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Margaret Winters's family were lifelong friends of Grey Owl, Anahareo, & Shirley Dawn, and she lived at Beaver Lodge one summer and typed his manuscript. Margaret (Winters) Charko's family donated Margaret's memorabilia about Grey Owl. Enjoy learning about Grey Owl through Margaret's memoirs and photographs.
Margaret wrote this memoir on November 1, 1999. She begins with three pages about Grey Owl's life before she met him. Some of this information she would have learned later in her life. If you are unfamiliar with Grey Owl, you may want to read this document before continuing. These pages are document 1 in the right menu.
Margaret's family met Grey Owl when he was moved to Prince Albert National Park as a conservationist by the Dominion Parks Branch as Parks Canada was called in the 1930s. The text that follows in italics (pages 4 to 15 of the memoir) is Margaret's own memories of Grey Owl and his family supplemented by photographs from a special scrapbook of Grey Owl memorabilia she kept throughout her life. Margaret's words relate the connections between her family, the Winters, and Grey Owl and his family. Because the Winters called Grey Owl - Archie and his wife Anahareo - Gertie, Margaret uses the names interchangeably throughout her memoir.
In the right hand menu are five documents typed by Margaret herself. Document 1 is the first three pages of Margaret's memoir not included below. Document 2 is a text only version of all pages of this memoir. Document 3 also chronicles the relationship between the two families. It was written by Margaret at an unknown date, is slightly shorter and includes some different comments. Document 4 is answers by Margaret and her brother Stanley to written questions from Colin Taylor of the Grey Owl Society in his birthplace of Hastings, England. In document 5, Margaret recounts her trip to revisit Beaver Lodge later in life.
Note: After his death, Grey Owl was revealed to be an Englishman named Archibald Stansfeld Belaney and not an indigenous person as Margaret knew him.
All photos are property of the Waskesiu Heritage Museum and may not be used without permission.
He [GreyOwl] was located on a lake North of Waskesiu Lake, which is where the main headquarters of the Park is located. He went to a beautiful lake called Ajawaan. The Parks Dept. built him a cabin on the shore of the lake and a little later built another on a hill just behind the first cabin. His cabin was just one room and not that large, and by this time Anahareo was pregnant and they would need a place for her and the baby. Grey Owl's cabin was right on the edge of the lake, so the beavers built their house part inside his cabin and part outside, with the main part being under the cabin and the lake. It was quite large.
Beaver Lodge is reflected on the surface of Ajawaan Lake.
The Dominion Parks Branch moved Grey Owl to Prince Albert National Park from Riding Mountain National Park in 1931.
This is the view from the lower cabin looking to the upper cabin.
The upper cabin was constructed to accommodate Anahareo and daughter Shirley Dawn.
This is the view from the upper cabin looking to the lower cabin.
In the summer, Grey Owl slept during the day in the tent between the two cabins.
The beaver built their lodge of mud and sticks half in and half out of the lower cabin.
In 1932, our family, the Winters, moved to Prince Albert. This was when the depression hit the South. I remember the dust storms that just blew the crops away and caused drifts of fine soil right over the tops of the fences. You couldn't keep it out of the house. No one could grow gardens either. So we moved North to Prince Albert, where there is heavy forest and no dust to blow. My Mother ran a Boarding House for a while and the people staying there were mostly Park Wardens from Waskesiu and the area around there in the National Park. They would have a break in the city.
When Anahareo was expecting her baby, Grey Owl wondered where she would stay. [The Winters called Grey Owl and his wife Anahareo Archie and Gertie] The Wardens told him about my Mother, Mrs. Etta Winters. Mom went to see Gertie in the hospital and found she hadn't had a chance to buy the baby any clothes. So Mom went out and got everything that the baby needed. They liked each other immediately. My brothers and I were visiting our Grandparents until school was to start, so were due home and excited to think we were going to see an Indian woman and her baby, as we had never seen one where we lived.
Shirley Dawn was born on August 23rd, 1932. We arrived home just when they came to our house. We had a real surprise when we saw this beautiful slim lady with her baby come in the door. She was wearing a nice black dress, with her hair all permed. As she had been waiting at a hotel until the birth, she went shopping for a dress and got her hair done. Well it was the last time we were to see Gertie in a dress. She was very uncomfortable she said. She always wore breeches and high laced boots and nice silk shirts. And the next day, we found her with the ironing board up, and her head down, trying to iron out the perm. Her hair was straight and cut with bangs and always neat, once the perm grew out.
