Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney


217 pages
Contains Photos
ISBN 1-55050-109-7
DDC C811'.54





Reviewed by William A. Waiser

William A. Waiser is a professor of history at the University of
Saskatchewan, and the author of Saskatchewan’s Playground: A History
of Prince Albert National Park and Park Prisoners: The Untold Story of
Western Canada’s National Parks, 1915–1946.


When Grey Owl died in a Prince Albert, Sask-atchewan, hospital in April
1938, the renowned author and conservationist turned out to be an
Englishman—born Archie Belaney—masquerading as a Native. Stung by
the so-called hoax of the century, many Canadian admirers recoiled at
the misrepresentation and began to question the sincerity of the man and
his cause.

In this latest book about Grey Owl, Armand Ruffo seeks to cast new
light on the “mystery” of the man—his adopted identity, his
conservation work, and his legacy. Using oral accounts (including those
of his own northern Ontario family) and archival sources, Ruffo
re-creates Grey Owl’s life through a mixture of poetry, diary entries,
reminiscences, fictionalized sections, and newspaper articles. The
result is an absorbing portrait of a complicated figure whose
determination to spread the message of conservation became the one
constant in his life. Despite a number of personal difficulties,
including bouts of anxiety, self-doubt, and a weakness for drink, Grey
Owl won over audiences on both sides of the Atlantic during two speaking
tours in the mid-1930s.

There are still unanswered questions though, and 60 years after his
death, his legacy is still being debated.


Ruffo, Armand Garnet., “Grey Owl: The Mystery of Archie Belaney,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 17, 2024,