Prince Albert National Park, north of Saskatoon, is one of the natural jewels of Saskatchewan. It features one of the few free-roaming herds of plains bison, the second largest colony of white pelicans in Canada. The park, the ninth largest of Canada’s national parks at 3,875 square kilometres, is an area of pristine lakes and forests of aspen and evergreens. It’s also is the site of an isolated log cabin and gravesite that has become a shrine to nature conservationists, the rustic home of a fraud and fake Grey Owl — who lectured to kings, prime ministers and commoners.
Behind the buckskins:
Grey Owl. The Indians called him Wa-Sha-Quon-Asin: He Who Walks By Night. During the 30s, he was Canada’s foremost naturalist and spokesman for preserving the wilderness and its inhabitants. 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, in fact, a full-blooded Englishman — Archibald Bela-ney.
Born in Hastings, England, in 1888, moved to Northern Ontario, where the Ojibway people befriended him. He eventually became a trapper. In 1925, he married Anahareo, a Mohawk womanwho convinced him to give up hunting and become a conservationist.
^Six years later, Grey Owl wrote a book, Men of the Last Frontier, an instant success. He also built a one-room cabin, Beaver Lodge, on the shore of Ajawaan Lake in Prince Albert Nation-al Park. Inspired by Anahareo, and the antics of his adopted orphan beavers, Jellyroll and Rawhide, he completed two more works, Pilgrims of the Wild and Sajo & The Beaver People.
You belong to nature:
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.”
In 1937, Grey Owl was persuaded to undertake a second speaking tour in Britain. The grueling pace of the trip exhausted him, and he died of pneumonia shortly after his return to the park the following year.
His death brought a sudden end to the Grey Owl myth. Initially, people were shocked and outraged, when they discovered that he was an impostor. Later, they read his works, and shared his sympa-thy for native peoples and forsaken wildlife trapped in the onslaught of white civilization. A trip to Grey Owl’s cabin soon became a pilgrimage to a shrine.
Two routes two Beaver Lodge:
Beaver Lodge is not difficult to reach but it does require some effort. There are two ways to reach the cabin — by a 17-kilometre hiking trail along the shore of Kingsmere Lake, or by boat or canoe across the lake.
The hiking trail hugs the shore of the lake, following the original route used by visitors in the 30s. Under the spruce canopy, feather mosses carpet the ground, while shafts of light and a profusion of calypso orchids brighten the trail. Beaver Lodge look much the way they did in the late 30s. The beavers have moved out, however. There were just too many people around. After Grey Owl died in 1938, he was buried near the cabin.
Although it’s possible to visit the site in one day, most hikers and canoeists overnight at one of the area’s camp-grounds. To experience the wilderness, as Grey Owl saw it, is to delight in the sight of northern lights, soaring eagles and osprey, and moose drinking from quiet misty lakes. It means listening to the howl of wolves, the hooting of owls and the call of loons.
Grey Owl’s popularity remains constant. His four books, published between 1931 and 1936, have never been out of print and a movie has been made of his life.
- Getting There: Waskesiu, the main town in Prince Albert National Park, is about three hours north of Saskatoon via Highways 11, 2 and 264.
- Prince Albert National Park is a 3,875-square kilometre of wilder-ness in central Saskatchewan. Daily admission, including GST, is $4 for adults, $3 for seniors and $2 for children, ages 6 to 15.
- Grey Owl’s Cabin is open year-round.
For further information on the trip to Grey Owl’s cabin, call Prince Albert National Park toll-free at 1-877-255-7267 or (306) 663-4522; or phone Tourism Saskatchewan toll-free at 1-877-237-2273.