Sacred High with the Beaver Man: Riding Mountain, Manitoba (3)


Manitoba Sunset, Clear Lake, Manitoba

Photo from the Canadian Park Service of Grey Owl

A subdued sunset on Clear Lake petered out as clouds moved in over central Canada, bringing rain the next day. It is cool, and the mornings in late September welcome a sprinkling of frost over the brilliantly yellow leaves of the poplar and aspen (some trees already stripped clean by winds). Shrub berries, like red huckleberries, weigh heavy on branches just waiting for their demise in the stomach of a passing black bear.

A person named Grey Owl was sitting on a log, tending a small smoky fire by the lake. He is almost 130 years old (born the same year as my own father, 1888). Grey Owl was born Archibald Stansfeld Belaney at Hastings, England. He motioned to me to sit beside him and I did, rolling a chunk of worn log next to the flames.

The man, a self-proclaimed half breed, had lived much of his life with the Ojibway, and from them learned native habits and prejudices. But first, in 1925 he had moved to northern Quebec where he served as trapper and guide. There he met and married a young Mohawk girl, Gertrude Bernard (Anahareo). She helped change his lifestyle from trapper to world famous conservationist and author. When two beaver kittens were left orphaned because their mother had died in Grey Owl's traps, Anahareo convinced Grey Owl to rescue them. The two orphans were adopted and named McGuiness and McGinty.

The beavers are grown and long gone, he said with a twinkle and smirk, perhaps meeting the fate that he and Anahareo had spared them once.

Few beavers remain on the Riding Mountain plateau now. Grey Owl no longer wanders into the townsite of Wasagaming either, where he used to tell stories at the Wigwam Restaurant. When alive,