Grey Owl

On a tour of England in 1935 Archie Belaney enthralled audiences with his tales of the Canadian wilderness, the harsh winters he endured, and the native animals he trapped and killed, explaining how in the end, he decided to devote his life to conservation. He looked every inch an authentic Indian with his weather beaten skin dressed in buckskins and moccasins, and his long hair braided, but behind the facade there was another story.

Anahareo Grey owls wife

Archie Stansfield Belaney was not an Indian he was born in Hastings in 1888, at St James’s Road. George his father was always indulging in wild schemes to make his fame and fortune, but not settling to anything. He married Archie’s mother,Katherine Kittie  (his second marriage) when she is believed to have been under twenty.

Graves of Grey Owl, Anahareo and Shirley Dawn

Shortly after Archie was born George scampered off to America, leaving Archie and his mother. Kittie married again and little Archie was left to grow up with his grandmother, his father’s mother Juliana Belaney and aunts, Ada and Carrie in Hastings. Like all young children Archie loved to play Indians, but from the time he could read about Sitting Bull and the wild west he dreamed of becoming an Indian one day. He attended Hastings grammar school and would draw native Indians in the margins of his books.  He was also a bit of a prankster, and using his knowledge gained at Hastings Grammar School chemistry lessons he made small bombs, which he called Balaney Bombs.

Grey Owls book

His first job was as a clerk for a timber company, but that ended abruptly when he lowered fireworks down the chimney of the office.  They exploded and nearly destroyed the building. Naturally he was sacked and his aunts gave into his wish to move to Canada seeking adventure. He sailed from Liverpool to Halifax in 1906, and then travelled to Lake Tamagami in Ontario lodging with a settler who taught him the art of trapping.   Archie was in his element and from the Ojibway Indians living on Bear Island he listened to the elders telling their stories about hunting and the young braves. He dropped his native English and became one of the Ojibway Indians.

Grey Owl feeding beaver Jelly roll

In 1910 he married Angele Euana from the local tribe, braided his long hair and had a child with Angele and seemed to have settled down to a life with the tribe. But his desire for adventure returned and in 1912 he told his wife he had taken a job as a ranger and would be away for some time. For six years he cut himself off from his roots and worked trapping in the winter, and working as a ranger during the summer months.  He earned himself quite a reputation as a drinker and a man that was handy with the knife, and told elaborate shocking stories in the evenings.  By now  WWI had began, and in 1915 we joined the Canadian army as a sharp shooter and went to Flanders as a sniper, but he was wounded in the foot and suffered from gas poisoning.  He was brought to England to convalesce, and soon met up with his old friends, including a girl, Florence Holmes who he fell in love with and married in St Leonards, without telling her he was already married on Angele, but the marriage ended quickly in divorce and he returned to Canada in 1917. However it turned out to be not the country he had left, with fur prices raising the area was full of trappers hoping to make a fortune.  Grey Owl as he now called himself found that the hunter was a new type who cared little about the young pups or the pregnant females, and then two things happened to change his thinking.  He met a beautiful girl called Anahareo whom Grey Owl nicknamed Pony.  She brought out the good side of him and they married as Indians, and lived as Indians.  One day after a mother beaver had been drowned in one of his traps, leaving behind to little kittens, and Grey Owl raised his gun to shoot them when he saw the anguish in Anahareo’s eyes and slowly lowered the gun.  He wife rushed forward placed the two little orphans under her shirt, and took them home calling them MacGinnis and Macginty.  Grey Owl had planned to sell the pair of pair of kittens until one night MacGinnis jumped onto the bed and proceeded to gave him a good wash before settling down on his chest for the night.   Grey Owl heart melted.  He had noticed for some time the decline in the number of beavers, and began what he later became known for – conservation. This was  a new idea and Grey Owl was amongst the pioneers. In the spring MacGinnis and MacGinty ran away to join their beaver friends but were quickly replaced by Jelly Roll and Rawhide, and their adventures found their way into Country Life magazine.  Next came Grey Owl’s first book, The Men of the Last Frontier, published in 1931, and in the same year Grey Owl and Anahareo moved to Lake Ajawaan in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan.

Greyowls cabin ajawaan lake

By now the Canadian government had heard of his conservation work and did all they could to help. He was offered a position as a naturalist and started a beaver colony, and a string of films followed.  Several British tours were arranged between 1935 and 1937 with a visit to Buckingham Palace to meet George VI and the two young princesses.

Plaque in St Jame’s Road Hastings

At the end of the tours, Grey Owl returned to Beaver Lodge, but on April 10 1938 he called the Park Office to say he wasn’t feeling well and was taken to Prince Albert Hospital where he fell into a come and died of pneumonia on 13 April at just forty-nine.  He was buried near his cabin.  His first wife Angele proved her marriage, and although she had not seen Grey Owl for years, she inherited most of his estate. Anahareo and Grey Owl had a daughter Shirley Dawn in 1932, but separated in 1936.  She lived until she was eighty, and when asked how she remembered Grey Owl, she said, ‘To me he was an Indian and one of the best men I’d ever met.

 

About Wendy Hughes

Wendy turned to writing, in 1989, when ill-health and poor vision forced her into early medical retirement. Since then she has published 26 nonfiction books, and over 2000 articles. Her work has appeared in magazines as diverse as The Lady, Funeral Service Journal, On the Road, 3rd Stone, Celtic Connections, Best of British, and Guiding magazine. She has a column in an America/Welsh newspaper for ex-pats on old traditions and customs in Wales. Her books include many on her native Wales, Anglesey Past and Present, The Story of Brecknock, Brecon, a pictorial History of the Town, Carmarthen, a History and Celebration and Tales of Old Glamorgan, and a book on Walton on Thames in the Images of England series, a company history and two books on the charity Hope Romania. She has also co-authored two story/activity books for children. Her latest books are: Haunted Worthing published in October 2010, a new colour edition of The Story of Pembrokeshire published in March 2011, and Shipwrecks of Sussex in June 2011 and Not a Guide to Worthing in 2014. She is working on a book entitled A-Z of Curious Sussex which will be published in 2016 Wendy also works with clients to bring their work up to publishable standard and is currently working on an autobiography with a lady that was married to a very famous 1940’s travel writer. Wendy has spent many years campaigning and writing on behalf of people affected by Stickler Syndrome, a progressive genetic connective tissue disorder from which she herself suffers. She founded the Stickler Syndrome Support Group and raises awareness of the condition amongst the medical profession, and produces the group’s literature, and has written the only book on the condition, Stickler The Elusive Syndrome, and has also contributed to a DVD on the condition, Stickler syndrome: Learning the Facts. She has also writing three novels, Sanctimonious Sin, a three generation saga set in Wales at the turn of the century, Power That Heal set in the Neolithic period entitled Powers that Heal, and a semi biographical book entitled New Beginnings which deals with two generations coping with blindness and a genetic condition. She has also had a handful of short stories published, and in her spare time is working on several at the moment. She also gives talks on a variety of subjects including Writing and Placing Articles, Writing Local History, Writing as Therapy, Writing your first novel, etc, and runs workshops on the craft of writing – both fiction and non-fiction. She is a member of the Society of Women Writers and Journalists, and a member of the Society of Authors.