Pilgrims of the Wild by Grey Owl, Michael Gnarowski, and Hugh Eayrs - Read Online
Pilgrims of the Wild
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First published in 1935, Pilgrims of the Wild is Grey Owl’s autobiographical account of his transition from successful trapper to preservationist. With his Iroquois wife, Anahereo, Grey Owl set out to protect the environment and the endangered beaver. Powerful in its simplicity, Pilgrims of the Wild tells the story of Grey Owl’s life of happy cohabitation with the wild creatures of nature and the healing powers of what he referred to as "the great Northland" of "Over the Hills and Far Away."

A bestseller at the time, Pilgrims of the Wild helped establish Grey Owl’s international reputation as a conservationist. His legacy of warnings against the degradations of nature and the dangers of industry live on, despite the posthumous revelation that he wasn’t, in fact, the First Nations man he claimed to be.

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ISBN: 9781770705777
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Michael Gnarowski — Series Editor

The Dundurn Group presents the Voyageur Classics series, building on the tradition of exploration and rediscovery and bringing forward time-tested writing about the Canadian experience in all its varieties.

This series of original or translated works in the fields of literature, history, politics, and biography has been gathered to enrich and illuminate our understanding of a multi-faceted Canada. Through straightforward, knowledgeable, and reader-friendly introductions the Voyageur Classics series provides context and accessibility while breathing new life into these timeless Canadian masterpieces.

The Voyageur Classics series was designed with the widest possible readership in mind and sees a place for itself with the interested reader as well as in the classroom. Physically attractive and reset in a contemporary format, these books aim at an enlivened and updated sense of Canada’s written heritage.


The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery, introduced by Dr.

Collett Tracey 978-1-55002-666-5

Canadian Exploration Literature: An Anthology, edited and introduced by

Germaine Warkentin 978-1-55002-661-0

Combat Journal for Place d’Armes: A Personal Narrative by Scott Symons,

introduced by Christopher Elson 978-1-55488-457-5

The Donnellys by James Reaney, introduced by Alan Filewod


Empire and Communications by Harold A. Innis, introduced by

Alexander John Watson 978-1-55002-662-7

The Firebrand:William Lyon Mackenzie and the Rebellion in Upper Canada

by William Kilbourn, introduced by Ronald Stagg 978-1-55002-800-3

In This Poem I Am: Selected Poetry of Robin Skelton, edited and

introduced by Harold Rhenisch 978-1-55002-769-3

The Letters and Journals of Simon Fraser 1806–1808, edited and introduced

by W. Kaye Lamb, foreword by Michael Gnarowski 978-1-55002-713-6

Maria Chapdelaine: A Tale of French Canada by Louis Hémon,

translated by W.H. Blake, introduction and notes by Michael

Gnarowski 978-1-55002-712-9

Mrs. Simcoe’s Diary by Elizabeth Posthuma Simcoe, edited and

introduced by Mary Quayle Innis, foreword by Michael Gnarowski


The Refugee: Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada by Benjamin Drew,

introduced by George Elliott Clarke 978-1-55002-801-0

The Scalpel, the Sword: The Story of Doctor Norman Bethune by Ted Allan

and Sydney Ostrovsky, introduced by Julie Allan, Dr. Norman Allan,

and Susan Ostrovsky 978-1-55488-402-5

Selected Writings by A.J.M. Smith, edited and introduced by

Michael Gnarowski 978-1-55002-665-8

Self Condemned by Wyndham Lewis, introduced by Allan Pero


Storm Below by Hugh Garner, introduced by Paul Stuewe


A Tangled Web by Lucy Maud Montgomery, introduced by Benjamin

Lefebvre 978-1-55488-403-2

The Yellow Briar: A Story of the Irish on the Canadian Countryside by

Patrick Slater, introduced by Michael Gnarowski 978-1-55002-848-5


The Men of the Last Frontier by Grey Owl, introduced by James Polk


The Silence on the Shore by Hugh Garner, introduced by George

etherling 978-1-55488-782-8







Copyright © Dundurn Press, 2010

Originally published by Macmillan of Canada in 1934.

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise (except for brief passages for purposes of review) without the prior permission of Dundurn Press. Permission to photocopy should be requested from Access Copyright.

Project Editor: Michael Carroll

Copy Editor: Matt Baker

Design: Courtney Horner

Printer: Marquis

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Grey Owl, 1888-1938

                    Pilgrims of the wild / by Grey Owl.

