History Idol: John Rae

John Rae is not as well known as some of the other famous names of northern exploration — people like Sir John Franklin, for instance. But Ken McGoogan argues that Rae deserves greater recognition than he has received to date because of what he accomplished.

Text by Nelle Oosterom

April 1, 2011

Painting entitled John Rae by Stephen Pearce (died 1904). NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY.

Canadian author Ken McGoogan has written four books about the search for the Northwest Passage. So it is no surprise that he has chosen an Arctic explorer as his History Idol.

John Rae is not as well known as some of the other famous names of northern exploration — people like Sir John Franklin, for instance. But McGoogan argues that Rae deserves greater recognition than he has received to date because of what he accomplished.

To hear McGoogan’s reasons for restoring John Rae’s place in Canadian history, listen to his podcast with Canada’s History Senior Editor Nelle Oosterom.

About John Rae

John Rae (1813–1893) was a nineteenth century surgeon, fur trader, explorer, and author who solved two great mysteries of Arctic exploration. He discovered both the final link in the Northwest Passage and the fate of the lost expedition of Sir John Franklin.

However, he was not popular with the Victorian establishment during his lifetime. He adopted native methods of travel in the Arctic, which was disapproved of by the Royal Navy. He was critical of naval officers but had great admiration for the Inuit, who accepted him as a friend.

He shocked Victorian England after reporting that the Franklin expedition had resorted to cannibalism. This caused him to be vilified and virtually erased from history.

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