Literary icon and passionate environmentalist was one of Cape Breton's most famous summer residents
SYDNEY — A Canadian literary icon and one of Cape Breton's most famous summer residents, Farley Mowat is being remembered as a master of the written word and a passionate defender of the natural world.
© TC Media - Cape Breton Post
Author Farley Mowat improvises on a bodhran during a boat tour as part of the Atlantic Canada's Storytelling Festival in St. Peter's in this Cape Breton Post file photo. The literary icon, seen with wife and fellow author Claire Mowat, read excerpts from his books 'The Boat That Wouldn't Float' and 'The Dog That Wouldn't Be'. Mowat died May 7, 2014.
The celebrated author and respected environmentalist died Tuesday in Port Hope, Ont., at age 92, just days before his May 12 birthday. News of his death became public Wednesday, with friends, colleagues and readers across the country taking to social media and the airwaves to pay tribute to Mowat.
Renowned author Silver Donald Cameron, who divides his time between Halifax and D'Escousse, Cape Breton, said he first met Mowat more than 40 years ago, and they have been friends ever since. He described Mowat as a warm, generous and giving friend.
"I will remember him in two capacities," said Cameron. "Privately, I'll just remember as a lovely man that I was privileged to know and have as a friend. And publicly, I'm going to remember him as a towering writer who was consistently right about great big issues like the future of the whales, the North, the native people, and all kinds of things."
Born May 12, 1921, in Belleville, Ont., Mowat grew up in Windsor, Ont., and Saskatoon, Sask. In recent years Mowat and his wife Claire lived in Port Hope, Ont., but the couple also had a summer home in River Bourgeois, Cape Breton.
He began writing upon his return from serving in the Second World War, and authored more than 40 books including “Never Cry Wolf," "The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float,” "People of the Deer," "Sea of Slaughter," "Lost in the Barrens," "My Father's Son," and his more recent memoirs "Otherwise" and "Eastern Passage."
Cameron said Mowat thought of himself, first and foremost, as a storyteller, and noted that his friend consistently wrote with courage and honesty.
"He said what he thought and there was no shrinking from it because he thought it was politically unacceptable or even because he found it too painful to say," he said. "I think his greatest book is 'Sea of Slaughter' and hardly anyone can bear to read it. Even Farley couldn't hardly bear to read it by the time he finished it."
Cameron said Mowat's experience in the Second World War later drew him to beautiful, remote places of Canada, like Cape Breton, where he established a home in the 1970s.
"When he got to Cape Breton he found something that was just exactly to his taste and I think he loved the people, he loved the way of life, loved the culture, and felt very much at home," said Cameron. "He loved the place, he loved his own piece of property on the coast down in River Bourgeois, and the lakes, the Cabot Trail — the whole thing."
Cameron recalled that Mowat was doing bird counts on his island property one of the last times he saw him last year.
"We had a lot of time together just basically being a couple of friends who were in the same line of work and just hanging out in Cape Breton," he said. "I'm going to miss that annual rite of going over to see Farley and Claire around this time of the year and seeing them a couple of times for dinner over the summer."
During his career, Mowat received a Governor General's Award, a Leacock Medal for Humour, the Order of Canada, and was inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.
Mowat and his wife Claire were also inducted into the Nova Scotia Nature Trust's Legacy Circle in 2009, following their conservation gift of nearly 300 acres of Cape Breton coastal lands, affectionately known as "Farley's Ark."
"Having someone with the stature of Farley give us his land was a great vote of confidence in the Nova Scotia Nature Trust," said Henry Fuller, the longest-serving board member of the Nova Scotia Nature Trust and a resident of Big Harbour, Cape Breton.
"Farley was a great and very interesting individual. He was a great storyteller and he, I thought, always had the best interests of Canada in his heart."
In a statement, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May, who lived in Cape Breton for a number of years and has family roots on the island, said Mowat was one of her dearest friends.
"He was a champion for the wild things. He spoke with unflinching courage against humanity's destruction of each other and of the other species with whom we share this planet," she wrote. "Farley spoke for whales and seabirds, for tadpoles and mosses. He was possessed of a ferocious talent, able to write stories that provoked laughter, tears and action."
When reached by the Cape Breton Post at his home in Port Hope on the occassion of his 90th birthday in May 2011, Mowat said he was looking forward to getting back to the island in a couple of weeks.
"I'm so happy, not just to have a birthday, but to be on my way back to Cape Breton," Mowat said at the time.
A list of some of Canadian writer Farley Mowat’s best-known works
THE CANADIAN PRESS
Master storyteller Farley Mowat wrote more than 40 fiction and non-fiction works. Here are some of the prolific Canadian author’s best-known books:
“People of the Deer” (1952)
“The Regiment” (1955)
“Lost in the Barrens” (1956)
“Two Against the North” (1956)
“The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be” (1957)
“The Desperate People” (1957)
“The Grey Seas Under” (1958)
“The Serpent’s Coil” (1961)
“Owls in the Family” (1962)
“Never Cry Wolf” (1963)
“The Black Joke” (1963)
“Westviking: The Ancient Norse in Greenland and North America” (1965)
“Curse of the Viking Grave” (1966)
“The Polar Passion: The Quest for the North Pole” (1967)
“Canada North” (1967)
“The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float” (1969)
“Sibir: My Discovery of Siberia” (1970)
“The Siberians” (1970)
“A Whale for the Killing (1972)
“Wake of the Great Sealers” (1973)
“The Snow Walker” (1975)
“Canada North Now: The Great Betrayal” (1976)
“And No Birds Sang” (1979)
“Sea of Slaughter” (1984)
“My Discovery of America” (1985)
“Woman in the Mists” (1987)
“Virunga: The Passion of Dian Fossey” (1987)
“Rescue the Earth!: Conversations with the Green Crusaders” (1990)
“Born Naked” (1993)
“Aftermath: Travels in a Post-War World” (1995)
“The Farfarers” (1998)
“Walking on the Land” (2000)
“High Latitudes: A Northern Journey” (2002)
“No Man’s River” (2004)
“Pottersfield Nation: East of Canada” (2004)
“Bay of Spirits” (2006)
“Eastern Passage” (2010)
QuickSketch of Canadian author Farley Mowat
THE CANADIAN PRESS
TORONTO — A look at the life of Canadian author Farley Mowat, who died Tuesday at age 92.
Born: May 12, 1921, in Belleville, Ont.
Early Life: Mowat grew up in Windsor, Ont., and Saskatoon.
Writing: Mowat wrote more than 40 books, including several memoirs and children’s novels. Among his best-known works are “Never Cry Wolf” (1963), a fictional narrative about Mowat living among wolves in sub-arctic Canada, “Lost in the Barrens” (1956), which follows a Cree Indian boy and a Canadian orphan’s adventures in the Arctic and “The Dog Who Wouldn’t Be” (1957) and “Owls in the Family” (1961), memoirs about his childhood.
Awards: Mowat was awarded the Queen Elizabeth II Jubilee Medal in 1956, the Governor General’s Award for “Lost in the Barrens” in 1956, the Leacock Medal for Humour for “The Boat Who Wouldn’t Float” in 1970, the Order of Canada in 1981 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2003. He was inducted into the Canada Walk of Fame in 2010.
Military Service: During the Second World War, Mowat fought in Italy and Sicily with the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.
Quote: “I am a non-fiction writer who never allows a fact to get in the way of a good story.” — Mowat, quoted on his author page on publisher Random House’s website.