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Grey Owl

FROM THE Heritage Minutes COLLECTION

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Archibald Belaney perpetrated one of the 20th Century's most convincing hoaxes. Known to the world as "Grey Owl," he convinced everyone that he was a Canadian-born first nations author. In this persona, he became one of Canada's most popular and famous personalities. Grey Owl's British origins came to light shortly after his death and the ensuing public outcry ignored his significant contributions as a conservationist. A generation after his death though, Grey Owl is remembered as an effective public champion of our natural heritage, and his writings still carry an important environmental message for today's world. Without Grey Owl's efforts and passion towards the wilderness, Canada may have lost a better part of its natural beauty. He helped create a legacy of awareness and protection for Canada's forests and wildlife.

Archibald Belaney was born in 1888 into an affluent British family in Hastings, England. His fascination with North America's aboriginals grew into an impressive understanding of all the aboriginal linguistic groups and their tribes. He left England for Canada at age 17 to become a trapper.

At Lake Temagami, Ontario, Archie was named "little owl" by Ojibwa friends for his powers of observation and his hunger to learn the native way of life. In 1915, he joined the Canadian Army and fought in France suffering injuries that would plague him for the rest of his life. On his return, Archie took on the personality of his alter ego "Grey Owl," the son of a Scot and an Apache.

In 1925, he celebrated his marriage to an Iroquois named Anahareo in traditional aboriginal fashion. Together they began fire-ranging and beaver trapping, however, the trapper's life was cruel and repugnant to Anahareo. She convinced Grey Owl to build beaver colonies instead of trapping them for trade. His transition to conservationism inspired him to preserve nature and wildlife through writing articles and books.

In 1931, Grey Owl became the "caretaker of park animals" at Riding Mountain National Park in Manitoba. Thousands viewed his passion for wildlife in his first film for the National Parks Service. Later that year he received rave reviews for his first book, The Men of the Last Frontier. He later wrote Pilgrims of the Wild, and a children's book titled Sajo and Her Beaver People.

Grey Owl's success led to his first lecture tour in England in 1936. Book sales were soaring and he wrote his fourth book, Tales of an Empty Cabin. However, his successful but exhausting tours took a toll on both his marriage and mental health. In 1936, Grey Owl left Anahareo and remarried. He later became ill after touring England, Canada, and the United States. He was immediately hospitalized but died just three days later on April 13, 1938.

Heritage Minute Cast
Grey Owl Pierce Brosnan

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