||May 19, 2006
Lives of Two Native Women Celebrated
in Mattawa and North Bay
The powerful stories of the
lives of Angele Egwuna an Ojibwa woman from Bear Island and the Mattawa Iroquois
woman Gertrude Bernard later known as Ahanareo are linked irrevocably. They
were the two women who helped make author, conservationist, lecturer and
personality Archie Belaney what he became – Grey Owl “the best known author and
lecturer of his day” in the 1930’s.
In a remarkable coincidence
the lives of these women are being recognized and celebrated in two separate
events that were planned independently but happen at the same time in June.
GERTRUDE BERNARD (ANAHAREO)
Gertrude Bernard known as
Gertie or Pony by her friends left her family in Mattawa in the summer of 1925
at age 19 to work at Camp Wabikon on Lake Temagami. She was a liberated woman
before her time – independent, intelligent, strong willed and stunningly
& Dawn c. 1936 – Ontario Archives c273 Vol.37 14625. c 1936.
She grew up with her
grandmother, aunt and uncle, and father after her mother’s death. Her native
background is outlined at some length in her 1972 book Devil in Deerskins. Her
great grandmother who was not native was captured in a Six Nation victory and
she married and stayed with her captors. Gertrude was proud of her Mohawk blood
and her native background. She was bored in school and often skipped. As a
tomboy she ran with the local boys, playing and enjoyed life. She even had a
small cabin retreat that was an abandoned logger shanty beside the Mattawa River
near where she lived. She learned about the bush from her father who was a bush
worker and carpenter. She made maple syrup and was familiar with the bush.
While at Camp Wabikon
in1925 wealthy American guests offered to pay her way to Loretto Academy in
Toronto to further her education. Also while at Camp Wabikon she visited Bear
Island where Angele Egwuna lived with her teenage daughter Agnes and Agnes &
Gertrude became friends. Coincidentally Archie Belaney after many years away
from Bear Island except for the occasional visit to see Angele returned in the
summer of 1925 and worked as a guide. Archie got to know his daughter Agnes
again and Angele bore his second daughter Flora with him in 1926.
Gertrude beside all of the
other characteristics mentioned above was also quite romantic and fell in love
with her “Jessie James”, Archie Belaney almost double her age.
Gertrude had to leave
Wabikon early on family business but Archie followed and briefly visited Mattawa
spending most of his time with her father. He wrote Gertrude regularly and
headed into Quebec to trap that winter. Temagami was trapped out and only
aboriginals were allowed to hunt and trap.
About 40 miles from
Forsythe, Quebec Archie set up camp in the bush, building a small separate cabin
nearby called Pony Hall on speculation that she would come. He talked Gertrude
into coming for a week’s visit and they were together for eleven years. She was
often away exercising her curiosity and working at prospecting and other work.
With poor trapping, poor health and Gertrude’s abhorrence of trapping Archie
began to write and lecture. He became Grey Owl and she became Anahareo. The
story is told in the 45 million dollar Grey Owl movie shot in 1999 and in their
books and other movies.
In a future article I will
tell more about her and profile the exciting daylong event on Saturday June 17
on Explorer’s Point in Mattawa celebrating the 100th anniversary of
her birth on June 18th, 1906. Coincidentally it is also a memorial
since she died exactly 20 years ago on June 17, 1986. To find out more now
check out the website for the event at
When Archie left Angele,
who he married in 1910, she turned to the bush for survival and was a remarkably
capable bush woman and mother. She took their daughter Agnes with her hunting,
trapping, fishing, selling berries and making crafts for sale. Agnes did not
attend school but like her mother was a hard worker, intelligent and generous.
||Angele & Agnes – centre and
centre right c.1913 Frank Speck photo
They lived in a wigwam most
of the time at Austin Bay in south Lake Temagami and at Bear Island when they
were not itinerant. They eventually built their own small log house. Angele
had a son Ben from a local relationship and later had Archie’s daughter Flora
all of whom she raised with care.
Angele was married to
Willie Turner for the eleven years prior to her death in 1955. She received a
regular portion of Grey Owl’s estate that later went to Agnes. Agnes married
Romeo Lalonde and had four children and many grandchildren. Now 67 years after
Grey Owl’s death the family has expanded and prospered – a living memorial to
An exhibition at the W.K.P.
Kennedy Gallery in North Bay will celebrate the lives of Angele’s family and her
relationship with Archie Belaney who she never stopped loving and who she taught
the native language and way of life. The exhibition runs from June 10 (the
opening is at 2 p.m.) and runs until July 13th overlapping the
Mattawa event. There will be an artist and historical talk on Sunday the 11th
(2 p.m.), an author’s night with “Hap” Wilson and Grey Owl biographer Armand
Ruffo (June 15 7-9 p.m.) and a showing of the Grey Owl movie, etc. For further
information log on to
www.kennedygallery.org and check on future exhibitions for full details. I
will give more details closer to the event.
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