Dr. John Rae, the City of Hamilton and the Hamilton Association

By Dr. Ludvik Prevec, President 1996-1998

Prepared June 2007  |  © 2007 Ludvik Prevec  |  Reproduced with permission. 

A.  John Rae's Orkney

John Rae
M.D., L.L.D., F.R.S., F.R.G.S.&c., Hon.

Arctic Explorer
Expeditions 1846-47, 1848, 1849, 1851-52, 1853-54
Discoverer of the fate of
Sir John Franklin's last expedition
Born Sept. 30, 1813
at Clestrain-House near Stromness
Died July 22, 1893
in his home 4 Addison-Gardens, London

A gravestone in the churchyard of St. Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, Orkney, Scotland is inscribed with the text shown to the right. The dates of the expeditions are more correctly 1846-47, 1848, 1851 and 1853-54. On these historic forays into the Canadian Arctic by small boat and on foot, John Rae is said to have logged over 13,000 miles and mapped 1,700 miles of Arctic coastline on the mainland and Victoria Island. On his final trip he not only discovered the first evidence of the fate of the Franklin expedition but also discovered the final link in the Northwest Passage.

We are fortunate that Ken McGoogan has written an excellent and exciting history of John Rae, entitled Fatal Passage: The Untold Story of John Rae, the Arctic Adventurer Who Discovered the Fate of Franklin (published 2001). In 1993 the National Museums of Scotland and Queens-McGill University Press published a booklet entitled No Ordinary Journey - John Rae- Arctic Explorer 1813-1893. Both of these publications contain detailed descriptions of Rae's Arctic expeditions.

Prior to these heroic trips, John Rae made at least two other. less celebrated but almost certainly equally arduous trips, both of which brought him from Moose Factory on James Bay to spend at least a few days in Hamilton. In the later, post-expedition, period from 1857 to 1860, John Rae spent a considerable amount of time in this city and became one of the founding members of the "Hamilton Scientific Association", the precursor to the "Hamilton Association for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art". He served as first Vice-President of the Association in 1857 and its second President in 1858.

DJR by Stephen Pearce 1858 Hudson Bay Co. Archives P-204

John Rae, born September 30, 1813, was the fourth son of John Rae and Margaret Glen of the Hall of Clestrain. The "Hall of Clestrain", a one-and-one-half storey stone building built in 1769 by Patrick Honeyman, is said to be the only building in Orkney with a basement. It stands out on the hillside overlooking the water, the town of Stromness visible on the other side of Hoy Sound and the red sandstone cliffs of the island of Hoy to the south. John Rae senior was a factor on the Honeyman estate, which comprised large portions of Mainland, Orkney as well as the island of Graemsay. He spoke of having 300 tenants in his care and is said to have been one of the more successful agricultural managers in the area [James A. Troup, "The Education of an Adventurer", The Beaver Oct. 1993].

John's siblings were James, born 1805; Janet, 1806 (who apparently was also known as Jessie, creating no end of confusion in genealogy searches); Marion, 1808; William Glen, 1809 (who worked for the Hudson's Bay Company); Richard Honeyman Rae, 1811 (who later lived in Hamilton, Ontario); Thomas, 1817 (who also later lived in Hamilton, Ontario). Another brother named Thomas (b. 1815) died in infancy. John's sister Marion married Dr. John Macaulay Hamilton and is known to have moved to Hamilton, Upper Canada (now Ontario) from Stromness sometime after 1853 and before 1858, at which time the family is listed in the Hamilton Directory (Ontario). There is a suggestion that even Jessie, who married Hector Munro, may have ended up in Hamilton at some time.

Sir Walter Scott visited Orkney in 1814 when John Rae was less than a year old. He (Scott) was entertained at the Hall of Clestrain and was here introduced to the story of the pirate of Stromness, John Gow. In 1725, Gow and his men attacked the home of Robert Honeyman, presumably an earlier version of the Hall of Clestrain. After ransacking the house they made off with two servant girls whose fate is unclear. Gow and his men were hanged in 1729; his story inspired Scott to write 'The Pirate' in 1822. It has been said that John's sisters Marion and Jessie (Janet) were the models for Scott's Brenda and Minna in the novel. If this was so they must have been memorable little girls.