ISBN 978-1-55488-734-7

                    1. Beavers--Biography. 2. Natural history--Canada.

3. Grey Owl, 1888-1938. I. Title.

QL737.R6G635 2010                     599.37                     C2009-907483-4

1      2      3      4      5          14       13       12       11       10      

We acknowledge the support of the Canada Council for the Arts and the Ontario Arts Council for our publishing program. We also acknowledge the financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund and The Association for the Export of Canadian Books, and the Government of Ontario through the Ontario Book Publishers Tax Credit program, and the Ontario Media Development Corporation.

Care has been taken to trace the ownership of copyright material used in this book. The author and the publisher welcome any information enabling them to rectify any references or credits in subsequent editions.

J. Kirk Howard, President

Printed and bound in Canada.


Dedicated to my friend and adviser, J.C. Campbell,

whose vision and sympathy and understanding alone

made possible the fulfillment of a long-cherished purpose


Introduction by Michael Gnarowski

A Note on the Text

Foreword by Hugh Eayrs

Preface by Grey Owl

Book One: Touladi


1 How Anahareo Had Her Way

2 How We Undertook a New Responsibility

3 How the Pilgrimage Commenced

4 How We Came to Touladi

5 How We Crossed the Slough of Despond

6 How We Built the House of McGinnis

7 How McGinty and McGinnis Opened a New Door

8 How We Made Christmas

9 How We Came to the Depths

Book Two: Queen of the Beaver People

1 How Anahareo Left Touladi

2 How the Queen and I Spent the Winter

3 The Coming of Rawhide

4 The Dark Hour and the Dawn

5 How We Left Rawhide Lake

6 How the Pilgrimage Was Ended


Bibliographical Note



When Grey Owl died on April 13, 1938, of pneumonia aggravated by drink and physical exhaustion, a long and knowing silence about his identity could be broken at a provincial newspaper, the North Bay Nugget, the editor of which had sat on the confusing and tangled story of an Englishman called Archie Belaney who had become a world-famous Indian known as Wa-Sha-Quon-Asin, a name given to him by the Ojibway people and rendered into English as Grey Owl. The shock of this revelation or exposure quickly scuttled the worldwide fame of Grey Owl whose message of conservation and the protection of wildlife was lost in the uproar caused by this exposure of his impersonation of a Native person. Revealed as a fraudster, he sank into obscurity, although his books continued to enjoy some currency thanks to publishers reprinting them from time to time. Revelations about Grey Owl’s identity and origins notwithstanding, it remained a matter of some irony that thirty or forty years after his death major reference works were still uncertain about his correct name. This was due in part to the fact that, for example, even when he had become known as Grey Owl he was still figuring in some official sources as Archie Grey Owl or Archie Belaney, the latter name appearing on government heques issued to him to the end of his days as an employee of National Parks of Canada.

Grey Owl was born on September 18, 1888, in Hastings, a seaside town in England, and was christened Archibald Stansfeld Belaney. The family had strong Scottish roots from which the name Stansfeld derives, and had risen in the course of the nineteenth century from modest beginnings as farm folk to success and prosperity through education and business acumen. By the middle of the century, the family could boast of clergymen, writers, and businessmen, remaining understandably silent about an acquitted murderer. Grey Owl’s father having proved to be a hapless adventurer who disappeared as a remittance man in America, and the mother deemed unsuited for raising a son, young Archie was given into the care of two maiden aunts and his maternal grandmother to be raised as an upper-class youth growing up in a large house in prosperous circumstances. An early photograph shows the young adolescent in a dutifully posed Victorian composition complete with a white flaring collar, a bow tie, a watch chain, and a fob across his thirteen-year-old middle, hair short and neatly in place, and a carefully placed dog at his feet.