Anahareo (Gertie) with Shirley Dawn in her arms.
The baby won the hearts of all our family and the boarders too. We were teenagers, so were able to help out with the baby. Anahareo was called Gertie by all of us, and we found her to be a warm and charming person that got along very well with everyone. She stayed with us until Grey Owl, or Archie, came down to see his new daughter and take them home with him. They went back with him until the weather was colder and there is a period when the lakes are freezing that you wouldn't be able to travel. So with a new baby they decided she should come back to our place. We were all delighted to have them. Gertie had a great sense of humor, and we had a lot of fun with her.
Anahareo was 17 years younger than Grey Owl, so she enjoyed being out with activity around her. She taught me how to knit that winter, and I was very proud of the finished product, but it needed to be washed before I could wear it. And I was very anxious to show it off, so I put it on the oven door to dry quicker, and before long we could smell the burning wool. It had a hole in it, and I was devastated, but Gertie said, "Don't worry", and she knit a patch right into it. That was something else I learned to do. I have never forgotten that incident.
Gertie and Little Dawn, as we called her, went back to Ajawaan in the Spring. But Grey Owl was still busy with his writing and she had to be quiet and with a baby it was pretty difficult. So she rented a place at Waskesiu, what they then called shack tents. Wooden walls, and a tarp on the roof and it would be divided off into a bedroom and living area.
We went up to visit her there during school holidays. And Grey Owl was also able to go down and visit them. So the summer wasn't too bad for her. She took a trip or two up to visit him, and he would meet her at the end of the lake with his canoe. He didn't allow any boats with motors on his lake, as it would pollute it and he wanted the wildlife to be safe, and especially his beaver, Jelly Roll and Rawhide.
By the next fall, Gertie decided to go North and do prospecting, so the Grey Owls wondered if we would keep Dawn. That was no problem with three teenagers to look after her. We all loved her like one of our own family. We had moved by this time to another place, and didn't have boarders anymore, only the Grey Owl family. We had become very good friends by then, and they could come and stay and visit with Dawn whenever they wanted.
In the winter of 1934, Grey Owl was writing a book called Pilgrims of the Wild. He needed help typing, so he had my Dad go up there for 2 months, February and March, and he typed with his 2 finger method on a little portable typewriter. Dad said they got along very well working on the book until it was completed. They were the same age, being only 2 days apart, that probably helped make them more compatible. My Dad then would help put the manuscript together, and when he came back to Prince Albert, he had sketches or pictures printed at a Studio called Voldengs. He would then get it mailed off to the publisher for him.
In 1935 Grey Owl was to go on a speaking tour in Great Britain to promote his books and films that had been made of the beaver with him. His editor was Lovat Dickson, who arranged the trip overseas. He came into our place and my mother helped him buy a trunk and a suit and anything else he needed for his trip. He also wanted his hair dyed as it had some grey showing. Not that Indians don't have grey hair. But he decided they would expect him to have it black.
Archie was in the city for a few days, getting ready for this trip, and decided to go for a few drinks. Because he was posing as an Indian, he wasn't allowed into the bars, as Indians couldn't go into them. So he had to go to a bootlegger, as they were called. Once they would get him into their place, they would make sure he spent all the money he had on him.
If he didn't come home to our place at a certain time, my mother, being a strong and determined woman, would get a taxi and go to 59 ½ on River Street in Prince Albert She would tell the taxi driver to go up to the room and get Grey Owl, and to tell them if he wasn't right down, she would be up there. Sometimes that didn't work, and she would go in and he would come with her. Because of the injury to his foot during the war, he couldn't walk without his moccasins on. So she would bring him home, get him on a bed, and take his footwear away. He would be there until morning. She was very strict with either Archie or Gertie causing any problems in our house. At times it could get pretty unruly. My Dad got along very well with Archie, and he would just say, "Archie. Settle down," And he did what he was told.
Herb Winters feeds whiskey jacks or Canada jays in 1934 at Beaver Lodge.
The clothes hanging up were the ones Grey Owl took on the United Kingdom tour in 1935-6.
The trunk on the lower left was where papers were stored to keep them from being chewed by the beaver.
Many photos adorned the inside of the lower cabin. This was what the cabin looked like in the summer of 1936 when Margaret and Stanley were there.
