Thursday, June 15, 2006

Tales from Saskatchewan II
The Thoreau of Canada

No, not me-Grey Owl, or as he was known before he became an Indian, Mr Archibald Belaney. Belaney was born in England in 1888, emigrated to Canada in 1906 and became enthralled with the natural world. He met and married an Ojibway woman, Angele Egwuna who introduced him to the Canadian Wilderness and a simpler way of life.

Belany eventually adopted the nom of Grey Owl. In 1931 he lived in a cabin in Manitoba's Riding Mountain National Park. He began publishing many of his writings at this time on protecting the wilderness. Later that year, Grey Owl, his new wife Anahareo and his two adopted beavers moved to a new cabin on Ajawaan Lake in Prince Albert National Park (pictured above). While in Prince Albert he wrote three best-selling books; Pilgrims of the Wild, Sajo and Her Beaver People, and Tales of an Empty Cabin.

Grey Owl was quite a celebrity in his time, entertaining guests at his cabin and traveling throughout North America and Europe promoting ideas of preservation and sustainability. He became Canada's first Naturalist. Sadly, Grey Owl passed away on April 13, 1938 after a bout of pneumonia.

I chose to hike the 20 kilometer (12.5 miles) trail along Kingsmere Lake to Ajawaan Lake to the cabin. Plenty of time to reflect. I was all alone except for the young black bear I greeted about halfway up the hike. As the park literature states-
A trip to Grey Owl's cabin is much more than a hike. It is a pilgrimage that may bring you closer to Grey Owl's message of conservation.
It truly was a pilgrimage and one of two cathartic moments (the other at Batoche) I experienced on my recent trip to Saskatchewan. Like Walden Pond, Ajawaan is a magical place reminding us that we cannot continue to keep living the way that we are. I hope you get the chance to experience Grey Owl's cabin in the wilderness some day. Or at least just hear and accept his messages.

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