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Grey Owl: Trapper, conservationist, author, fraud

The Story


Within 24 hours of Grey Owl's death in 1938, the renowned conservationist was accused of being a fraud. Canadians were stunned to learn that the native Indian, who travelled the world speaking about the wonders of the Canadian wild, was in fact a transplanted Englishman named Archie Belaney. Grey Owl had coloured his skin brown and dyed his hair black and fooled those closest to him, as shown in this CBC Television report. Despite the scandal, Canadians would continue to praise his writing and make pilgrimages to his storied cabin in Prince Albert National Park.

Medium: Television
Broadcast date: Dec. 11, 1972
Guest(s): Gertrude Bernard, Lovat Dickson, John Diefenbaker
Narrator: Lister Sinclair
Duration: 10:27

Did You know?


• Archibald Stansfeld Belaney was born on Sept. 18, 1888, in Hastings, England. He was raised by his two aunts, Ada Curry and Carry Belaney.

 

• As a child, Belaney was captivated by tales of the Canadian wilderness. In 1906, a 17-year-old Belaney left England to Canada and settled in Bicotasing in northern Ontario. In 1910, he married an Ojibwa woman, Angele Egwuna; together they had daughters Agnes and Flora.

• In 1912, Belaney fabricated his false identity and claimed to be aboriginal. He learned the ways of the wild, trapping and canoeing and living off the land. The Ojibwa Indians gave him the name Wa-Sha-Quon-Asin, which means Grey Owl or He-Who-Flies-By-Night.

 

• Belaney left Canada to serve in the army during the First World War. He returned to Bicotasing after the war and continued to trap until 1925.

• In 1925, Belaney met Gertrude Bernard, a Mattawa native. Grey Owl gave her the Iroquois name Anahareo. Bernard believed her beloved Grey Owl was the son of an Apache woman and a Scotsman.

 

• In 1925, Grey Owl gave up trapping for good. After he trapped an adult beaver, he discovered two baby beavers. Encouraged by Anahareo, Grey Owl adopted the two beavers that he named Jelly Roll and Rawhide. The two beavers followed Grey Owl and Anahareo everywhere they went.

• In October 1931, Grey Owl and Anahareo settled in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan. Grey Owl served as a beaver conservation officer in Western Canada's federal parks service. He published popular short stories about the Canadian wilderness and travelled the world on a lecture circuit.

 

• In 1937, a reporter from the North Bay Nugget uncovered the truth about Archie Belaney. The editor elected not to reveal the story until Grey Owl's death.

• In 1938, at the age of 50, Grey Owl died of pneumonia at his home in Saskatchewan. The North Bay Nugget ran its exposé which made headlines around the world. It was also revealed that Grey Owl was a ladies' man and a bigamist. He never divorced his first wife Angele Egwuna. In 1913, he and his common-law partner Marie Girard had one son named Johnny. In 1917, his wife Ivy Holmes divorced him on the grounds of bigamy after she learned of Egwuna. With his common-law partner Anahareo, he had one daughter, Shirley Dawn. And in 1936, he married Yvonne Perrier while still married to Egwuna.

• A plaque beside Grey Owl's grave in Prince Albert National Park reads: "Say a silent thank you for the preservation of wilderness areas, for the lives of the creatures who live there and for the people with the foresight to realize this heritage, no matter how."

 


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