Great Canadian Parks / Saskatchewan

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The Parks / Saskatchewan / Prince Albert National Park

According to Grey Owl, he was born in Mexico to a full-blooded Apache girl and an Indian scout, a close friend of Buffalo Bill Cody who Grey Owl claimed had taken him on his Wild West tour of England. He would place himself in Ontario at 15, learning Indian lore from the Ojibway who called him He-Who-Flies-By-Night. Although this fiction suited the ‘noble savage’ persona he adopted in his life as conservationist/ best-selling author/lecturer that would make him wealthy and famous, once exposed, the invention so damaged his credibility that his extraordinary genius and essential contribution to the preservation of the endangered beaver, bear and lynx was for a time forgotten in the world's indignation over the hoax.


He was born Archie Belaney in Hastings, England and abandoned at age four to the care of his grandmother and two maiden aunts. In spite of his achievements in school - he topped his class in English - his real interest was in playing ‘Red Indian’. He departed for Canada before he was 18 and did actually learn to trap, canoe and survive in the wilderness from the Ojibways of northern Ontario, choosing to communicate in their dialect combined with broken English and sign language while emulating them with skin dye and braided hair. By 1928, he had all but abandoned trapping and was attempting to start a beaver colony. Also at this time, he published an article on life in the northwoods and had given his first lecture. Two years later, the National Parks Board of Canada, concerned with the near extinction of the beaver, made a film about his work and later hired him to start a beaver colony at Riding Mountain, Manitoba.


By this time his drinking had become a problem and his lack of commitment and instability in his personal life were strangely at odds with his growing passion for the plight of endangered wildlife. He spent his last eight years writing books on his experiences in the Canadian wild and romancing the world in his extensive lecture tours. His war dances and pet beavers were a sensation that charmed his followers by the thousands; his books sold out and were reprinted. At his command performance at Buckingham Palace in 1937, he greeted King George VI as ‘brother’and played the ‘Red Indian’ in a costume of buckskin and feathers completely winning over the royals.


Exhausted, in very poor health and drinking heavily, he returned to Prince Albert where he died within the year, his work as the world’s leading spokesman for the preservation of wildlife habitats undiminished by his harmless fabrications.


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