Although Saskatchewan's Prince Albert National Park is known for its plains bison and white pelicans, it is most famous for Grey Owl. During the 1930s, Grey Owl was Canada's foremost naturalist and spokesman for preserving the wilderness and its inhabitants.
|Prince Albert National Park sign|
|Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll|
Waskesiu, the main town in Prince Albert National Park, is the starting point for a trip to Grey Owl's cabin. To drive to Waskesiu (located three hours north of Saskatoon), follow Highways 11, 2 and 264.
Biography of Archibald Belaney
Grey Owl claimed he was the son of an Apache woman and a Scot, who was a U.S. Cavalry scout. But behind the buckskins and braided hair, he was an Englishman, named Archibald Stansfeld Belaney.
Born in Hastings in 1888, Belaney dreamed of faraway lands as a child. At the age of 17, he moved to northern Ontario, Canada, where the Ojibway people befriended him. First Nations people called him Wa-sha-quon-asin, which means: "He who walks by night."
In 1910, Belaney married Angele Egwuna, a woman from the Bear Island Band. Although he admired the First Nations' simple way of life, he was unable to embrace it fully, and their marriage dissolved a year later.
Belaney enlisted in the Canadian army and sailed to France, where he was wounded. Returning to England to convalesce, he met and married his childhood sweetheart. Again, the marriage didn't last.
Back in Canada, Belaney became a trapper. In 1925, he married Gertrude Bernard, a Mohawk woman. Anahareo, as he called her, convinced him to give up hunting and become a conservationist.
Books by Grey Owl
Six years later, he built a one-room cabin, Beaver Lodge, on the shore of Ajawaan Lake in Prince Albert National Park, Saskatchewan. The Dominion Parks Service (now Parks Canada) noticed Belaney and hired him as their first naturalist.
Using the name, Grey Owl, Belaney wrote a book, Men of the Last Frontier, which became an instant best-seller. Inspired by Anahareo, and the antics of his adopted orphan beavers, Jellyroll and Rawhide, he completed two more books, Pilgrims of the Wild (1935) and Sajo & The Beaver People (1935).
In 1935, Grey Owl visited England on a lecture tour, where he won the hearts of his audience with the message: "Remember you belong to nature, not it to you." He then returned to his Saskatchewan cabin to write his final book, Tales of an Empty Cabin, published in 1936. The cabin was empty, because Anahareo and their daughter, Shirley Dawn, had moved into another building farther up the hill.
His cabin was smelly and dirty, because of the beaver lodge inside. (Belaney had built the cabin on the Ajawaan Lake shoreline, so Rawhide and Jellyroll could enter the lodge under the wall of the cabin.)
Writing left Grey Owl little time for his family. In addition, more than 700 visitors arrived at his cabin during the 1936 summer.
In 1937, he was persuaded to undertake a second speaking tour in Britain. The grueling pace of the trip exhausted him. Grey Owl died of pneumonia, on April 13, 1938, shortly after he returned to Prince Albert National Park.
Grey Owl is buried near his cabin, in a small graveyard. Next to him are the ashes of Anahareo and Shirley Dawn, who died in 1986 and 1984.
The death of Archibald Belaney brought a sudden end to the Grey Owl myth. Initially, people were shocked and outraged when they discovered that he was an impostor.
Later, after reading Grey Owl's books and viewing films about his beavers and conservation message, people became sympathetic toward native people and forsaken wildlife, trapped in the onslaught of white civilization.
A trip to Beaver Lodge became a pilgrimage to a conservationist's shrine. Today, Grey Owl's cabin is open year-round.
Inside the cabin, you can see Grey Owl's spruce pole bed, a stove and a pile of branches formed into a beaver lodge below the window. The beavers moved out after visitors began arriving.
Beaver Lodge is not difficult to reach, but it does require some effort. Grey Owl, himself, described its location as "far enough away to gain seclusion, yet within reach of those whose genuine interest prompts them to make the trip."
Canoe and kayak trips to Grey Owl's cabin begin at Waskesiu. Drive along on the north shore of Waskesiu Lake to the parking lot at the south end of Kingsmere Lake. The first nine miles (15 kilometers) are paved. The rest of the 20-mile (32.5-kilometer)-long road, now called Kingsmere Rd, has a gravel surface.
You can follow the same canoe route used by Grey Owl. It takes about three hours to paddle your canoe or kayak north, along the east shore of Kingsmere Lake.
At the rapids, at the top of the lake, you can portage your canoe or kayak for 1,970 feet (600 meters), on rail carts, or walk the last two miles (three kilometers) to Beaver Lodge on the west side of Ajawaan Lake.
|Following Grey Owl's trail|
|Photo © Barb & Ron Kroll|
The 12.5-mile (20-kilometer)-long trail to Beaver Lodge takes six hours to hike each way. The Grey Owl trail begins at the parking lot near the Southend campground and follows the eastern shore of Kingsmere Lake to the Northend campground.
Interpretive signs with Grey Owl quotes highlight the last two miles (three kilometers) of the hiking trail. You can buy detailed hiking route guides and Grey Owl trail maps from the Friends of the Park Bookstore in Prince Albert National Park in Waskesiu.
While there, visit the Beaver Lodge replica of the interior of Grey Owl's home. The gallery contains artifacts, such as Archibald Belaney's magazine articles.
Prince Albert National Park camping
Although it is possible to visit the cabin where Grey Owl lived on a day-trip, most hikers, kayakers and canoeists overnight at one of the campgrounds on the east side of Kingsmere Lake.
Between Southend and Northend campgrounds, you will find the Westwind Group Campground and Chipewyan Portage and Sandy Beach backcountry campsites. Camping is not allowed at Grey Owl's cabin.