Friday, August 07, 2009

Hat to the Park Virtual Trip


Before I leave this area, I almost forgot. Prince Albert Park which is just to the North of here, is the scene where one of Canada's strangest stories unfolded.

There is a cabin back there on a lake that was built by Archibald Stansfeld Belaney. No one knew him by that name because 'he had metamorphosed by then into

" GREY OWL , He who walks by night. " The Ojibway people got it right without even knowing when they named him Wa-sha-Quon-asin, because he was a night walker alright. Who he was in the day time was the big dark secret.

For some 30 years he hid his past while he wrote books on conservation and toured England where he was recognized as a brilliant, articulate Canadian Native who championed animal rights. That was not all he was recognized for. The two Aunts in Hastings, who had raised him as an abandoned nephew were astonished to recognize their "wee Charlie" when they went to see the famous "Grey Owl" . We don't know why but they kept his secret. They had last seen him as a young man when Charlie had gone to Canada to study agriculture. Instead and unknown to them, he had ended up in Temagami working as a fir trapper. There he met with the Anashinaabe and learned their language and lore. He also met and married Angele Egwuna who taught him more about her people and their customs.

He started recording his experiences, observations and opinions which he kept as records. But they attracted the attention of the Dominion Parks Services and he was invited to work for them as a naturalist. At first, he merely signed his books and papers, "Grey Owl". Before long however, he completely adopted his native identity.

In 1915, he joined the army to fight in World War 1 as a sniper. He told everyone he was a child of an Apache mother and Scottish father and, as that seemed to be so readily accepted, he quickly took the first of many steps on a path of deception no doubt completely set in his conviction that if he was "native in the spirit" it was only fitting and really easy to become "native in the flesh"

Meanwhile during an encounter, he was wounded in the foot and while rehabilitating in England, re-met and married his childhood sweetheart. That would probably have made a great story by it self, however, it only lasted a month. I can see her point considering he had a nasty wound at one end and a questionable split personality at the other. The insane notion to return and live bush native in Canada could not have been too reassuring to the new bride either. Fortunately for her, he was first put on a disability pension and secondly, put on a ship back to Canada.

In 1925 he met another native, this time a Mohawk Iroquois whom he called Anahareo and they got married . She encouraged him to stop trapping because there was a lot more money and promise in writing books, giving lectures and touring especially when he was so good at it. That’s what led up to his touring England.

Besides bumping into his Aunts and having them discover what he was up to, the other effect his touring had was to leave him exhausted In 1938 he died at his cabin at Ajawaan Lake and was buried near by. No doubt when the news reached the Aunts, the cat was out of the bag, or perhaps more accurately, the Native was out of the bush.

The real shock to the world besides hearing of his death, was to discover he wasn't a child of the forest after all. Why this should have made any difference to the good works he was doing is hard to imagine, but that last bit of news eclipsed everything The book sales and favourable press changed as surely as Charles Belaney had.

The good news is, his 3 wives went on to promote his books and views through other materials he wrote. In the end, all this did serve to change some of our views about wild life conservation, especially attitudes in general and beavers in particular.

Aren't you glad I remembered?

Now, when I was just a little tad-pole, the Canadian National Film Board brought a black and white short film called " Grey Owl and the Beavers" to show in our grade 3 class. It must have been very impressive, because it stuck in my mind while so many more really important things didn't.

I'll tell you how that prompted an adventure my grand-son and I had visiting Grey Owl's other Cabin over at Clear Lake, Riding Mountain, National Park, Manitoba tomorrow in another short (?) non- report

Doug G

Thanks Doug

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