About James Raffan


There’s a rumour afoot that James Raffan was born in a canoe on the Speed River in southwestern Ontario.

As much as James would like to believe that, his mother has trouble with some of those details. Truth be told James, a first generation Canadian, son of a midwife and artist from the North of Scotland and a Yorkshire physician, was born in St. Joseph’s Hospital in Guelph, Ontario and was reborn in a canoe on the mighty Speed River, in the sense that his worldview changed the first time he paddled a real canoe, near his home on the edge of Riverside Park in Guelph. And from that moment on, the light of his lamp has been lit by self-propelled motion to discover and comprehend the length and breadth of the country that his parents chose over Australia and South Africa as a place to emigrate and start afresh following WWII.

A boyhood of loving and learning about natural history wherever wild things might be found led to studies in Biology at Queen’s University. Leadership training at the Guelph YMCA and through Boy Scouts and summer camp led to interests in teaching and canoe trip leading that in turn led to expeditions of greater scope, work for Black Feather Wilderness Adventures as a guide throughout Northern Canada, and eventually, for a few years, to an honest to goodness job as a high school teacher of science, math, geography and music. Particular interest in outdoor and experiential education led him back to graduate study at Queen’s University which, in turn, led to a doctorate in cultural geography, and nearly 20 years as a member and eventually head of the Outdoor & Experiential Education Unit at Queen’s Faculty of Education.

In the spring of 1999, James resigned from his university teaching position and since then has been working as an independent writer and scholar from his home in the Rideau Lakes north of Kingston, Ontario. He continues to organize and participate in a variety of annual expeditions and adventures related to his writing and research interests but also to keep his hand in as a teacher and expedition leader. Along the way, James has spoken across Canada and around the world and published a number of bestselling books, including Summer North of Sixty, Rendezvous with the Wild, Tumblehome, Fire in the Bones, Emperor of the North and Circling the Midnight Sun. He has also written for National Geographic, Canadian Geographic, Up Here, Explore and the Globe and Mail and produced radio and television documentaries for CBC Radio and the Discovery Channel.

His most recent book, published in September 2020 by Simon and Schuster Canada, is called Ice Walker. This is vintage Raffan storytelling but it’s different than previous books insofar as it’s a portrait of humanity’s relationship with nature but as cast in twenty-four months in the life of a female polar bear on Hudson Bay.

And here is a brief bio in Russian.


Camsell Medal Citation

Camsell Medal Citation

A Royal Canadian Geographic Society award, named in honour of the Society’s founder (Charles Camsell). The purpose of the Camsell Medal is to bestow recognition upon, and express the Society’s appreciation to, individuals who have given outstanding service to the Society.

Explore: A Canadian Geographic podcast.

Host David McGuffin talks to Canada’s greatest explorers about their adventures and what inspires their spirit of discovery.

“… James Raffan, author, filmmaker, teacher, explorer and former executive director of the Canadian Canoe Museum.” David McGuffin interviews James Raffan about the far north and its peoples.

Listen to James Raffan on Episode 7 (Spotify) »

Listen to an indepth interview podcast by Paul Kirtley at his blog on wilderness bushcraft, survival skills and outdoor life »

Paul Kirtley is professional bushcraft instructor and owns and runs Frontier Bushcraft, a wilderness bushcraft school, offering bushcraft courses and wilderness expeditions.

What others have said…

Dr James Raffan thoroughly engaged delegates at the Biennial conference of the Association of Heads of Independent Schools of Australia in October 2011. His topical keynote address entitled “Education as Story: The Power of Narrative”, developed the central theme of the conference, Culture 2 Culture, through providing insightful examples of how the characters of young people are developed by placing them in situations that challenge their comfortable world view. In many cases this does not occur within a traditional, formal educational setting but instead it is most successful in those environments that involve some risk and where the young people have to delve deeply into their inner resources. Dr Raffan’s extensive experiences in leading wilderness canoeing expeditions in the interior of Canada, combined with his academic intellect provided a perfect platform for Heads to contemplate the importance of using these experiences to develop the personal narrative of students’ lives whilst simultaneously contributing to the culture of a school.

Lester Saegenschnitter

Principal, Concordia College, Adelaide, South Australia

What a show by Dr. James Raffan! It is clear why they call this guy a master storyteller. His show was amazing. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, don’t hesitate.

John Kleiber

London’s Paddle Shop (from Facebook)

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