All in all, one could not imagine a more striking contrast to a photograph we have of Grey Owl taken a dozen years later when he had become absorbed into the life of the Canadian North and of the Ojibway people who had befriended him. There we see an Archie unrecognizable as a white man, with feathers in hair that hangs in long braids, clothed in Native garb, and preparing to do a war dance with his Ojibway friends. The transformation was complete, and Archie Belaney was a few years and a world war away from emerging on the global stage as Grey Owl, Native author and spokesperson for the indigenous way of life, and prophetic critic of the destructive incursion of white civilization into the pristine but resource-rich wilderness. It was a role for which he had prepared his friends and associates with stories of being a half-breed born near the Rio Grande of a Scotsman father who supposedly served as a scout in the American army and an Apache woman. It seems that he took in most people except for his Native friends who sensed at once that he was more of a teller of tall tales than a Native half-breed, even while they welcomed him into their midst, taught him wilderness skills, and let him take one of their women for his first wife. It is also true that while Grey Owl was becoming an accomplished trapper, packer, and canoeman, he was also witnessing the effects of indiscriminate lumbering, the stampedes of prospectors in search of silver and mineral deposits, and the uncontrolled trapping of fur-bearing animals beginning to drive some species to near extinction.

At age thirteen Archie Belaney is decked out in all the finery befitting a young Victorian lad.

Growing up a solitary child, Archie had become immersed in fantasies about the Red Indian of North America, a fascination widely shared by many European youngsters of his day. Roaming the countryside near Hastings, finding his way into wooded areas, he imagined himself a Native. He felt an affinity for creatures of the forest, bringing home various animals that his loving and indulgent aunts allowed him to keep as pets. But fantasy began to nudge reality and, while still in his middle teens, he began to talk about going to America to experience the life that had dominated his imaginings. At the age of seventeen he managed to persuade his aunts to let him go to Canada where, he explained to them, he planned to start life as an immigrant settler. Worried that Archie was going the way of his wastrel father, they were nevertheless accepting, and Archie left England for North America.

To transform himself into Grey Owl, Archie Belaney combined what he knew about Ojibway life with his own romantic notions of Native people, complete with buckskins, beads, tomahawk, and eagle feather.

After an initial stint in the men’s haberdashery department of a large department store, Archie headed north into the wondrous and rumour-laden world of the Cobalt, Ontario, silver strike to begin his great adventure of assimilation into Native life and the ways of the North. At first boarding with a local family living near Lake Temagami, he applied himself to learning the crafts of wilderness living and tried to make a go of things as a novice trapper. Perhaps unable to secure a necessary grubstake from local merchants for a start in his new life, or perhaps for other reasons, he did make a quick return visit to Hastings in 1907. He was soon back in Canada, however, having learned that his father had been killed in a brawl and feeling estranged from his mother who had a new family of her own. Archie now set his mind firmly on making a go of an existence as an apprentice wilderness man as well as a handyman around the hunting and fishing lodges that were springing up to serve an influx of tourists from urban Canada and America.

Before long, and while working as a choreboy at the Temagami Inn, Archie became friendly with members of an Ojibway band that had long established itself in the area. Here, in 1906, he met Angele Egwuna, an Ojibway girl whom he would marry in 1910, and with whom he would have a child in 1911. It is at this stage of his life that Archie entered, fully and deliberately, into the process of separating himself from his white origins and remaking himself into a credible version of a Native persona. More significantly, it is here that Archie absorbed Native lore in a profound way, coming to believe in the souls and the sanctity of all living creatures. It is also at this juncture of his life that he began to evolve the fundamentals of his outlook, an understanding of the world that would lead him to declare that man was part of nature and not its master. It is also at this time that Archie’s inability to relate fully to other human beings proclaimed itself. Solitariness haunted him, and unable to settle down to family life he drifted away from Angele and the baby, thus beginning a series of unfulfilled and broken liaisons with women, some of whom he married, perhaps bigamously.

The First World War swept Archie up into the Canadian army where he was happy to serve as a humble infantryman until a leg wound saw him returned to England to convalesce not far from where he was born. Archie reconnected with his family, seeing his aunts and his younger brother, Hugh, and a childhood friend, Ivy Holmes, whom he would marry in February 1917. He underwent the final stages of therapy for his war wound in the ensuing months, and the couple decided that he would return to Canada to set things up for them and that Ivy would follow. Archie sailed for what had become his true home in September of that year. Ivy waited for almost four years before learning in a letter from Archie that he had a previous marriage. She filed for divorce on the grounds of bigamy in 1921.

