Visit With Grey Owl (at King Edward School)
little white brothers and sisters. I am Wa-Sha-Quon-Asin, He-Who-Flies-By-Night,
Grey Owl. I come in peace. I come to speak to you of the mountains
and the great forests and the rocks and the pure waters of our
beautiful land. And of the men and animals who have lived here
for many moons."
speaker is tall and willowy; his movements are lithe but deliberate.
He is dressed in a fringed deerskin jacket, buckskin trousers
and moccasins. A knife is at his side.
is the winter of 1937-38. Mesmerized, the pupils of King Edward
Public School are seated on the floor of the kindergarten-auditorium
to hear this Ojibway Indian plead for a way of life which is being
eliminated by the callous "progress" of the white man.
Owl is on one of his many lecture tours. He will speak to the
students of several Border Cities schools before he leaves this
come to tell you that the animals of the forest are your friends."
speaks of animals we have never seen, the animals of picture books.
His commanding voice, resonant and firm, makes them real to us
for the first time in our lives. He speaks of the deer and bear,
the moose and loon, of the otter and eagle.
a child in the room takes his eyes off Grey Owl. We are enthralled
with his stories of the wild. There is, I feel, a special appeal
in his voice as he speaks of the beaver. He has dedicated his
life to saving this animal from extinction at the hands of onrushing
commercialism. I sense that he has a particular contempt for the
lumber barons and greedy trappers.
has an incredible appeal for children. This strange man reaches
us as no teacher ever has. The eyes - fierce and haunting, the
hair - coal-black, centre-parted and hanging in two braids to
his shoulders, the features - brown and aquiline, the sonorous
voice, hold us spellbound.
speaks to us as if he has hopes for us, as if he feels, in his
anguish, that he might change us, make us different from the society
of our parents, which he so detests. He reaches us as effortlessly
as he paddles his own canoe.
us this day he is a man of unspeakable sadness. A man making a
final stand against savage economic forces driving the denizens
of the forest (man and animal) from lands they have held since
will make his point well, this simple man of integrity. His impressions
will be lasting. Years later, hiking in Point Pelee National Park,
I will come upon some boys tormenting a small snake. When they
begin to circle the defenseless creature in order to stone it
to death, Grey Owl's haunting voice will come back to me.
group of sternly lectured boys will slink off. And I will
smile as the reprieved reptile slithers to safety at the side
of the road.
Owl's lecture ends on a dramatic note. He does an imitation of
a hoot owl for us. This proud man raises his hands to his mouth
and hoots for us, the children.
natural raconteur, who has spoken before the most sophisticated
audiences in the world in London, England; who has delivered his
message in person to King George V; who has lectured at Columbia
University and Harvard, has reached us children with a simplicity
and dedication marvelous to behold.
the slightest condescension, he has entered our world and left
his indelible message.
will leave the Border Cities after speaking to a gathering of
school principals at the Norton Palmer Hotel. He will continue
his crusade throughout Canada and the United States.
will return at last to his rustic cabin in Prince Albert National
Park, where he will die of exhaustion on April 13, 1938, five
months before his fiftieth birthday.
24 hours the press will pounce. Newspapermen will uncover the
background of this Englishman, born Archie Belaney, in Hastings,
on the English Channel, on September 18, 1888.
will write of his boyhood fascination with the Canadian Indians
and their way of life, of his coming to Canada at the age of 18.
will expose how he deliberately immersed himself in Indian life.
They will tell of how he dyed his face brown. Of his three Indian
wives and one English spouse. And somehow they will make it all
sound like a fraud.
they will miss the point. They will miss the sincerity, the dedication,
the love of this strange man who believed all wild life deserves
protection from senseless slaughter.
they will miss the effect he had on thousands of children sixty
site provides valuable links and lots of information about Grey
Owl, and the new movie, Grey Owl, a flim by Richard Attenborough,
starring Pierce Brosan, released in December, 1998.