John Rae described his early life of hiking, hunting and boating in Orkney in an article reprinted in the Orkney Herald, February 16, 1887. Rae began medical studies at Edinburgh in the summer of 1829 and obtained the Licence of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh in 1833. Shortly after this he boarded the Prince of Wales in Stromness and went off to Moose Factory as a clerk and surgeon for the Hudson's Bay Company. This was described by Rae in an article "Roughing It on Board Ship" printed in the Orkney Herald, March 16, 1887. Rae worked at this position for ten years and over this time worked on his stamina, his hunting skills and learning the Cree language.


B.  Visits to Hamilton (1843, 1845, 1852, 1853) and Trips to the North

On September 28, 1843 John Rae undertook one of the two non-exploratory trips mentioned above. This was a visit to southern Canada, in part occasioned by the fact that two of his brothers were now living in Hamilton, Ontario. With three natives and James Watt of the HBC he made his way to Fort Timiskaming arriving there on October 18. Passing through Fort Coulogne, located on the Ottawa river just downstream of the present day Pembroke, Rae made his way through Kingston to Toronto and Hamilton for his first visit to this city. From Lachine, where he was joined by Weyness M Simpson, he proceeded north after Christmas, on snowshoes and dragging a sled. They arrived in Fort Timiskaming on January 15, 1844, where Mr. Simpson left the party and Mr. Watt rejoined it. A history of Fort Timiskaming and the Fur Trade by Elaine Allan Mitchell, (University fo Toronto Press, 1977), points out that during the period from 1844 to about 1850 many of the native Algonkins succumbed to tuberculosis to such an extent that the fur trade in this area was substantially affected. Rae and Watt reached Moose factory on February 19, 1844. Having grown up in northeast Ontario, I know it was not unusual to get temperatures as low as -40 degrees in January or February and to have this remain so for several days. Even allowing for brief stopovers and hunting along the way his winter trip of over 700 miles took just over 50 days.

In the summer of 1844, Sir George Simpson, the governor of the HBC, met with Rae at Moose Factory and commissioned him to do exploration work on behalf of the Company. In preparation for this new career, it was necessary for Dr. Rae to become familiar with navigational procedures. To this end Rae left Moose Factory with four others in a smaller northern canoe on August 20, 1844 bound for the Red River colony. This involved going up the Moose and Missinaibi River to New Brunswick post on Brunswick Lake arriving there on August 30. They reached Michipocoten on September 6, Fort Frances on September 27 and Red River on October 9. Mr. George Taylor, who was to teach Dr. Rae, was too ill to do so and in fact died on November 5. Rae, with a small party, including a dog sled for which Rae and a companion broke trail with their snowshoes, made their way in mid-winter along the north shore of Lake Superior to Sault Ste. Marie. The trip of some 1,200 miles took about 60 days, averaging 20 miles a day. Rae continued on to Toronto and obtained the necessary training from Lt. John Lefroy of the Royal Observatory. He also took the opportunity to visit his brothers in Hamilton again.

By the end of July Rae was back in Sault Ste. Marie and on August 5th began paddling west in a canoe, arriving at Red River in early September. After hiring help he proceeded, in York boats, to York Factory, arriving on October 8, 1845. The next year would see the first of his Arctic expeditions.

Although, as mentioned above, John Rae's exploratory trips are now well documented and are not directly relevant to his stay in Hamilton, the courage, stamina and self-reliance they represent are very much a part of the legacy that John Rae has left the Association. On his way back to England from his third expedition in 1852, Rae passed through Chicago from the Red River colony, and on his way to New York visited his brothers in Hamilton once again, and according to Ken McGoogan, "found them thriving as Rae Brothers and Company, commission merchants and pork packers". In 1852, the Royal Geographic Society awarded Rae The Founders Gold Medal for his explorations of Boothia and Victoria Island.

In 1853 John Rae was on his way to what would become his most significant expedition to the Arctic. From New York he took the train to Montreal, visited George Simpson in Montreal, and once again his siblings in Hamilton before continuing by steamer to Sault Ste Marie, arriving May 6. McGill University conferred an honorary Doctor of Medicine on Dr. Rae on that date. From the Sault he proceeded by canoe through Fort William and the Red River colony and arrived at York Factory on June 18. Just six days later he started north for Churchill and was on his way north on July 17. Just a little more than one year later, Rae was back in York Factory and on his way to England with definite information about, and a collection of relics from, the ill-fated Franklin expedition, all obtained from the Inuit from around Pelly Bay.

