Many Ontarians know the curious story of Grey Owl: the legendary British-born Archibald Belaney who posed as a First Nations woodsman. In braids and buckskins, he started as a wilderness guide in the Temagami region of Northeastern Ontario. His published tales, including Pilgrims of the Wild, became worldwide bestsellers—leading to a private visit at Buckingham Palace with King, Queen and young princesses Margaret and Elizabeth!
But what about acclaim for his young wife Anahareo, from Mattawa? With both Mohawk and Algonquin ancestry, she was authentic First Nations. She was also the major influence for Grey Owl to stop trapping, and instead work to protect our forest creatures. She even talked him into keeping two young beaver kits, to the point where they lived with the couple like pets.
It was also Anahareo who encouraged Grey Owl to write down their shared thoughts about wilderness, such as, “Remember you belong to nature, not it to you.” As she said to him after his first article was published by the British Country Life magazine, “Just think Archie, now you can write about all kinds of things, and that means we can both stay with the beaver.”
As well as sewing and fringing his beautiful beaded jackets and clothing, and writing her own bestselling Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl, Anahareo was his equal for the 11 years they spent together. Grey Owl conceded that his wife was “no butterfly,” and that she “could swing an axe as well as a lip-stick.” To learn more about this fascinating, influential woman, follow in her footsteps through Northeastern Ontario.
Following in Anahareo's Footsteps
Temagami: Anahareo met Grey Owl when she was just 19 at Camp Wabikon, then a summer resort on Lake Temagami. Grey Owl was guiding guests on trips while she worked in the kitchen. They both attended a dance one Saturday night on Bear Island and Gertie (as she was called) was surprised to find Archie Grey Owl playing the drums! He convinced her to abandon her planned schooling in Toronto, and stay with him up north.
At nearby Finlayson Point Provincial Park
Paddle through the waters of Lake Temagami in a canoe—or sign up to glide through deep water in the Park’s 10-person Voyageur canoe. Read the plaque about Grey Owl, then camp out under the stars—or bed down in luxury at nearby Temagami Shores Inn and Resort, known for its excellent home-cooked cuisine.
Smoothwater Outfitters & Ecolodge
For canoe excursions from rentals to outfitted trip packages (including excellent meals), contact the folks at Smoothwater Outfitters & Ecolodge. Their motto: “Explore, learn, have fun, relax, rejuvenate, eat—on water or land.”
Anahareo In Mattawa
Mattawa & District Museum: You’ll know you’ve found this eclectic museum when you see the huge statue of legendary Big Joe Mufferaw out front (immortalized in a song by Stompin’ Tom Connors). Among the museum treasures, discover Grey Owl and Anahareo’s recreated log cabin with life-size figures of the pair. Admire Anahareo’s beautiful hand-sewn beadwork—and her original breeches. Other treasures: a necklace of bear claws and sewing kits made of bone.
- Then stroll down Main Street to see a wooden statue of Anahareo holding a pet beaver, just one of the amazing 11 nine-foot carved wooden statues lining Main Street.
- Visit Ste. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church, where Anahareo was confirmed and attended services with her grandmother. In this newly-built modern church built on the hill, admire the stained glass windows crafted by renowned glass artist Frédéric Back. The church is always open; Mass on Saturdays, 5 pm, Sundays, 11 am; English and French masses alternating weekly.
- Below the church in the Valley, find the street where Anahareo lived with her family. Leading toward old growth forest, it’s been named Anahareo Way in her honour.
- Hike the nearby woods and hills: Anahareo loved to hike through the wilderness, often skipping school to roam the woods and fields. “Off I’d go on those summer mornings, happy as a lark, to a day of hooky and adventure in the woods,” Anahareo wrote in her bestselling Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl.
Climb up through the trees to Mattawa’s famous Three Crosses up the mountain. Or set out further afield to hike the trails of the nearby Eau Claire Gorge Conservation Area. From May to October, novices can explore the gorge with Algonquin North Wilderness Outfitters. Their two-night canoe packages include overnight accommodations.
On June 20, 1983, Ahahareo did finally receive her due when she was bestowed the Order of Canada by Governor General Edward Schreyer for her “tireless, passionate work for wildlife conservation—through her writings, her numerous speaking engagements and her personal examples.” Indeed, even in her 70s, Anahareo spoke out on animal rights, writing letters and giving interviews against the poisoning of wolves on Vancouver Island. Other awards bestowed during her lifetime include the Order of Nature from the International League for Animal Rights in 1979 and an award from the City of Kamloops.
For more information about Anahareo, search out Anahareo’s own bestselling book, Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl (University of Manitoba Press), then travel in her footsteps through this beautiful part of Ontario.