Grey Owl, the world's best-known conservationist in the 1930s, turned out not to be who he'd claimed

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Every time I head up to Algonquin Park, where Grey Owl spent a lot of time and where some of his writing is set, or for that matter nearly paddle over a beaver while kayaking on the Grand River, I’m grateful for the conservation efforts he spurred and inspired and personally happy to give him a pass.

I have to wonder where our relations with the First Nations would be were we all as keen meet their culture as warmly and openly.

NZ :new_zealand: isn’t perfect by a long shot, but I think gives us a hint of where the right direction lies.


Without listening to the podcast, I’d imagine it’s something like this dude here:


I live not far from another place he spent a lot of time, what is now Prince Albert National Park. When my kids are old enough to handle a canoe with me, I intend to take them to his old cabin on Ajawaan Lake. I know we can hike there, but something about canoeing in is appealing to me.

I’m right there with you on the relations with First Nations. PA National Park was created by forcing out the indigenous inhabitants and creating a resort city for us colonizers in their place. They’re only now starting to acknowledge that perhaps this wasn’t the best thing to do, but they’ve been profiting off of Grey Owl’s legacy for decades while simultaneously excluding people from their ancestral homeland.

As a society, we’re really bad at treating indigenous people well, and I hope we can do better over the coming years.


I remember my Mum telling me about him. He had come to give a talk at her school, presumably on one of his tours of England. He hadn’t been outed back then, and she spent the rest of her life thinking she had met a Canadian Native.


It happened late, “Grey Owl” was born in 1888. That probably helped him propogate, but he was probably too late to get the real experience.

He didn’t have to pretend, he lived a certain life and was lived with some native women. His ecology them was real no matter his ancestr, and knowing native women provided insight.

But he probably got travel because he was white. A native man likely wouldn’t have been in the same situation, let alone a native woman. So he took the role away from them.

If he’d stayed with one of the native women, that wouod have given him some status, and fatherhood. My great, great, great grandparents were together for 44 years, a bit less than Archie was alive.

The cousins can speak for themselves, when they are allowed.

I read Grey Owl’s book about the beaver pups as a kid in the seventies.
There was a story about anchor ice in it that didn’t ring true, even to me, a child.
I’m not surprised he was a fibber. He told a good story though, with a message in it that impacted me.
It was probably my first contact with the idea of conserving nature.

Grey Owl, the world’s best known conservationist in the 1930s turned out not to be who he’d claimed

It turns out that he was also Remington Steele and James Bond! But seriously, despite the rather unusual casting, the 1999 Grey Owl biopic starring Pierce Brosnan and directed by Richard Attenborough wasn’t that bad (although apparently critics didn’t like it at the time).

I guess the owl was not what it seemed.

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Having now listened to the story, it sounds so similar to a con man in my mother’s family tree, and I’ve helped others try to unravel the clues to their own “Grey Owl” in their family trees. It was a lot easier to run away from a legal wife and child(ren) and reinvent yourself, including nationality, etc. in another country in those days. There were definitely a lot of men, and some women, who took advantage of that.

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