DJR (1813-1893) Arctic Explorer 1862 - Glenbow Museum Calgary Cda

It is difficult to imagine that John Rae felt anything but exuberant and triumphant when he arrived in London in the fall of 1853. It is not clear that he considered his discovery of Rae strait to be the final step in a north west passage but given that he was subsequently interested in taking a vessel through this region suggests that he recognized the possibility, if not the full dramatic consequence, of this notion. The discovery of the fate of Franklin in the vicinity of King William Island, a region he did not consider particularly likely, must have seemed to him one of those amazing strokes of serendipity. Whether he was aware of the £10,000 reward for information of this sort was irrelevant. Without seeing a single body or a single written document from the Englishmen themselves, Rae trusted in the accounts provided by the Inuit and sealed this trust with the few relics obviously originating from the Franklin party which the Inuit had given him.

Criticisms and accusations quickly brought Rae back to reality. Why hadn't he gone to The Great Fish River to look for survivors? The fact that this was a 300-mile round trip through a region which, in Rae's view, could not provide much in the way of provisions, was of no consequence to the critics. How could Rae believe the Inuit — perhaps they (the Inuit) had dispatched the final survivors? On this point Rae was perhaps most eloquent and the fact that a few years later he spoke, in his Presidential Address to the Hamilton Assocation, about the Inuit ("On Esquimaux") highlights his feelings on this point. [See Katharine Greenfield comments on his address in her 1983 address to the Association.]

The most controversial and unacceptable piece of news that Rae transmitted was the fact that the Inuit suggested that, at the end, the British sailors had resorted to cannibalism. With the recent work of Anne Keenleyside, which will be mentioned later, we can now be assured that this possibility, so repugnant to Victorian Englishmen, was in fact totally correct. Ken McGoogan's book, Fatal Passage and his subsequent Lady Franklin's Revenge, deal very vividly with Rae's problems at this time and the probable role that Lady Franklin played in these. There are some writers who suggest that Rae would not have been awarded the £10,000 reward if it were not for the fact that the Admiralty wanted to be done with searches for Franklin at this time. Be that as it may, Rae was given the reward, 20 percent of which he divided up among other members of his party, leaving him reasonably financially secure.


C.  John Rae in Hamilton, 1857 to 1860

The Brothers

In 1856 or 1857, after formally retiring from the HBC, John Rae returned to Hamilton and stayed with his married younger brother, Thomas, who lived with his wife and two sons in an "attractive" stone house on the north-west corner of Bay and Hunter Streets. What little we know of Thomas suggests at least one reason why John Rae may have come to Hamilton at this time. In an obituary notice of 1868, Thomas Rae (died Sept. 28) is described as "being a partner in shipping with one of his brothers (Richard). Latterly he did business on his own account and had four sailing vessels and was about to build a propeller". (Propeller was the term used to describe a screw-driven vessel and though the sentence suggests that Thomas built ships, it seems more probable that he had them built for his purposes.) That same year, 1868, the winter fleet in Hamilton included four ships:  New Dominion, S.D. Woodruff, Malta and G.C. Woodruff, all owned by Thomas Rae. The 1857 "List of Canadian Vessels" lists seven ships belonging to Rae & Co. and one, R.H. Rae, in the process of being built. The firm Rae Brothers & Co declared formal bankruptcy on May 16, 1865. Thomas Rae continued in the shipping business on his own while Richard Honeyman Rae, the other partner was an "Emigration agent" in Hamilton.

The Iceberg

As described by Ken McGoogan, John Rae paid to have a schooner, The Iceberg, built in Kingston which he, Rae, hoped to take north in 1857 and "complete the survey of the Arctic coastline" after which the vessel would be used as a Great Lakes freighter. The vessel was reportedly not ready in time to go north in 1857 and after being put to use as a Great Lakes freighter was lost in a storm on Lake Ontario while carrying coal from Cleveland to Kingston in August of that year. The crew of seven was lost.

