Sunday, May 29, 2016

Disaster Presentations in Brighton and Area

During May I twice had a chance to bring my show on the road and do presentations on The Franklin Expedition and finding of the HMS Erebus to classrooms in Brighton and Napanee.

On May 11th I attended the ENSS Aboriginal (Indigenous) Culture Awareness Event.  This was a fantastic display of art, music, dance and drama that celebrates Aboriginal culture in Canada.  Local artists and performers came together to demonstrate for a large assembly of ENSS and Grade 8 students from local elementary schools. After the assembly, students proceeded to various classrooms for more hands-on presentations.  The morning ended with an excellent aboriginal meal created by the culinary students served to those of us who presented. Yum!

So what was my part in all this?
I did a presentation showing how Inuit oral history has been much more accurate in providing clues as to the disappearance of good old Sir John Franklin and all his ships and men. The Netsilik Inuit of Nunavut have long claimed that one of Franklin's ships was trapped in ice and sank near a little-known island now known as O'Reilly Island. Their hunters approached the enormous vessel cautiously, found it empty, except for one large corpse reeking of death. The community of searchers for Franklin's lost ships had long dismissed the Inuit claim, because sheets of copper found on the island in recent years would have come from a smaller newer schooners, ships that used copper sheathing on their hulls. Locating HMS Erebus where it was found proved that Inuit hunters did indeed see Franklin's flagship just weeks before its ignominious end.

Just surviving an Arctic winter is a feat itself, and much of my talk was about the Inuit ability to
live and thrive in the coldest climate on Earth.

These are paintings by A.J. (Alvin) VanDrie, a friend of mine.
It is always a highlight for me when Alvin can come and do a painting exercise for students. Alvin's aboriginal artwork is just fantastic.
 Alvin was asked to explain certain symbols found in aboriginal artwork.

In Napanee I visited Colleen Veryzer's very nice class and spoke about Franklin with the latest (shortened) version of the presentation, but also included a part of my talk about mining. Kids like playing dress-up, and at the request of friend and teacher Emily Miles I brought the mining gear for them to try on and pass around as I did last year.  They listened well as I read some sad mining disaster stories from Canadian Disasters.  Emily arranged the visit to J.J. O'Neill Catholic School. I have known Emily since she was a girl and she always loved reading and history, so it is no surprise to me she ended up as a Library Specialist at the Algonquin and Lakeshore Catholic District School Board.

The Pitch is in! Speaking of Canadian Disasters, I have sent a pitch letter to Scholastic Canada to see if they will agree to doing a fifth version of Canadian Disasters. Although the previous book is only 4 years old, and not all the copies have been sold yet, it is already out of date because new events have made it so.

1) Just ten months after Canadian Disasters was released HMS Erebus was found in the chilly waters off O'Reilly Island, making my first treatment of Canada's worst exploration disaster, the Franklin Expedition already out of date! Amazingly, the ship was discovered in water just deep enough so the ship was not destroyed by icebergs passing over it, and shallow enough to be dived on by those brave cool-blooded souls from Parks Canada.    

2)  Lac Megantic Quebec because a byword for poor train maintenance practices when a fully loaded train of crude oil cars rolled downhill and derailed its explosive cargo in the middle of this pretty little Quebec resort town.  Shirley and I visited it last summer and we were amazed to see the area of destruction.

 It gave us chills to see where the train had originally been parked, on higher ground at least 10 kilometres above the town with a definite gradual slope downhill. Instead of the slogan "it's hard to stop a train", I would argue that when that 100 car train got rolling it was nearly impossible to stop. The fate of those people was pretty much sealed when the first little cm of movement began.
It makes one wonder how many hundreds of Canadian towns, built on rivers and lake shores, have a similar downhill run leading into them... and we all see how many oil carrying freight cars are on the trains these days.

 Residents of Lac Megantic have decorated a fence, circling the destroyed part of downtown, with knit goods to commemorate fellow citizens who were caught and killed by the fire and explosion.

3) In the 2012 version of Canadian Disasters I wrote about the Slave Lake Fire that devastated Slave Lake Alberta.  That bad fire has now been hopelessly outdone by the recent destruction at Fort McMurray. Thank God the death toll from this event was as limited as it was. Still, this fire surpasses anything on record in Canada to date in sheer destruction and loss of property.
Again, the book is now out of date!

There are lots of other events we have never covered in this book, so hopefully Scholastic Canada will do the right thing and offer me another contract for a re-write...

Even if they don't I have so much to be grateful for.  My first pitch to Scholastic came at a time when they would not accept unsolicited manuscripts and certainly not from someone unknown like me.

But one of their salesmen, a frail elderly Englishman, brought a manuscript I had written to the editors and the rest was history. I am so grateful!
These days I miss Sandy Bogart-Johnston, my long-time friend and head editor at Scholastic who made sure the Canadian Disaster books never died out but went to four reprints (so far).