Idle No More: What Do We Say About Grey Owl

Born:  September 18, 1888 in Hastings, England, United Kingdom
Died:   April 13, 1938 in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, Canada

His name was Grey Owl — or Wa-sha-quon-asin, from the Ojibwe word wenjiganoozhiinh.

He toured North America and Britain, and everyone was in awe of this Aboriginal man. He wrote books and gave lectures and made films. When he was seen, he wore a fringed buckskin outfit (sometimes with full headdress, sometimes without) and claimed to all who would listen that he was the son of an Apache woman and a Scottish man.

In reality, his name was Archibald Belaney, and as a boy, he attended Hastings Grammar School. On March 29, 1906, at 18 years of age, Belaney boarded the SS Canada and sailed for Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada.  He took a train to Témiskaming, Quebec, Canada —  near the Ottawa River — and a few months later , settled in Temagami, Ontario, Canada.

When he enlisted with the Canadian Overseas Expeditionary Force (CEF) on May 6, 1915 he claimed to have been born in Montreal, Quebec.   He claimed to have served with the 28th Dragoons but since he landed in Halifax in 1906 and his activities can be traced during the time when the 28th Dragoons were active from 1904 through to 1915, the story was just another one of Archibald Belaney’s fantastic confabulations.  And who was John McVasser of Westfield, New Brunswick, Canada who was listed as his next of kin?

To appear as if he was half-Apache, Archibald Belaney dyed his skin and his hair.

So who was the real Archibald Belaney?  A visionary? An environmentalist ahead of his time? An escapist? A liar? Or was he something else?

These are all things to ponder on this day when Archibald Belaney was born in Hastings.

Elyse Bruce


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