The Hamilton Scientific Association

Whatever prevented John Rae from leaving Hamilton in the fall of 1857, the Hamilton Scientific Association was undoubtedly the distinct beneficiary having gained the benefit forever of claiming John Rae as one of its founding members.

Trips to the Mid-West

In the fall of 1858, John Rae toured the United States from Minnesota through Missouri to Pennsylvania. In the spring of 1859 he led a hunting party to the Red River colony.

Speech Regarding McClintock

In the fall of 1859, just some six weeks after Francis McClintock arrived back in London from his trip to the Arctic with the only written document from the Franklin expedition ever recovered, Rae delivered a talk which was reported in detail in the Hamilton Spectator. The venue for the talk is not given. The text of Rae's address is appended here.


D.  John Rae in London, England, 1860 to 1893

In January 1860, John Rae married Catharine (Kate) Thompson (daughter of Captain Thompson of Toronto) in Toronto, and except perhaps for a short visit to the area when they passed through on their way west in 1864, was never to return to Hamilton. The reason for their departure is not known but, as was mentioned above, this was a period of economic depression and following the raid on Harper's Ferry by John Brown in the fall of 1859, political tensions in the United States may have been coming rapidly to the fore. In 1859 John Rae's brothers had lost one of their largest vessels, the H.R. Rae, which sank in Lake Ontario. In any case, John Rae and Kate alternated their homes between London and Orkney until his death (probably from influenza) in 1893. Always physically active, John Rae was also mentally active over this period as evidenced by at least 17 letters written between 1880 and 1886 to the editor of Nature, a scientific magazine that Dr. Rae obviously read with considerable interest. A number of letters relate to snow or ice formations or other things of interest to the Arctic hiker, and while they might now be considered somewhat anecdotal rather than scientific, they nonetheless stand up reasonably well against some of the other published letters at that time.


E.  John Rae's property in Hamilton

In January of 1933 the Hamilton Spectator ran a four-part series entitled "Rae of the Arctic" (reviewed by Charles R. McCullough) which resulted directly from the occasion of this Association's 75th Anniversary. Both Mr. W.A. Child, the Past-President of the Association and Dr. J.H. Holbrook, the President, spoke of Dr. Rae, his exploits and his discoveries. The final article of this series points out that "the doctor was a landowner in this city as proven by the plan of a subdivision to be seen in the registry office. It covered eight lots of the original James Mills survey and these lots were numbered 9 to 16 on Nelson Street, between Locke and Pearl. Part of this property was used as the site of St. Vincent's separate school. "The deed bears "not only the signature of John Rae, the owner, but also that of his lady who barred her dower."


F.  The John Rae Centenary:  Local Projects, 1993 to 1995

The occasion of the centenary of Dr. John Rae's death seems to have provided the impetus for the greatly increased interest both within the Association and by Arctic afficionados in general.

Letters to the Editor

Following a chance exposure in the mid-1970's in Dundurn Castle to a book which described Dr. John Rae, the explorer (not the eminent economist of that name who lived in Hamilton for a while), as one of the significant residents of Hamilton, I became interested in learning more about the Orcadian who had discovered the fate of Franklin. I visited Orkney in 1978 to find the Hall of Clestrain and in 1979 to read any history of the Rae family that was in the Kirkwall Library. I subsequently discovered that the Rare Book Collection at McMaster included the John Rae correspondence of 1844-1855. In 1991 I wrote to Alex Beer, assistant to the publisher of the Hamilton Spectator, pointing out that 1993 would be the centenary of John Rae's death and included a short description of Rae's exploits. Alex replied that, despite his Scots heritage, he had no prior knowledge of John Rae but would pass the information on to history columnist, Brian Henley. On July 20, 1991 a relatively short article by Brian Henley extolling the achievements of Rae, appeared in the Spectator. 

Remembering John Rae, 1993 to 1995

On Tuesday, September 14, 1993 a letter to the editor of the Spectator from Dr. John Sutton and Dr. Richard Butson suggested that there should be a plaque in Hamilton to honour the memory of Dr. Rae. (Dr. Butson is himself an Antarctic veteran.) The following week another letter from Arctic anthropologists David Damas and Dr. Richard Slobodin supported the idea of remembering Dr. Rae. The efforts of these individuals resulted in two very significant events with regard to John Rae and the city of Hamilton.

