Grey Owl and Adoption

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Grey Owl (Archibald Belaney) writer and conservationist



Note there are several versions of almost everything written about Grey Owl; in the following entry I give alternatives separated by a "/" without any particular preference for which one is "true."

Grey Owl was born Archibald Stansfield Furmage/Belaney in Hastings, the son of an English alcoholic ne'er-do-well/doctor, and his already-abandoned 16-year-old American/English wife. He was fostered from the age of four by two paternal aunts who took him from his mother/raised him very strictly after his mother moved to London to remarry. He probably never saw his father, who died/was murdered before 1907.

He was fascinated from childhood by Native American culture and in 1906, aged 17/18 he emigrated to Canada where he became a fur trapper. He married five times, not always bothering to divorce his current wife, and had four children. Gradually he slipped into the identity of a full-blooded Ojibway/Apache-Scottish half-blood named Grey Owl. Under the influence of one of his wives, Anahero, an Iroquois, he became an ardent conservationist, one of the creators of the modern conservation movement, especially championing the cause of the beaver. In the 1930s he became, as Grey Owl, a best-selling author and extraordinarily popular public speaker in North America and Britain, even conning some Canadian Natives and the likes of the young David and Richard Attenborough and the royal family. His deception was not malicious and there were always people who knew his true identity, which became public only days after his death from tuberculosis/pneumonia aggravated by alcoholism and probably increasing anxiety that his true identity would be revealed, in his log cabin/the local hospital in Riding Mountain National Park, Saskatchewan. But his assumption of false identities also helped him conceal his bigamous history and escape from the legal authorities - he was wanted for several offences in Canada - just as it helped gain sympathy for the cause of wilderness and nature conservation. The revelations about his real identity created an immediate cynical backlash among many of his former admirers, but recently his reputation has been rehabilitated as a romantic who made a valuable contribution to conservation.


Unwin, Peter. The Fabulations of Grey Owl. (1998). Extracts [Including portraits]. Also available at:] Davies, Gareth Huw. "Brave Heart, Forked Tongue," Radio Times, 17-23 April 1999, pp. 30-32 Fleet, Michael. "Grey Owl: The Story of Archibald Belaney," Edmonton Journal (Canada), 20 January 1998(?). Also available at: [1] Richard Attenborough has made a film of Grey Owl's life, starring Pierce Brosnan Grey Owl's life was also the subject of a BBC Timewatch film, "Grey Owl: The Great White Hoax," broadcast on BBC2, 17 April 1999