New Answers to the Great Arctic Mystery

by Ken McGoogan

Book Cover: Searching for Franklin
ISBN: 9781771623681
ISBN: 9781771623681
ISBN: 9781771623681

Encouraged by the late Louie Kamookak, the renowned Inuit historian, and drawing on his own career-long engagement with the Arctic, Ken McGoogan has written an exuberant work that takes a creative-nonfiction approach to Arctic exploration history. Searching for Franklin rejects old orthodoxies, incorporates recent discoveries, and interweaves two main narratives. The first treats the Royal Navy’s Arctic Overland Expedition of 1819, a harbinger-misadventure during which Franklin rejected the advice of Dene and Metis leaders and lost 11 of his 20 men to exhaustion, starvation, and murder. The second discovers a startling new answer to that greatest of Arctic mysteries: why did Franklin’s 1845 expedition devolve into catastrophe? Building on the work of those who have repudiated theories involving lead poisoning and botulism, McGoogan points to trichinosis as the root cause of the disaster – trichinosis brought on by the eating of infected polar-bear meat.

Publisher: Douglas & McIntyre

Late that evening, we anchor off Gjoa Haven on King William Island. Come morning, there lies the town, population 1,350, snow-dusted and shining in the sun. By 8:30 a.m., passengers are piling into Zodiacs. Onshore, having accomplished a “wet landing” in rubber boots, we split into half a dozen groups, say hello to local guides, and head out to explore the town. I go looking for my old friend and fellow traveler Louie Kamookak but he is nowhere to be found.


Early afternoon, everyone gravitates to Qiqirtaq High School, a big modern building, for a cultural presentation. As I take a seat on one of the tiered benches overlooking the gym, finally I spot Louie in a crowd of standees. He gestures toward the main entrance and we make our way into the hallway. After greeting each other, we fall to our usual kibbitzing. By now, age fifty-nine, Louie is widely recognized as the leading Inuit historian of his generation. He mentions speaking recently with an Elder, interviewing him, and I say, “Wait, aren’t you an Elder yet? When are you going to become an Elder?”

“I’m still too young,” he says, grinning. “Way too young.”

Then he comes back at me: “When are you going to write your big Franklin book?”

“My big Franklin book?”

“You’ve written about everybody else. Don’t you think it’s time?”

“No way.” I shake my head. “I’m still too young.”

Together we laugh. Six months later, Louie is dead.


About the Author

Ken McGoogan is the author of fifteen acclaimed books, mostly works of creative or narrative nonfiction. They include Fatal Passage, Dead Reckoning, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and Flight of the Highlanders. Born and raised in Quebec, Ken worked for two decades as a journalist in Toronto, Montreal, and Calgary. He has served as chair of the Public Lending Right Commission and is a fellow of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society and the Explorers Club. Ken won an award for teaching excellence at University of Toronto, sails as a resource historian with Adventure Canada, and teaches Creative Nonfiction in the MFA program at University of King’s College in Halifax.