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The eco-evangelist struck a chord with urbanites in the 1930s with his message of respecting nature, not lording over it. His words likely carried extra weight due to his “Apache” ancestry and indigenous knowledge.
The trapper-turned-conservationist certainly cut a striking figure in his deerskin coat and with his long, dark ponytail, and he was a popular lecturer on the benefits of environmentalism.
The trouble was, Grey Owl wasn’t Aboriginal at all. He was actually an Englishman named Archie Belaney, and who, after developing a fascination for First Nations culture as a boy, moved to Canada to find adventure in the early 1900s.
Grey Owl and his Iroquois wife, Anahareo, kept two beavers as pets, and lived for years at Prince Albert National Park in Saskatchewan, where they were vocal advocates for nature conservation.
Grey Owl’s true identity was only revealed after his 1938 death, when an exposé about him ran in an Ontario newspaper.
Watch this silent black and white NFB film showing Grey Owl and Anahareo interacting with the animals they kept as pets.