Raffan, James 1955–

views updated

Raffan, James 1955–

PERSONAL: Born 1955, in Canada; married; children: two. Education: Degrees in biology and education, Queen's University; Ph.D. in cultural geography.

ADDRESSES: Home—Cranberry Lake, Ontario, Canada. Agent—c/o Author Mail, Boston Mills Press, 132 Main St., Erin, Ontario N0B 1T0, Canada. E-mail[email protected]

CAREER: Educator, writer, and educational consultant. Canoe guide, youth leader, and high-school teacher; Queen's University, professor; freelance writer and educational consultant, 1999–. Arctic Institute of North America, chair of board of directors, 1999–2001.

AWARDS, HONORS: Governor General's Award for Gallantry, 1968; Queen's Scout, 1970; Royal Canadian Geographical Society fellow, 1988; Queen's Golden Jubilee Medal, 2002.

WRITINGS:

NONFICTION

(Editor) Canoe Safety Resource Manual: A Comprehensive Resource Book on Canoe Safety, photographs by Toni Harting, Canoe Ontario (Willowdale, Ontario, Canada), 1984.

(Editor) Wild Waters: Canoeing Canada's Wilderness Rivers, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1986, revised edition, 1997.

(Editor, with Bert Horwood) Canexus: The Canoe in Canadian Culture, illustrated by Bill Mason, Betelgeuse (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1988.

Summer North of Sixty: By Paddle and Portage across the Barren Lands, Key Porter Books (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1990

Fire in the Bones: Bill Mason and the Canadian Canoeing Tradition (biography), HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1996.

Bark, Skin, and Cedar: Exploring the Canoe in Canadian Experience, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 1999.

Nature Nurtures: Investigating the Potential of School Grounds, Evergreen (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2000.

Tumblehome: Meditations and Lore from a Canoeist's Life, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2001.

Deep Waters: Courage, Character, and the Lake Timiskaming Canoeing Tragedy, HarperCollins (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002, published as Deep Waters: Is the Adventure Worth the Risk?: The Lake Timiskaming Canoeing Tragedy, HarperPerennial Canada (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), 2002.

Rendezvous with the Wild: The Boreal Forest, Boston Mills Press (Erin, Ontario, Canada), 2004.

Also author of filmstrip script Theory and Practice in Outdoor Teaching: The Indoor/Outdoor Dilemma, National Library of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario, Canada), 1985.

ADAPTATIONS: Summer North of Sixty was adapted as a sound recording, Library Services Branch, 1992; Fire in the Bones was adapted as a sound recording, Library Services Branch, 2000.

SIDELIGHTS: James Raffan's life and work has revolved around canoes and canoeing. An avid outdoorsman, he has made more than thirty major expeditions to various parts of Canada, traveling by canoe, kayak, dog sled, snowshoes, and other methods. His books explore the canoe from many perspectives. Fire in the Bones: Bill Mason and the Canadian Canoeing Tradition is Raffan's biography of Bill Mason, the man who did much to promote canoeing in Canada; Bark, Skin, and Cedar: Exploring the Canoe in Canadian Experience takes a long look at canoes and history; Tumblehome: Meditations and Lore from a Canoeist's Life is a reflection on Raffin's own years on the waterways; and Deep Waters: Courage, Character, and the Lake Timiskaming Canoeing Tragedy tells a harrowing story of students pushed beyond their limits.

Bill Mason, the subject of Fire in the Bones, was born in Winnipeg and was troubled all through his life by various physical ailments. Despite these challenges, he became one of the most respected outdoorsmen in Canada, an expert on canoeing, and the director of several documentary films. Raffan researched his subject "with care," according to a Publishers Weekly critic, and his book points out that although Mason is often credited with single-handedly making canoeing popular, this was not really the case. Nevertheless, the author pays homage to all the energy Mason brought to his favorite sport and to his country. Raffan "navigates Mason's life with clarity and grace," according to Stephen Smith in a Canadian Geographic review.

Fire in the Bones offers a brief history of canoeing in Canada, a subject that is expanded in Raffan's Bark, Skin, and Cedar. Comprised of anecdotes that are connected simply by "a desire to share excitement about canoes," according to a reviewer for Arctic, Raffan's subjects range from craft used by the aboriginal Canadians to the modern technological advances in whitewater craft. "Not a page in the book does not show his affection and enthusiasm for the canoe, its variations, and its many uses," stated a writer for the American Review of Canadian Studies.

Much of Raffan's writing celebrates the peace that can come from canoeing, but he recorded a horror story in his book Deep Waters. The work relates events from a 1978 expedition led by the St. John's Schools, an establishment known for its commitment to discipline, classical curriculum, and rigorous outdoor activity. One student died during a snowshoeing trip in 1971, and there were other canoe mishaps before the 1978 expedition to Lake Timiskaming, a place known for its dangerous waters. One boat tipped during the trip, and as the students in the three other canoes tried to rescue their classmates from the cold waters, they all fell overboard as well. The result was the death of twelve boys and one adult. Canadian Geographic writer Michael Clugston praised Raffan for telling the story well and for his even-handed treatment of the subject. As Clugston wrote, "With admirable restraint, writer and veteran canoeist James Raffan probes the making of the tragedy and the wider story of well-meaning schoolmasters who went astray, demanding the impossible of their students."

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

American Review of Canadian Studies, autumn, 2000, review of Bark, Skin and Cedar: Exploring the Canoe in Canadian Experience, pp. 393-396.

Arctic, September, 2000, review of Bark, Skin, and Cedar, pp. 318-319.

Canadian Geographic, September-October, 1996, Stephen Smith, review of Fire in the Bones: Bill Mason and the Canadian Canoeing Tradition, p. 78; September, 2001, Carol Hilton, review of Tumblehome: Meditations and Lore from a Canoeist's Life, p. 82; July-August, 2002, Michael Clugston, review of Deep Waters: Courage, Character and the Lake Timiskaming Canoeing Tragedy, p. 101.

Library Bookwatch, June, 2005, review of Rendezvous with the Wild: The Boreal Forest.

Publishers Weekly, January 28, 1997, review of Fire in the Bones, p. 90.

SciTech Book News, June, 2005, review of Rendezvous with the Wild, p. 49.

ONLINE

Writers Union of Canada Web site, http://www.writersunion.ca/ (October 25, 2005), biographical information about James Raffan.