Thursday, January 7, 2010

Grey Owl's Canoe Paddles

Spent the holidays quite ill in bed. On the plus side, I was able to read an interesting biography, From the land of the shadows: The making of Grey Owl by Donald B Smith. Most people know Archie "Grey Owl" Belaney as one of the greatest fraudsters of the 20th century, an Englishman who passed himself as a native and ended up becoming world famous for his wilderness writings and message of conservation. When news of his actual history broke the day of his death, the public was shocked to find out he was a "fake" who happened to also be bigamist, an alcoholic and a general scoundrel who abandoned his many wives and his children.

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.



6 comments:

Mike said...

Great info on Grey Owl's paddles....guess great minds must think alike as I posted entry on Grey Owl's canoe on my own blog, http://reflectionsoutdoors.wordpress.com/2010/01/07/grey-owls-canoe/...but I was quite taken by your post, especially on Tom Buttle's travel blog....I've posted a link to here on my blog....and hope you don't mind I used some photos from Tom's blog that I wouldn't have found except for your info here.
Paddles up,
Mike

Murat said...

What a great coincidence! Appreciate all the effort you've put into researching and posting about the canoes of these famous folks.

I think we are thinking alike. A while back, I started a post regarding Thomson's canoe paddle but never got around to finishing it. Just read your update on Thomson's canoe...fantastic! I'll be linking to it for sure when I'm ready with my own Thomson post.
Cheers,
Murat

Mike said...

Look forward to the Thomson paddle post....love your blog....and the paddles you make....and I guess great minds do think alike then....well maybe your mind is great and mine is just so-so LOL LOL....any way, please keep up the great work....maybe we'll meet up one day on the water....and talk in person of famous paddles and canoes....cheers, Mike

Pawistik said...

Hi Murat,
I'll be up in that neck of the woods this weekend. Only an overnight trip into the bush of nearby Crean Lake so I won't make it to Ajawaan this time. I was looking at the maps though and thinking a trip by snowshoe starting with the Hanging Heart Lakes and heading into Crean and over the Chip Portage (which I've yet to find in real life) into Kingsmere and Ajawaan would make an excellent multi-day trip.
Cheers,
Bryan

Pawistik said...

Hi Murat,
I was talking to a friend that was at the cabin this summer and apparently paid closer attention than I did. He said the paddle is still there, which is different than I told you a few months back. He thought he had pictures of it somewhere and was going to check for me. If I hear back, I'll let you know what he found.
Cheers,
Bryan

p.s. The wolves were howling in the pre-dawn darkness when we were in the park this weekend.

Murat said...

Thanks for the update Bryan! The experience you described sounds magical. With the Ray Mears episode shot in the park recently, I'm going to make a serious effort to make it out there some day.

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