Where: Waskesiu, Saskatchewan, West Canada
When: May to end of September
Weather: The weather here is highly unpredictable, so bring plenty of layers with you. In the summer, it can range from 34C to as low as 5C
Best sights: You may catch a glimpse of wolves and bears on the trek, and at the lodge see a house created especially for Grey Owl’s pet beavers
Remember to bring: Rucksack, day bag, waterproof trainers or walking boots, waterproof trousers and jacket, a hat, and mosquito repellant
Who Was Grey Owl?
The Native American man known as Grey Owlwas an icon for Canadians of his era. He had done various jobs to make a living, including fur trapping in his youth. He enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1915, serving in Europe. He was twice wounded in action – quite probably by his own gun.
He married Gertrude Bernard in 1924 and taught her how to hunt and trap, as he had learned, in order to survive the harsh conditions they were living in. They had one daughter named Shirley Dawn. His wife Pony, as she liked to be called, hated seeing cruelty to animals and convinced Grey Owl to channels his efforts elsewhere. She encouraged him to celebrate wildlife and to begin writing about it.
Zay harding canoes to Grey Owl’s lodge
He quickly found that he had a talent for writing and quickly grew very fond of his environment. He even adopted two young beavers, who he called McGuinty and McGuinnis, after he had trapped their mother. He began work on his first novel and regularly had articles published in magazines such as Country Life. The language he used was graceful, commanding and poetic, perfectly capturing life in the wilderness.
Grey Owl was a very forward thinking man and persuaded the Canadian government to send a film crew to his cabin in Saskatchewan to witness his trained beavers. This film helped to launch his popularity.
As a charismatic speaker, Grey Owl was asked to conduct two major tours of Canada, the United States and the UK (in 1935 and 1937), further spreading his message to preserve the natural environment and the animals within it. He took on a similar role for the Canadian Forest Service, acting as their spokesperson. By now, Grey Owl was beginning to suffer from failing health, exacerbated by exposure to mustard gas during the war and returned to Beaver Lodgewhere he died in 1938. It wasn’t until after his death that the real facts of his life began to emerge.
In fact, Grey Owl was an ordinary Englishman, born in the sleepy town of Hastings, England, in 1888. He was not a Native Indian, fooling even his wife and publisher. He had married four different women, including Pony, fathering four children, though he had never divorced. Although a number of factors led to his death, it was primarily down to years of alcohol abuse. These revelations were greeted with shock by the Canadian public; the renowned espouser of love for the environment has in fact been a lying, alcoholic bigamist, yet had risen to iconic status around the world.
Grey Owl Lodge Canoe Trek
This is a 25 kilometer round trip that takes two days. Drive from Waskesiu village for 15 miles to where the road ends. Here, load up the canoe and paddle along the quiet little Kingsmere River, lined with cat-tail reeds, until you join the 11 miles long and isolated Kingsmere Lake, where there’s a good chance of seeing bald eagles, kingfishers, and red squirrels. Along the trail there’s a mineral lick which is a good place for spotting moose, deer, and maybe even wolves and bears.
Although the paddle trail looks very easy, it can be treacherous if you don’t have a guide or know how to navigate these waters. It’s strongly recommended that you keep close to the shore as the center of this vast lake can whip up in to swirls and unfortunate visitors have been known to drown very quickly.
You should camp overnight in Northend, a basic but clean campsite. Walk the last two miles toGrey Owl’s Lodge through glades of birch and aspen. The cabin stands on the edge of the lake, surrounded by thick forest, built from logs and incorporating a beaver lodge, which you can look inside. The beavers used to enter the cabin through an underwater entrance.
Waskesiu Lake Marina Adventure Centre
If you book a tour with one of the local outfitters, they will provide most of the equipment you’ll need. We recommendWaskesiu Lake Marina Adventure Centreand they will plan a trip based on your needs. They have generations of experience and know the local rivers and lakes better than anyone. The guides are highly skilled and knowledgeable. If you plan an overnight trip, they will set-up camp and provide a high class dinner – first class!
Wanuskewin Heritage Park Authority
Contact: Sanford Strongarm
R.R #4 Saskatoon
S7K 3J7, Canada
Telephone: 306-931-6767 x249
Learn more about the First Nations people of Saskatchewan.
By Amy Flanergan