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Q&A: Ken McGoogan on 50 Canadians Who Changed the World

  • Oct 15, 2013
  • 515 words
  • 3 minutes
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He’s delved into the lives of explorers who helped shape Canada, including John Rae, Samuel Hearne and Lady Jane Franklin, and examined the influence that famous Scots have had on the nation. In his latest book, however, award-winning author Ken McGoogan takes his interest in all things Canadian history further afield. 50 Canadians Who Changed the World looks at the famous (and some not so famous) men and women born in the 20th century whose lives and work have reached beyond our borders to have an international impact. McGoogan discussed the book shortly after its Oct. 15 publication.

Canadian Geographic In your introduction you mention that denial and an inferiority complex are part of our national psyche. Would you say that is beginning to change, especially in light of Alice Munro winning our first Nobel Prize in Literature?

Ken McGoogan My take on Alice Munro winning the Nobel Prize is: Yes, look! We’re just as good as anyone else. We’ve proved that again and again.

Can Geo What are some of the positive effects Canadians have had in terms of exploration and other areas related to geography?

KM We have an intense focus on communications. In How the Scots Invented Canada, one of the people I wrote about was Alexander Graham Bell. Bell’s not in this book, but I do mention Marshall McLuhan and Mike Lazaridis (of BlackBerry), who invented the smartphone. That was a response to vast geography, in a way.

Can Geo Are there people in this book you feel often go underappreciated?

KM Absolutely. Wade Davis, the explorer, for example — a lot of people don’t know his name. Or Samantha Nutt, who does so much work in war zones. And Louise Arbour, a law reformer who brought many war criminals to justice.

Can Geo Did you learn anything about the people in this book that surprised you?

KM I knew Joni Mitchell — that fabulous, transformative singer-songwriter — had married a man named Chuck Mitchell, who she’d met in Toronto, and that they had been folk singers together. What I didn’t know was that the marriage was falling apart, and that she ended up leaving him during a poker game. To me that was a wonderful metaphor. There’s a life lesson in that: you’ve gotta know when to fold ‘em. So she just put her hand down, got a ride to New York City and shortly thereafter her career took off. Wonderful little details like that bring a person to life, and I did find quite a few of those.

Can Geo How do you respond when people say you missed someone in this list?

KM I hope people do engage and wrestle with who meets the criteria for making it in, and who else should be included. Heck, if I receive enough nominations, I might write an update!

To mark the release of 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, HarperCollins Canada and Via Rail have teamed up to offer the chance to win a $5,000 travel credit. For more information, visit


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