Archibald Belaney also known as Grey Owl, came to Canada from England in 1906 and later took on the identity of a ”Metis” with the Indigenous name: Wa-sha-quon-asin and English name Grey Owl. He lived his life with his assumed English name Grey Owl and in the years 1925 until his death in 1938, promoted new ideas of environmentalism and nature conservation. Grey Owl lived briefly at Riding Mountain National Park and then moved to Ajawaan Lake in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan where the Canadian Parks Service gave him a cabin and made him Honorary Warden responsible for protecting beaver.
The Canadian Parks service made a silent film about his conservation efforts to protect the Beaver called Beaver Family. Grey Owl also published many articles and books throughout the 1930’s. He toured heavily in the mid 1930’s throughout Canada and England promoting his books and his “rare for the times” ideas about conservation. Some have said that his work on conservation and protecting the beaver changed how Canada viewed wilderness and helped create a legacy of environmental awareness and protection for Canada’s forests and wildlife.
Grey Owl was found unconscious in his cabin on Ajawaan Lake in April 1938, but later died of Pneumonia in a hospital in Prince Albert. His diminished health was brought on through his exhausting tour schedule and alcoholism. On the day of his death, the North Bay Nugget newspaper ran an expose that they had been holding for three years of his true story. At that time and for many years after word, his revealed betrayal was a shock that tarnished his name and to some extent, the grounds he had made on environmental protection.
The Movie “Grey Owl” by Richard Attenborough and staring Pierce Bronson was released in 1999 about his life in Canada. It received mixed reviews and was not released in the United States. The following YouTube clip from the movie called “Grey Owl” A Man Ahead of His Time, sums up his achievements.
I had the opportunity in 1998 to spend 4 days with my family walking along the shores of Kingsmere Lake and finally to Ajawaan Lake through the beautiful boreal forests of central Saskatchewan to visit Grey Owl’s cabin and to learn about his work. Prince Albert is a wonderful park and thanks to Archie Belaney and his fascination of the North American Indian at the turn of the 20th century in England, it and many other parks in Canada are preserved for all to enjoy.