Despite the negativity associated with his actual life (nobody's perfect right?), his message of conservation and commitment to nature seem authentic enough. Smith presents a very objective view of Belaney's behaviour, stemming from his own abandonment by his parents to be raised by paternal aunts that culminated in total immersion into his native fantasy.
Whatever you think of the man however, one thing is certain, and that is Belaney's paddling skills improved sufficiently for him to be considered an proficient canoeist. I've developed a bit of a fascination with other people's paddles and wondered if Belaney himself had a preferred design. In the wonderful silent films from the National Film Board that made Grey Owl (and his pet beaver Jelly Roll) world famous, you see him using some sort of elongated beavertail design. Also interesting to note his traditional use of lashed paddles during the portage as well as what looks like a tumpline dangling from the center yoke.
Beaver People - 1928, 13 min
Beaver Family - 1929, 14 min 16 s
This famous pic of Grey Owl sitting on the edge of his canoe was taken during his employment as a ranger at Riding Mountain National Park, in Manitoba. It shows a large, elongated beavertail paddle.
Grey Owl at Riding Mountain National Park, Manitoba.
Date: [ca. 1931]
Photographer/Illustrator: Oliver, W.J., Calgary, Alberta
Due to low water conditions, Grey Owl moved to a cabin specially built for him on the shores of Lake Ajawaan, in Prince Albert National Park in the northern part of the adjacent province, Saskatchewan. The lodge was christened Beaver Lodge and Grey Owl famously extended an open invitation to any visitor...
Far enough away to gain seclusion, yet within reach of those whose genuine interest prompts them to make the trip, Beaver Lodge extends a welcome to you if your heart is right.
Tom Buttle's travel blog page on this area has some pics of Grey Owl's weathered old paddle that used to be displayed as well as lots of photos documenting the landscape. Obviously a different one than the beavertail from the Manitoba photo, but a classic straight forward design nonetheless. I also came across this picture of the paddle blade on Flickr as well as this shot of another young paddler posing with it.
Mr. Buttle posing with Grey Owl's signed paddle
If I ever make it out west with the canoe, this is one paddling destination I'll be visiting.