A-R International: Ken McGoogan

Ken McGoogan
Authors-Readers International

Photo by Sheena Fraser McGoogan

Ken McGoogan is a globe-trotting Canadian writer who survived shipwreck off Dar es Salaam, chased the ghost of Lady Franklin from Russell Square to Van Diemen’s Land, and placed a John Rae memorial plaque in the High Arctic. Ken has published fifteen books — six histories, five biographies, three novels, and one ghosted work. His best-selling titles include Dead Reckoning, Celtic Lightning, Fatal Passage, 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, How the Scots Invented Canada, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and Flight of the Highlanders (published September 2019).
Ken has won the Pierre Berton Award for History, the University of British Columbia Medal for Canadian Biography, the Canadian Authors’ Association History Award, the Writers’ Trust Drainie-Taylor Biography Prize, and an American Christopher Award for “a work of artistic excellence that affirms the highest values of the human spirit.” He also landed a press fellowship that took him to University of Cambridge (Wolfson College) for three months. There he conceived his biography of John Rae, Fatal Passage, which gave rise to an award-winning, feature-length docudrama. (Here’s a link I found to a lecture Ken McGoogan gave on the topic of John Rae to the Royal Society Edinburgh on April 22, 2013.)
Before turning mainly to books, Ken worked as a journalist at the Toronto Star, the Montreal Star, and the Calgary Herald. He writes these days for Canadian Geographic, the Globe and Mail, Geographical Magazine, and Celtic Life International. His Blog is a ballyhoo of unsolicited anecdotes, opinions and observations. Ken is a fellow of the Explorers’ Club and the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. With his partner, artist Sheena Fraser McGoogan, Ken has rambled from Sri Lanka to Tasmania, and from Malyasia to Greece and St. Kilda. He won a teaching excellence award from University of Toronto, teaches Creative Nonfiction (CNF) in the MFA program at University of King’s College in Halifax, and loves nothing better than coming upon a captive audience with a microphone in his hand.

I first met Ken McGoogan in Calgary more than 3 decades ago (!) when he was Books Editor at The Calgary Herald and I was manager of Sandpiper Books. When I became a publishers’ sales rep, I often drove visiting authors to the Herald building for their interviews with Ken. Much later, when Ken and I had both moved out of Calgary, I was sitting on a bench by the boardwalk in Toronto’s Beach neighbourhood (where I grew up) and was wearing a Wordfest t-shirt. A man walked past, his dog on a leash, and then he looked back at me and stopped. “Is that a Calgary Wordfest t-shirt you’re wearing?” he asked. I recognized Ken immediately, and discovered that he was now living in my old ‘hood! He even enjoyed drinking coffee at the Remarkable Bean where I had been partaking whenever I was in Toronto. So we were reconnected again, and I was honoured when Ken later agreed to write a blurb for the print edition of my first novel when it was published. (Michael Fay is on there with a blurb, too!)

Flight of the Highlanders: Canada’s First Refugees
Bestselling author Ken McGoogan tells the story of those courageous Scots who, ruthlessly evicted from their ancestral homelands, were sent to Canada in coffin ships, where they would battle hardship, hunger and even murderous persecution.

After the Scottish Highlanders were decimated at the 1746 Battle of Culloden, the British government banned kilts and bagpipes and set out to destroy a clan system that for centuries had sustained a culture, a language and a unique way of life. The Clearances, or forcible evictions, began when landlords—among them traitorous clan chieftains—realized they could increase their incomes dramatically by driving out tenant farmers and dedicating their estates to sheep.
Flight of the Highlanders: Canada’s First Refugees intertwines two main narratives. The first is that of the Clearances themselves, during which some 200,000 Highlanders were driven—some of them burned out, others beaten unconscious—from lands occupied by their forefathers for hundreds of years. The second narrative focuses on resettlement. The refugees, frequently misled by false promises, battled impossible conditions wherever they arrived, from the forests of Nova Scotia to the winter barrens of northern Manitoba.
Between the 1770s and the 1880s, tens of thousands of dispossessed and destitute Highlanders crossed the Atlantic. Those who survived became Canada’s first refugees—prototypes for the refugees we see arriving today from all around the world.

Ken McGoogan has been busy promoting his new book throughout the autumn of 2019, and was invited by the Royal Canadian Geographic Society to give a talk at their headquarters in Ottawa. Here’s a 50-minute video of that presentation. (Ken and I both tried to find a different copy of this video that was not posted to Facebook, but to no avail. So you may not be able to view this if you are not already on Facebook. Sorry!)

As well, Ken McGoogan and his wife, artist Sheena Fraser McGoogan have been part of many voyages over the years with the tour group, Adventure Canada.

For more information about Ken McGoogam, his writing, books, and his travels, please see his website.

I have promoted Ken McGoogan twice previously on my blog, Reading Recommendations: Sept. 22, 2015 and Feb. 15, 2017.

4 responses

  1. Thanks again for a great piece on this wonderful author. Thanks to you, I just ordered his latest book. We’re spending the month of May in Scotland researching my own Highland family tree, so this will be a valuable backgrounder for me.

  2. Wonderful essay on Ken. Thanks Joan M. Baril.


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