Camp of the Owls: Sporting Sketches and Tales of Indians


97 pages
ISBN 0-88999-425-0
DDC 971.5'1004973





Edited by Edited and illustrated by Peter Mitcham
Reviewed by Peter Goodchild

Peter Goodchild is an editor at Simon & Pierre Publishers.


Camp of the Owls reprints nine “sketches” published from 1839 to
1841 in the London Sporting News. The author applies his diversified
education (he was, among other things, a lawyer and a natural resources
expert) to his observations of the wilds of the Maritime provinces. In
the introduction, Mitcham notes that Perley was an environmentalist
ahead of his time, and that he was free from the usual racist attitude
toward Indians, displaying “no condescension.”

The text does not entirely read this way, however. The fishing and
hunting expeditions are descriptions of wholesale slaughter. And
although one may grant that a guide’s role is a subordinate one,
Perley’s treatment of his “dusky companions” is often arrogant; an
Indian’s near loss of “his favourite canoe,” for example,
overloaded by the fish and game of his white clients, is just a laughing
matter. The Indians occasionally appear as Canadian versions of Amos and

Yet having said this, one could concede that Perley’s attitudes
towards the environment, and towards Native peoples, were better than
most of his contemporaries’. He sometimes questions the
“indiscriminate slaughter” of animals. His interest in tribal
distinctions, and in Native languages, was unusual for his time. What is
most refreshing about these stories is the fact that Perley accepted the
wilderness for what it was, not for any resemblance it might bear to the
English countryside. The stories make pleasant reading. His writing is
sharp, vivid, devoid of the usual prolixity of his times; the very
“sketchiness” of the stories is one of their chief virtues. Early
Canadian writing of this sort is largely unexplored territory, and it is
good to see such a writer’s work being made more accessible.


Perley, Moses., “Camp of the Owls: Sporting Sketches and Tales of Indians,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,