In 2015, Ray journeyed into the remote Temagami region in Ontario, Canada, where he found himself immersed in Canada’s canoe culture, and the captivating legend of Archibald Belaney, better known as Grey Owl.
Born in Hastings in 1888, Belaney held a fascination for the Native peoples of North America, and at the age of seventeen left England for Canada.
After immersing himself in the culture lifestyle Native people, Belaney became deeply disturbed by what he perceived as the destruction of the Native way of life due to the loss of territory and the influence of white culture.
“Grey Owl was the most effective conservationist of his age; he preached a message of concern on behalf of the creatures of the wild that he found suffering in the advancing tide of industrialisation, with its pollution and callous destruction of habitat. He seemed to be too good to be true; a half-breed Native, capable of describing his wilderness experiences with perfect prose.” says Ray.
“His books were best-sellers and his audience grew to span the world, including Kings and Princesses. But on his death it was revealed that Grey Owl, Wa-Sha-Quon-Asin was not a Native at all, but in fact an Englishman who had travelled to Canada to live out a boyhood dream.
“His real name was Archie Belaney, and his transformation into Grey Owl is one of the most fascinating human stories I have ever encountered. To have even the slightest chance to see beyond his accepted biography, one must walk for a while in his moccasins and encounter the lore and wisdom of the Anishinaabe First Nations and travel in the Ontario Wilderness. It is hard to imagine anyone with an open mind not being changed by this experience.
“The real joy of Grey Owl is the fact that he never betrayed the First Nations who so welcomed him. He never spoke of the ceremonies he had experienced, and in presenting his noble savage persona always claimed payment from his audience by making them think deeply about human influence on nature. In short, he was a hundred years ahead of his time. Even today, no popular naturalist has been able to enthral an audience while also explaining the negative impact of human society on wild lands in the way that he did.”