. Denis St-Onge on February 1, 2022 at 5:23 pm

    Finally. I am so pleased that this project seems to be going ahead. It has been sshameful for far too long; my grandson Robert and I used to raise money on cruises in the Arctic to help with trhis cause. Great news indeed.

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