Invalided out of the army because of his injuries, and having returned to his Native friends, Archie had resumed his earlier life of trapping, packing, and guiding, all skills at which he had become remarkably proficient. He was an expert shot with a rifle, something that had served him well in the war, was also equally impressive at knife throwing, and had a reputation as a hard-drinking troublemaker who would, on at least one occasion, have to make himself scarce for fear of being arrested for causing a disturbance. But, notwithstanding the boisterous, even wild life of a wilderness man, Archie had been nursing his private desires to become a writer. At least one friend of the period shortly before the First World War recalled that Archie had confessed the wish to become a writer, and had even read passages that he had jotted down. One of the ironies of all this was the fact that Archie was someone who had put maximum effort into becoming an unlettered child of nature, albeit given to his own brand of storytelling and yarn-spinning. He had all the charm of a folksy literacy that served to conceal a sound education in a good English grammar school and a well-read upbringing at the hands of a particularly determined aunt — in short a background that would help to make him somewhat at ease in the sophisticated world of critics, publishers, public lectures, and literary readings. A newspaper piece on Grey Owl published some forty years after his death quipped, tongue-in-cheek, that Grey Owl spoke good English for an Ojibway. When he began to write, the mask of a simple wilderness man fell away and echoes of, and references to, Shakespeare, Longfellow, Bunyan, Emerson, and others betrayed the true cultural antecedents of this unassuming and self-imagined Indian.

When Pilgrims of the Wild was published by Hugh Eayrs at Macmillan in 1934, Grey Owl had already established himself as a successful writer whose earlier work had impressed British and American critics with the power this unknown Indian had at conjuring up the reality and excitement of life in the woods.¹ But the tales he told, first in The Men of the Last Frontier (1931), and would later tell in Tales of an Empty Cabin (1936), were, eventually, supportive material that had grown out of the amazingly successful lecture tours (most so in England) that had made Grey Owl’s name and international reputation. Pilgrims of the Wild came in the middle of the six-year-plus span that embodied his career as writer, lecturer, wilderness icon, and conservationist-in-residence at Riding Mountain and Prince Albert National Parks in the Canadian Prairies. The conservationist potential of Grey Owl had caught the eye of Canadian government agencies, national railways, and forestry associations. Grey Owl’s early attempts at writing had appealed to the editors of the prestigious British publication Country Life and had found favour with the publishers of Canadian Forest and Outdoors, for which he had produced a goodly number of short articles, writing for them almost until his last days.

Pilgrims of the Wild is, however, a special and very different kind of writing. Usually identified in reference works as an autobiography, it is, in truth, more of an autobiographical reflection on only part of Grey Owl’s life, and is concerned in its modest echoes of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress with the story of a quest that had grown out of a realization that the unbridled exploitation of nature for crass profit would spell disaster for humanity. In that sense, and viewed from today’s experience and perspective, Grey Owl was stunningly prescient. The Canadian government, or more exactly its agency then known as National Parks of Canada, had twigged to the value of Grey Owl’s message and had co-opted him to its policies of promoting and protecting wilderness areas. Using Grey Owl’s special interest in saving the beaver from extinction, the Parks people made his efforts part of their official goal of preserving wildlife for the benefit of tourism and recreational fishing and hunting.²

Grey Owl often had whiskey jacks descend upon him in search of food.

The key person who emerges at this point in Grey Owl’s life is a young Iroquois girl, Gertrude Bernard, who hailed from Mattawa, Ontario, and whom Grey Owl had met when she was working as a waitress at a lodge on Lake Temagami. She was nineteen and Grey Owl was thirty-six. It was a short but intense courtship, with Gertrude sufficiently captivated by the tall, enigmatic individual who was as adept with his canoe as he was at playing the piano in the hotel that she became his companion and followed him on his trapline. Many years later she would tell her own story in My Life with Grey Owl (1940), published as Devil in Deerskins in 1972.

Undoubtedly, Gertrude was a pivotal presence at a critical stage of Grey Owl’s life who, feeling that Gertrude Bernard was somehow too ordinary-sounding and, very likely, not Indian enough, fashioned a name for her out of her ancestry among Mohawk chiefs on the reserve near Montreal, which the Bernard family had left, giving up their Native status as a result. Thus, Grey Owl compounded the name Anahareo by which Gertrude became known. As she tells it in the story of her life with Grey Owl, it was due to her that Grey Owl spared the lives of two beaver kittens whose mother had been caught in one of his traps. The two baby beavers, barely weaned and destined to be named McGinnis and McGinty, played a crucial role in converting Grey Owl from an animal-trapping, fur-skinning wilderness man to a beaver-protecting conservationist cum naturalist delivering his message on the world stage. This is the personal pilgrimage, the story of how it all came about, that is at the core of the narrative of Pilgrims of the Wild. Clearly, for Grey Owl, the process of growing into a committed environmentalist became a near-religious experience — from the large theme of conversion, to the slough of despond, to abandonment and loss, to the emergence on the bright highlands of achievement — that had profound and devotional meaning.

