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Waskesiu Lake, Canada

Grey Owl's Cabin

Where the English trapper who faked a First Nations identity bunked with beavers. 

On Ajawaan Lake in Canada’s Prince Albert National Park, a conservationist who called himself Grey Owl lived in a cabin with beavers from 1931 to 1938. He faked a First Nations identity; the former trapper was actually an Englishman named Archie Belaney, though these details didn’t emerge until after his death.  

Grey Owl first moved to Canada from England in 1906. As a child, Grey Owl had already exhibited an apparent fascination with American Indians. He’d read about them and draw them in the margins of his school books. After relocating as an adult to North America, his interest only increased and he began signing his name with his newly adopted moniker. He eventually crafted an entirely new identity, claiming his father was Scottish and his mother was Apache.

After working as a fur trapper, wilderness guide, and forest ranger, he eventually dove into the world of conservation. His third wife (he’d already had two overlapping, failed marriages by the age of 37), a Mohawk Iroquois woman named Anahereo, helped convince him to make the switch from trapping beavers to advocating on their behalf.

Anahereo had accompanied him one day as he set up a trap to catch a mother beaver. The cries of the kits (baby beavers), which supposedly resembled the wails of a human child, caused her to beg him to release the mother. Though Grey Owl failed to heed to her requests because the pelt would earn them much-needed income, he did go back and locate the abandoned kits the next day. He and his wife raised them in their cabin.

Grey Owl went on to write several books about nature conservation, focused largely around a central theme of the negative effects of the commodification of the natural world. Grey Owl and Anahereo were featured in documentaries about their environmental work and became fairly well known among 20th-century conservationists within the United States and Canada. After Grey Owl died of pneumonia in 1938, the details of his fabricated First Nations identity came to light and tarnished his reputation.

His cabin at Ajawaan has since been rebuilt. It was originally halfway over the water so it would be a more suitable abode for the beavers. Grey Owl, Anahereo, and their daughter are buried nearby within the wilderness area where deer, elk, bears, and, of course, beavers may occasionally mosey through.

Know Before You Go

The cabin is accessible by gravel road to Kingsmere River, where there is a push cart to take a small boat or canoe on a rail portage, and a nine mile water journey to the north end of Kingsmere Lake. Alternatively, there is a trail on the east side of the lake. At the north end of Kingsmere Lake there is a trail to Ajawaan Lake and around it to the north side. There is a visitor center in the town of Waskesui on a lake of the same name (it means "Red Deer" in the local Cree language) which can provide additional information.