  1. The John Rae Symposium, 2 December 1993 — President Threlkeld's Presentation

    A symposium entitled "Hamilton's Tribute to John Rae, Arctic Explorer, 1813-1893" was held on December 2, 1993 at McMaster University. It was sponsored by the Arctic Institute of North America and McMaster. Speakers included Dr. John Sutton, Dr. George Hobson, Dr. Derek Ford, Mayor Robert Morrow, Dr. Richard Butson, Dr. E.J. Moran Campbell and Dr. Stephen Threlkeld (the then President of the Association John Rae had helped found). The text of Dr. Threlkeld's presentation is appended here. 

  2. The John Rae Plaque, Unveiled Hamilton Ontario July 5, 1994

    On July 5, 1994 an Historical Plaque was unveiled and dedicated to commemorate Dr. John Rae at 100 Bay St. South, on the north-west corner of Bay and Hunter streets. Though the site was in fact where the home of Thomas Rae used to stand, it is believed that John Rae lived with Thomas while in Hamilton. The Hamilton Association for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art is misnamed but the intent was well meaning. The text on the plaque is appended here.

  3. The Association's Franklin Symposium, 29 April 1995

    Being acquainted with both Stephen Threlkeld and his wife Jo-Ann Fox-Threlkeld, who were co-Presidents of the Hamilton Association for the Advancement of Literature, Science and Art through the early 1990's, I suggested that the Association might like to sponsor a symposium on the fate of Franklin and his crew. Though I was not then a member of the Association they encouraged me to chair a session of this type. Besides my interest in Rae and Arctic exploration, I was acquainted, through my wife Rosemary who did archaeological research, with Dr. Robert Park and Dr. Anne Keenleyside. Jo-Ann put me in touch with Dr. David Chettle, Dr. Colin Webber and Dr. David Muir.

    On April 29, 1995 the Association hosted "Recent findings of the Franklin Expedition Disaster; A Symposium.".

    • Dr. Robert Park presented archeological evidence of artifacts and skeletal remains relating to members of the Franklin expedition that were found along the west coast of King William Island.
    • Dr. Anne Keenleyside presented evidence which showed that cut marks on human bones belonging to the Franklin expedition members were consistent with butchering and thus showed that the suggestion of cannibalism among expedition members was highly probable.
    • Dr. Colin Webber described lead levels in bones of expedition members. Dr. Webber pointed out that getting the observed lead levels into bone over the four year period of the Franklin expedition, would require very significant serum lead levels. As pointed out by Dr. Muir, these types of serum lead levels would cause very severe mental confusion and death. The exact role of lead poisoning in the demise of the Franklin crew remains a subject for debate but there seems to be little disagreement that cannibalism did in fact occur.

G.  The John Rae Memorial Lecture Series

In the 1999-2000 season of the Association, Dr. Alan McComas, who was then in his second term as Association President, recognizing the popularity of the topic, instituted the John Rae Memorial Lecture to be part of the Association's regular series, January being chosen as the appropriate month for such an event. This lecture is one of the Association's best-attended events, drawing an audience of over 200 almost every year.

Inaugural Lecture by Herb Pohl, January 2000

Fittingly, Herbert Pohl delivered the first John Rae lecture, entitled "With Pack and Paddle in Northern Labrador". If Herb had heroes, it was men like John Rae and the geologist A.P. Lowe, individuals who travelled the Arctic and barrenlands in the days before radio communication and who had to rely on their own resources to survive. To a large extent, Herb emulated these earlier times by eschewing the use of emergency satellite phones or GPS monitors, even when they were readily available, when he undertook his nearly annual summer trip to canoe the north. Modern food packaging meant that Herb could easily carry a three- or four-week supply in his covered canoe and had no need for firearms for hunting. Herb never fished on his trips because, as he said, "bears know the smell of fish but they've never experienced fried bacon." My guess is that a hungry bear would get the idea pretty quickly but it made a good story and except for a couple of incidents Herb managed to avoid any serious animal encounters. Over the years Herb canoed the Nahanni, the Coppermine and the Dubawnt in the NWT; the Albany, Missinaibi and Abitibi in Ontario; the Moise, Natashquan, Riviere de Pas, George and numerous rivers in the Clearwater, Richmond Gulf area (all in Quebec); the Kogaluk, Notakwanon, Fraser and the Kanairiktok in Labrador. To a large extent Herb liked to travel alone but on a number of occasions he had companions, people with whom he bonded in lifelong friendships. Herb's travels were not confined to the summer, having done a winter walking trip in northeast Quebec and on Baffin Island. Whenever the opportunity presented itself, Herb loved to take the three to four hour drive north to Algonquin Park and ski or snowshoe in to the winter tent which he'd put up at the start of the season.

