CBRA Review - Grey Owl
Reviewed by: Bill Waiser
When Grey Owl died in a Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, hospital in April 1938, the renowned author and conservationist turned out to be an Englishman--born Archie Belaney--masquerading as a Native. Stung by the so-called hoax of the century, many Canadian admirers recoiled at the misrepresentation and began to question the sincerity of the man and his cause.
In this latest book about Grey Owl, Armand Ruffo seeks to cast new light on the "mystery" of the man--his adopted identity, his conservation work, and his legacy. Using oral accounts (including those of his own northern Ontario family) and archival sources, Ruffo re-creates Grey Owl's life through a mixture of poetry, diary entries, reminiscences, fictionalized sections, and newspaper articles. The result is an absorbing portrait of a complicated figure whose determination to spread the message of conservation became the one constant in his life. Despite a number of personal difficulties, including bouts of anxiety, self-doubt, and a weakness for drink, Grey Owl won over audiences on both sides of the Atlantic during two speaking tours in the mid-1930s.
There are still unanswered questions though, and 60 years after his death, his legacy is still being debated.