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Grey Owl

Grey Owl was the name Archibald Belaney (1888-1938) took when he went Native American. He became one of the first proponents of nature conservation.

Archibald Stansfield Belaney was born in September 1888 in Hastings, United Kingdom to a farmer family. His father wasted the family fortune in drinking. Some sources also suggest that her mother was only 13 years old when they were married. His parents separated in 1901 and his father left the country.

Belaney was raised by his grandmother and two maiden aunts. He expressed interest to nature and Amerindians in the early age. He went to Hastings Grammar School and at the age of 16 - due to his aunts' urging - to work for a timber yard. He was fired when he dropped a bomb down his employer's chimney.

In 1906 Belaney immigrated to Canada, ostensibly to study agriculture. After a brief time in Toronto, he moved to Temangani, Northern Ontario, adopted Indian identity and a name Grey Owl. He also married Ojibwa woman Angele Egwuna. He worked as a fur trapper, wilderness guide and forest ranger. He explained that he was a child of a Scottish father and apache mother and had emigrated to join the Ojibwas.

During the World War One in 1915 Grey Owl joined the 13th Montreal Battalion of the Black Watch. His unit was shipped to France where he served as a sniper. His compatriots treated him as an Indian and generally praised his conduct afterwards. He was wounded first in January 1916 and in April 24 1916 was shot through a foot. The wound contracted gangrene and he was shipped to England for treatment.

Grey Owl was moved from one British infirmary to another for a full year when doctors tried in vain to restore his foot. He also met and briefly married childhood friend Constance Holmes. The marriage failed. He was shipped back to Canada in September 1917 and honorably discharged in November 30 with a disability pension.

In 1925 he met a Iroquois woman Gertrude Bernard (who he later called Anahareo) who encouraged him to stop trapping and publish his writings about wilderness life. His writings attracted attention of Dominion Parks Service and he begun to work for them as a naturalist. In 1931 he and Anahareo moved briefly to a cabin in Riding Mountain National Park with their two pet beavers. Next year they moved to near Ajawaan Lake in Prince Albert National Park.

In his books and films he promoted the idea of environmentalism and nature conservation. In 1935 and 1937 he successfully toured England (including Hastings) in Ojibwa costume to promote his books and lecture about conservation. In his latter tour he visited the court and met princesses Elizabeth and Margaret. His aunts recognized him but remained silent until 1937. The tours fatigued him badly and in 1938 he returned to Beaver Lodge.

Grey Owl died of pneumonia in April 13 1938. Doubts about his Amerindian identity begun to appear after his death. His publisher Lovat Dickson tried to prove his identity and just ended exposing the truth.

Grey Owl's Books

Books about Grey Owl