When Anahareo and
Grey Owl Came to Metis…

By Kerry Martin (1)

It’s 1929 and we are moving up Boule Rock Road, past the Allans, the Airds, and the Smiths, round a corner to the right to a junction. There we see some of our friends from further west who have come up Astle Road to the same crossroads: left to the highway or right along the old road to the Boule Rock Golf Club. We go right, and halfway along it, we find the campsite of an aboriginal couple; across the road is this large rock (about which more later). 

The woman was Anahareo or, as she became known to the residents, Pony; the man called himself Grey Owl. 

Grey Owl had been a trapper, but had evolved into a conservationist focused on the preservation of the beaver whom he had come to see as “like little folk from another planet we could not yet quite understand”; later he shared a house with one.  The couple’s temporary Metis ‘household’ included a couple of beavers – Jelly Roll and Little Brother. Grey Owl had come to Metis to get a job guiding, but was disappointed to find the summer residents more interested in golf and tennis than hunting and fishing. 

Finding a place to stay was a second problem; their first campsite had no fresh water for the beavers! Fortunately, local resident Fred Astle allowed them to move to their current campsite, beside Astle Pond. 

Grey Owl found some work as a gardener’s helper and charged local kids a dime to view Jelly Roll.  Pony looked for work and replied to an ad for a Scandinavian maid, but discovered that the lady – Mrs. Madeline Peck – really needed someone to talk with her Scandinavian maid, who was homesick. 

Pony talked with Mrs. Peck and explained the situation the couple was in. Mrs. Peck was sympathetic to their goals and activities and, after reading one of his articles (from Country Life), arranged for him to give a talk in the Seaside Hotel ballroom. Grey Owl was not happy, first, that Pony had smuggled the article to Mrs. Peck, and second, with the idea of giving a speech – he had never done this! And he felt “like a snake that has swallowed an icicle, chilled from one end to the other.” 

When he came to speak, the hall was jammed, he was introduced, and he quickly gained confidence. Afterwards, the applause was loud and long. A British army colonel, probably summer resident Wilfrid Bovey, spoke words of appreciation and people crowded around them, shook their hands, and congratulated them. The next day, Mrs. Peck gave the pair the $700 received from the tickets sold for the event. Grey Owl said had he known that people had paid to listen he would have been twice as frightened to speak.

Other presentations followed in different places in the vicinity that summer.  Some parents arranged camp craft lessons and stories, especially ghost stories, either on the rock opposite the couple’s campsite or at bonfires on the beach and, at the end of the summer, they had accumulated a considerable nest egg of over $1,000 in total to take back home where a letter from Country Life, asking him to write a book, was waiting.

Did you know… ?  The rock across from Grey Owl’s and Anahareo’s camp was called Pearl’s (Astle) rock – each Astle girl had rocks on their family land where they would play:  Gertude’s (Smith) rock, Viola’s (Astle) rock, etc…).  Pam Andersson’s grandfather told her that her cousins Ruby Astle (Boule Rock Hotel) and Doris Tredinnick used to bring food from the Boule Rock Hotel to the couple – in part so that they could play with the beaver! 

In the years following Anahareo’s and Grey Owl’s stay in Metis, there were books (five of Grey Owl plus two by Pony), films, and tours, including two in England. 

  • In 1935-36, he attended over 200 meetings, spoke to over half a million people, and gave a national radio broadcast on the BBC. 
  • The second tour, in 1937 culminated in a Royal Command Performance at Buckingham Palace, with the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret attending and enthralled.

In just over five years, this impoverished woodsman was recognized as the best-known Canadian author and lecturer of his day with an annual income of about $30,000. And it all started here in Metis.

After his death in April 1938, it was revealed that he was an imposter, which a number of other aboriginals reportedly had generally recognized but, since they supported his message, they had kept quiet. His true name was Archie Belaney and he was English from Hastings, raised by his widowed grandmother and two aunts. While he had originally been attracted by life in the wild, and accepted the hardships that this could entail, he later built an aboriginal identity, and adopted more ‘Indian-seeming’ modes of dress on lecture tours to promote his conservationist message.

There are three reasons why this is important today.

  1. This was an era in the national evolution of English Canada, when we saw ourselves less as British North Americans and more as distinct Canadians. It was a time when The Group of Seven and other artists began painting the land; the Confederation Poets(2) and authors like Sir G. D. Roberts wrote about it; Nell Shipman(3) made movies featuring it; and Grey Owl raised national consciousness of the land, animals, and particularly its indigenous inhabitants.
  2. It’s a reminder that History is not all about kings and queens and other famous people; it’s about everyone and everything, and it’s by everybody, not just learned professors and teachers.
  3. Our environment is for everybody.  Grey Owl said, “Man, that is civilized man, has commonly considered himself the word of creation, and has been prone to consider that everything existing on this planet was put there for his special convenience, and that all animals… were placed on earth to be his servants.”  Grey Owl disagreed: one of his most famous quotes is: “Remember you belong to nature, not it to you.”

Believing everything upon this planet is for human use has had disastrous consequences, not only for the ‘lesser creatures’, but also for the earth itself.  Grey Owl contended that the only way environmental catastrophe could be averted is if humans reverse their attitude towards nature. He is gone, but his message lives on.

1. John Kirwin (Kerry) Martin was a former teacher of history and geography (their best teacher, according to some former students); formidable opponent (but wonderful partner) on doubles tennis at the Cascade Golf and Tennis Club for decades; dedicated supporter of the Little Metis Presbyterian Church; and always passionate about history.  He had been working on unearthing information about Grey Owl in Metis, including finding the locations mentioned above and writing this piece to present to the community when he passed away in 2018

(Below left at Metis Beach, young Kerry, centre, with younger brothers Peter (R) and Michael (L); right – Kerry later in life)

 2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Confederation_Poets; name given to a group of Canadian poets born in the decade of Canada’s Confederation (the 1860s) who rose to prominence in Canada in the late 1880s and 1890s. The term was coined by Canadian professor and literary critic Malcolm Ross, who applied it first to four poets – Charles G.D. Roberts (1860–1943), Bliss Carman (1861–1929), Archibald Lampman (1861–1899), and Duncan Campbell Scott (1862–1947) – in the Introduction to his 1960 anthology, Poets of the Confederation, which began: “It is fair enough, I think, to call Roberts, Carman, Lampman, and Scott our ‘Confederation poets.'”  The term has also been used since to include William Wilfred Campbell (?1860-1918) and Frederick George Scott (1861–1944), sometimes Francis Joseph Sherman (1871–1926), sometimes Pauline Johnson (1861–1913) and George Frederick Cameron (1854–1885), and Isabella Valancy Crawford (1850–1887) as well.

3. https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/nell-shipman; screenwriter, actor, director, producer, author (born in Victoria, British Columbia on 25 Oct 1892; died in Cabazon, California on 23 Jan 1970); Shipman launched Nell Shipman Productions and proceeded to write, direct, star in and produce outdoor adventure movies that always featured a variety of “wild” animals, actually 70 creatures, including bears, raccoons, and skunks, that she had trained herself.  Her ability to get animals to cooperate with her was legendary and she spoke out against their inhumane treatment – common during filmmaking of the era.  Like Anahareo, she was a woman with considerable ability and courage, who was an individual and independent.