Herb gave numerous witty and inspiring presentations, always accompanied by his excellent photographs, to various wilderness canoe associations, to the McMaster Biology Department in which he worked, and to the Hamilton Association for which he served as a Councillor from the mid-1990s until his death in 2006. Herb drowned at the age of 76 in the summer of 2006 canoeing the north shore of Lake Superior, just minutes away from completing his trip to Wawa, Ontario. Fortunately for posterity Herb was in the midst of completing a book-sized summary of his trips and Aurelia Shaw (Association President 2002-2004) had completed an editorial review of the material for Herb earlier in the year. The volume was subsequently published by Herb's friends in the Wilderness Canoe Association as The Lure of Faraway Places:  Reflections on Wilderness and Solitude by Herb Pohl. Edited by James Raffan. Natural Heritage Books | the Dundurn Group: Toronto, 2007. 212 pages. Illus.

Subsequent Presenters, to 2007
  • The second John Rae lecture (2001) was delivered by Dr. Bob Henderson, an Associate Professor of Outdoor Education at McMaster and was entitled "Every trail has a story: Canada's Trail Heritage".
  • The third John Rae Lecture (2002) was given by Joyce and John MacRae. The topic was "Exploring Coastal British Columbia: In the haunts of the Spirit Bear and among the Queen Charlotte Islands." John MacRae was a past- president of the Trillium Photographic Club.
  • The fourth John Rae Lecture (2003) was delivered by Dr. George Luste. Dr. Luste, a particle physicist at the University of Toronto is, with his wife, an active outdoorsman and wilderness canoeist. George was one of Herb Pohl's travelling companions. His topic was "Arctic Sojourns, Anxieties and Solitudes."
  • The fifth John Rae Lecture (2004) was delivered by Herb Pohl and entitled "Following Ancient Trails". As mentioned above, Herb disdained the use of modern navigational aids. He loved to find old geologist's reports about traversing remote areas and then he would look to recreate the route. He wasn't always successful but that was part of the fun. The fact that modern geologists used aerial photographs to traverse the same routes never fazed Herb.
  • The sixth John Rae Lecture (2005) was given by Michael Peake, photo editor and award winning photographer with the Toronto Sun; and publisher of Che-Mun, the Journal of Canadian Wilderness Canoeing. Mr. Peake's talk was entitled "Reflections on a Quarter Century of Northern Paddling".
  • The seventh John Rae Lecture (2006) given by Ms. Linda Leckie and entitled "Paddling my own Canoe: Algonquin Park's First Woman Guide" described the park life of Esther Keyser, one of the early cottage dwellers in the park.
  • The eighth John Rae Lecture (2007) was given by Mr. Pat Lewtas. Pat was another of Herb Pohl's wilderness travelling companions. Pat's rendition of their mutual trip was that "each agreed to cover the same route independently" and thus though they were somewhat together, it was as though they were taking the trip alone. Pat and Herb's notion of companionship in the wild seemed to be very compatible. Pat described his winter trip of some 400 plus miles from the coast of Labrador (Davis Inlet) to Ungava Bay in Quebec. This was done on snowshoes pulling a toboggan from early January through mid March. Though there were few photographs (it was winter) Pat's verbal descriptions of the problems, both physical and mental, and how he overcame them kept his audience in alternating laughter and wonder. In Herb's absence, Dr. George Luste introduced Pat Lewtas for this talk. In Herb's memory the Association had a five minute presentation of some of Herb's slides accompanied by music from the theme from "The Brendan Voyage" by Shaun Davey, a piece that Herb particularly loved.

