On September 11th, the Canadian Canoe Museum lost a dedicated paddler, canoephile and friend in Ned Franks. He was 81 years old. Ned—aka C.E.S. Franks—came onto our radar when he published The Canoe and Whitewater: From Essential to Sport back in 1977; a book which is listed for sale today at more than twice its original value at rarenonfiction.com! This book provided a glimpse into the fertile mind and psyche of a Canadian who obviously loved canoeing but also history and physics, politics and the interplay amongst all of those aspects of life in this nation of rivers.
For some, it came as something of a shock that the same guy who was waxing on about all things canoe in his book would also turn up on the radio or television as an election colour commentator or expert on parliamentary rules and governmental processes. That was Ned Franks—a man for all seasons, as comfortable in a business suit, wielding a gavel in mock parliaments at Queen’s University, where he was a professor of political studies for 35+ years, as he was in a Goretex rain jacket, swinging a paddle on spring runs on the white water rivers of Eastern Ontario and beyond.
Ned was a museum member and donor but, as with many Canadian institutions that touched his passions, he was also an advisor and confidante to staff on issues ranging from sorting historical nuances to navigating the, often turbulent, waters of political correctness. Ned was never one to shy away from what he believed to be true and right, nor would he shun chances to set the public record straight as he did in his Kirk Wipper Lecture, delivered at the museum in 2010, entitled Where Textbooks Went Wrong: The Canoe in French Canadian History (bit.ly/2zzkp89).
And it is in the nexus of French and English in a bilingual country that I laugh most when I think of Ned, his inexhaustible passion for scholarship, and his zany sense of humour. As luck would have it, Professor Franks was part of the examining committee that helped bring my doctoral dissertation into the world in the realm of cultural geography/anthropology. I was delighted to have him there for reasons including his critical perspective on just about everything and his interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, particularly in an academic milieu. But we had connected first on the Salmon River one spring, as paddlers, as equals … of a sort.
By the time a thesis gets to the oral examination stage, the candidate’s committee is always totally onside (because it’s their guidance that’s also being examined). And, to his credit, Ned had read the draft document thoroughly and commented in generative ways. But as far as I knew, he was in full support of what I had written. “But,” he said before the inquisition, “that doesn’t mean I’m not going to challenge you during the oral examination.”
And challenge he did. After the out-of-town (so-called “external”) examiner had finished, when it came Ned’s turn to poke the candidate, he asked a nuanced question about Canadian geographer Louis-Edmond Hamelin’s classic book called Nordicity. Having read the book up and down and being, so I thought, fully aware of Hamelin’s argument about degrees of northernness, I relaxed a little, thinking this was not the challenge Ned had promised. But, as I listened to the question (and he did love to go on … in the most annoyingly erudite flowing sentences), I realized that I really had no idea where in Nordicity the answer might lie. Considering my options on the fly, realizing that this was not a group to try to baffle with BS, particularly the inimitable Dr. Franks, I confessed that even though I had what I thought was a good grasp of this concept, there was nothing I could recall from my reading of this book that would provide an answer to Ned’s question. Long pause. For a second, I thought I saw a twirl of smoke that was my budding academic career going up in flames.
Eventually, Ned asked, rhetorically, “You only read the English edition of this book, didn’t you?” Gulp! He went on, “If you had read Hamelin’s original French text in Nordicité, when the book was first published, you would have found a section to do with my query that was not translated into the English edition of the book when it was published a few years later. Canada is a bilingual country you know.” Touché, Ned! No, I didn’t read the original French version of the book—you irrepressible, loveable bastard (which is what I called him to his smiling face when the formalities were over, and we were back on common ground).
From everybody at the Canadian Canoe Museum, from your paddling cronies near and far, so long my friend.
By James Raffan, Director of External Relations