The beginnings of Grey Owl’s public career are almost laughably modest. Somewhat at loose ends, faced with a major decline in animal life in his familiar territory, and having given up on his life as trapper and guide, Grey Owl, Anahareo, and the two orphaned beavers drifted towards a remote and thinly settled area of Quebec some two hundred miles east of Quebec City and tucked into a corner almost on the border with New Brunswick. It was Lake Temiscouato that beckoned them, but more specifically Lake Touladi and the tiny settlement of Cabano where they were viewed with not unkind curiosity as les sauvages. By then Grey Owl’s outward appearance was very much that of a real Native and certainly not that of the theatrical Hollywood Indian that became the stock-in-trade of his public appearances on the lecture circuit. Nor were his circumstances anything like the celebrity status he was destined to enjoy a few years later. Eric McLean, a columnist writing for Montreal’s Gazette on October 2, 1988, some fifty years after Grey Owl’s death, left a vivid account of the man’s first public appearance. He wrote: Then I met Grey Owl, or Wa-sha-quon-asin, to give him his Ojibway name, I was about 10 years old at the time, and he and his wife, Anahareo, were earning a bit of money as dishwashers in one of the summer hotels at Métis Beach on the Gaspé. A little further on in his article McLean gave us an eyewitness account of what must have been Grey Owl’s very first public lecture. McLean recollected:

Anahareo poses with a beaver kitten that she and Grey Owl had adopted.

They had cleared out the dining room to seat a large audience, and Grey Owl and his wife stood behind a table at one end. He talked in a low, quiet voice (he expressed himself very well in English), walking slowly back and forth like an animal in the bush. I can still remember his hair drawn back in two long queues that framed his gaunt, lined face, and he wore the traditional deerskin jacket with a fringed cape over the shoulders…. While he talked, his wife held a young beaver that lay quietly in her arms…. During their Métis sojourn, Grey Owl and Anahareo were living in a tent they had pitched beside a pond about half a mile behind the hotel where they worked.

Métis Beach was a summer resort destination for well-to-do anglophone families from Montreal, and Grey Owl’s first lecture attracted the attention of prominent Montrealers who arranged for him to appear in Montreal, an important early step in what was destined to become a meteoric career as iconic Native carrying the message of conservation and the preservation of natural ways and Native life.

In the last few years of a tragically foreshortened life, Grey Owl served as a poster figure for Canada’s National Parks, appearing in films and showing numerous visitors around Beaver Lodge, his log cabin on the lake in Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan, which would become his final resting place. He acted (perhaps self-appointed but nevertheless powerfully effective) as a spokesman for Native people, saying, We each belong to our kind. Be proud to be an Indian. Remember the Indian has nothing to be ashamed of in his national history. Many useful things, articles of equipment, nature and travelling lore and much wisdom has been given by the Indians to the white race, even as the whites have given much to us.

Towards the end, Grey Owl was swept up in a gruelling round of public speaking, always drawing packed halls, especially in England, where his message seemed to resonate with greatest effect. His books enjoyed an equal popularity, with Pilgrims of the Wild going into numerous printings. He appeared in large cities and smaller towns, frequently speaking to standing-room-only audiences, and was summoned to a command performance before the Royal Family at the end of which, bidding farewell to King George VI, Grey Owl said, Goodbye, brother, I’ll be seeing you. As his publisher, friend, and biographer Lovat Dickson would recount it, They put a cross over his grave at Beaver Lodge in Saskatchewan. It bore two names, Archibald Stansfeld Belaney along one arm, and Grey Owl along the other. Years later the cross would be removed by the federal government, and another substituted, one which would simply say GREY OWL.³ The rest, as the man said, Is in the Book.

Grey Owl and his beaver Jelly Roll starred in several films produced by the National Parks Board of Canada.


1. Hugh Eayrs (1894–1940) was the near-legendary head of the Canadian branch of the international publisher Macmillan. Somewhat similar to Grey Owl, Eayrs came to Canada from England at the age of eighteen and entered the service of the Macmillan Company of Canada, rising to become its head in 1921. He did much to promote Canadian literature and was a steadfast friend and supporter