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June  16, 2006

Grey Owl’s Anahareo Remembered in Mattawa

With a strong aboriginal population, Mattawa is recognizing its First Nations heritage in a plan for ongoing annual “Cultural Gatherings”.  The first of such events is taking place today, tomorrow and Sunday celebrating the life of the remarkable native woman Gertrude Bernard who was born one hundred years ago this Sunday, June 18, 1906.  She went on, after two decades in Mattawa, to become the wife and inspiration of Grey Owl, Canada’s best-known author, lecturer, conservationist and naturalist in the 1930s.  She went on after his 1938 death to live for close to 50 years as a conservationist in her own right achieving the Order of Canada in 1983 and other accolades. 

Anahareo and pet beaver

The celebration will be started today with a sacred fire and the 1999 Grey Owl movie will be shown at the Champlain Theatre on Main Street.  Annie Galipeau who played the part of Anahareo opposite Pierce Brosnan in the 1999 Grey Owl movie is expected to be present for the showing and throughout the weekend including the Mass Sunday at St. Anne’s Roman Catholic Church on Sunday. 

As mentioned here recently the Mattawa event coincides with the celebration of the life of Angele Egwuna, a Teme-augama Anishnabi woman from Bear Island who was Grey Owl’s first wife and a major influence on him.  An exhibition, The Angele Project at the W.K.P. Kennedy Public Art Gallery in the Capitol Centre runs Tuesday to Satruday from 11-5 to July 13.  It includes paintings, photographs, video, artifacts and ephemera related to her life with Grey Owl and her life thereafter.  Grey Owl besides having a growing respect as a Canadian icon lives on in the large extended family that grew from Angele through 5 generations to the present day. 

Annie Galipeau actress who played Anahareo in 1999 Grey Owl movie

The link between Angele and Anahareo goes back to 1925 when Anahareo was working at a lodge on Lake Temagami and got to know Angele and Agnes and the itinerant Grey Owl who was visiting his wife and daughter.  Anahareo got to know Grey Owl and in 1926 went trapping with him beginning a remarkable relationship that became the classic Canadian love story told in books, plays, poetry and the 45 million dollar Grey Owl movie. 

Archie Belaney went from being an impoverished trapper to “the best known author and lecturer of his day” in the 1930s.  Gertrude Bernard, half his age, independent, intelligent and opinionated, was what was needed to get Archie away from trapping and into working with beavers, writing and lecturing.  In spite of his success she did not take a secondary role and even though she was there when he needed her, she drifted away leading a life of her own. 

Anahareo went to Prince Albert Park with Grey Owl as conservationists and their daughter Dawn was born in 1932  Thousands visited Beaver Lodge to see a dam, the beaver and other animals.  Movies were made and Archie began to write his four bestselling books and numerous articles.  Anahareo stayed in Prince Albert while he went on his first lecture tour to England, the U.S. and Canada but by the second tour in 1937 she was gone from his life permanently.  She was a liberated woman ahead of her time and lived life to the full. 

Anahareo c.1938  

Anahareo remarried and raised two other children and remained close to Dawn.  Dawn was also an active conservationist and with Anahareo worked on several causes together.  Dawn and her husband revisited many of the locations where Anahareo had lived, including Mattawa and coincidentally died in Hastings, England, Archie’s birthplace, in 1983.  Dawn wrote a book called Smoke about a Metis boy who raised a wolf when the mother died due to poison. 

Anahareo wrote a biography in 1940 two years after Grey Owl’s death and wrote the successful Devil in Deerskins in 1972 when there was a resurgence of interest in Grey Owl when the conservation movement was growing. 

Anahareo lived a full life in spite of the problems of being a woman, native and a non-conformist during her life. 

The event on Explorer’s Point starting at 10:30 a.m. tomorrow, June 17 includes the opening of an expanded display in the museum, the unveiling of a Clermont Duval Painting, recognition of the family, native activity, music, dance, drums, crafts and a traditional native meal to mention only some of the activity.  Check www.culturalgathering.com for details. 

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