H.  Hall of Clestrain Restoration Committee, 1995 to 1999

In 1996 Dr. Stephen Threlkeld and his wife Dr. Jo-Ann Fox-Threlkeld, both recent past-presidents of the Association went on a holiday to Orkney. They were well aware of Dr. John Rae, of course, and planned to visit his grave and memorial in Kirkwall and also, if they could find it, to visit Rae's birthplace in Orphir. While in St. Magnus Cathedral, they overheard Alexander (Sandy) Firth explaining John Rae's place in Orkney history to his nephew. After introducing themselves and explaining their interest, Sandy, being as he is, a passionate Orcadian with a great desire to tell anyone who is interested all about Orkney and Orcadians, not only took them on a tour of the Cathedral and adjoining churchyard where John Rae is buried but also, as a member of the Orkney Heritage Association, pointed out that there was interest in restoring the Hall of Clestrain.

The Hall of Clestrain had been listed as an A grade property in 1995 through the efforts of the Heritage Society and its president Ian Heddle. This ensured that the house would not be destroyed; all that remained was to raise money for its restoration. We, in Hamilton got ourselves involved at this stage with Steve Threlkeld as Chair of the Association's Hall of Clestrain Committee. We made an appeal to the membership for donations to the restoration fund and Steve sent letters to a number of individuals in an attempt to drum up support. Both of these approaches were equally unsuccessful. Steve's letter to the Hudson's Bay Company, who we thought might have a corporate interest in helping preserve an Orcadian symbol of one of their better known employees, was passed down the chain of command and we received a polite refusal. A letter to the Canadian government through the Heritage Minister, Sheila Copps, who also represented a local Hamilton riding, elicited a response that there were plans to place a plaque honouring Dr. Rae at some Arctic location. This perhaps was the plaque which Ken McGoogan mentions in his book and which marks the site of the discovery of Rae Strait. A very encouraging letter was received from Mr. Robert Morrow, the then mayor of Hamilton. Mr. Morrow could claim descent from Orkney on his mother's side of the family.

Though it was soon abundantly clear that we could not, in any substantial way, assist the Orkney Committee in their efforts to raise funds, we did, as individual members of the Association form a number of friendships as a result of this venture and did perhaps, in some small way, at least provide moral support for the efforts of those who were more influential or closer to the project.

In 1997, Maurice and Pat Green, long time members of the Association, made a side trip to Orkney to visit the Hall of Clestrain, and since Maurice is a professional photographer, we hoped that he might obtain some photographs which could be used to stimulate interest in the project. Through Ian Heddle, Maurice and Pat were given access to the house which at this stage was very much a ruin inside though at least the straw and animals which had previously been housed in the building were now removed. The accompanying picture of the exterior of the Hall of Clestrain was provided by Ian Heddle while the interior picture of the stone staircase leading from the main to the upper floor was taken by Maurice Green.

In 1998, I wrote on behalf of the Hall of Clestrain committee, to Dr. Peter St.John, the recently installed Earl of Orkney. Peter was an academic at the University of Manitoba who had inherited the title. The Earl was highly supportive and put us in touch with Ken McGoogan, a writer the for the Calgary Herald, and a man who was interested in writing about John Rae. The culmination of Ken's work, 'Fatal Passage' which was published in 2001, made the Canadian best seller list and has inspired many who had never before heard of John Rae, to become firm believers in his accomplishments. The Hamilton Association was honoured to have Ken come to Hamilton and speak about Rae. Just five years and two books later, we invited Ken once again to present the very important sequel to 'Fatal Passage', a book entitled 'Lady Franklin's Revenge', which describes in exciting and readable detail the role that Lady Jane Franklin played in making her unsuccessful husband, John Franklin, the hero of the Arctic while John Rae remained a virtually unknown entity. Ken McGoogan's books may well be the catalyst to restore John Rae's rightful place in Canadian Arctic historical lore.

Two other events which may be, at least indirectly, related to the activities that the Association has pursued, are the plans to place a plaque at 4 Addison Gardens in London to commemorate John Rae's home there. The Hall of Clestrain continues to be of interest for potential restoration. There is, at the time of writing this, a plan to restore the Hall as part of the Orkney Boat Museum with a room or two devoted to John Rae. Anyone interested in the restoration project may contact the Friends of Orkney Boat Museum (www.orkneycommunities.co.uk/fobm) for more information.