Before leaving on that trip to the UK he asked me what I would like him to bring back for me. I was 17 then, and I jokingly said that since he wouldn't be returning until 1936, that it would be leap year, and he could bring me back the Prince of Wales. Dawn was about 3 then, and I would write letters for her. He sent us Christmas presents, and I received a lovely English wool sweater. When I wrote to thank him, I also wrote one for Dawn, holding her hand to sign it to her Dad. I received a letter from him in answer to mine, and it is as follows:
The letter was written on his letterhead for his tour in England. The tour was from October 20th, 1935 to January 31st, 1936.
Thanks so much for your letter. I am glad you liked the sweater so much; it is something typically English, & their woolens are good. But I am more glad that you are up and around & once more having a good time & enjoying yourself, after having to sit by and watch others having their fun.
And so it's Leap Year. Well, thank goodness I'm not good-looking, so I won't have to hide myself under a bushel basket or anything, when the ladies are around. And by the way, your beau, the Prince of Wales, has got himself to be king now, so I did not deliver your message to him.
I am getting pretty lonesome now for my own country, & although this tour has been such a success, will be glad when I can come back to my old friends once more.
Gee but I was glad to get Dawn's letter. Can she really write that good? Am enclosing one for her, if you'll please help her to read it am wondering just what she looks like & am so anxious to see her again, and all of you. There is so much work that I hardly know where I stand, - pictures to be made, books to write, lecture tours to come & everything. It is all rather confusing, & while there is nothing definite, it is all waiting my attention during the next few years.
I sail from Liverpool on Feb. 15th on C.P.R. Boat "Duchess of Bedford", so will be seeing you all before long. Am writing your Mother and Father as well.
Grey Owl Archie.
European folklore says that once every four years, in a leap year, women have the opportunity to propose marriage to the man of their choice. According to tradition in many European countries, any man who refuses a woman's proposal on a leap day should pay a penalty.
The envelope has been opened so many times it is falling to pieces
Grey Owl fed a baby beaver or Mawee, named after the sound it makes.
Jellyroll was fed rice mixed with canned Carnation milk when she was nursing her young.
The beavers' sharp teeth easily felled this young tree.
Professor and Mrs. Cotterell stand with Ananhareo and Grey Owl in front of a warden's cabin in 1935.
The Beaver would come out about dinner time while we were eating, and sometimes we would dawdle over our tea and be talking about the book or what went on during the day, when we would see the tourists arriving a little way along the path. We would have time to get our dishes cleared out of the way before they got to the cabin. They had to walk about a mile from the portage near the other end of the lake.
When they arrived, they would be told to get up on the bunk and be quiet, and not make any fast moves. They could watch the beaver come in and out working on their house, and getting some treats. Then they could sit out on a clearing and watch them from there, and Grey Owl would talk to them for awhile.
Sometimes he went off to write some of his chapters, and we would entertain them. If they were interesting we stayed up later but usually got to bed before it got too dark, about 10 o'clock so we didn't have to bother lighting the lamps and attracting bugs. The tourists would stay until dawn, which up North was about 4 AM. Grey Owl did his writing in the night while the beaver were up, and then leave it on the table for me to type the next day. There were times it was difficult to read a word, as his writing was very bad. Stanley and I would try to figure it out, but sometimes I would have to wait until he got up. Working on an ordinary Underwood Typewriter and doing three copies, was not easy to erase with carbon paper between each sheet.
I remember when he did the story called The Tree, in the Tales of an Empty Cabin, that we were looking through what material there was there to find a picture of a tree. We were able to visit the warden's cabin, on Kingsmere Lake where the Warden, called Roy Hubbel lived, and his wife was very good to us. She would give us baking and fresh fish to take back. So we went through their magazines for a picture too. We finally found one that was suitable. The book [Tales of an Empty Cabin] was finally finished.
To celebrate the end of the book, we had a treat. We had a can of Eagle Brand Sweetened Condensed Milk in our food supply, so boiled it in water for an hour, and when we opened it, we had a delicious butterscotch pudding, sweet, but good. We all sat down and had our dessert, and enjoyed it. We then assembled the book, and I took it into Prince Albert to my Dad to get it mailed off to the publisher.
The Tree, as well as being in Tales of an Empty Cabin, was also published as a stand alone book in.
Grey Owl was invited to Carlton, a town south of Prince Albert, to attend a celebration with the Indians who were governed by Treaty Six, and were paying respects to His Excellency Lord Tweedsmuir, Governor General of Canada.
(Grey Owl with Shirley Dawn and Chiefs at Carleton)
Grey Owl asked me to go along as his secretary, and my girl friend and I stayed with a family friend in a tent for the celebrations for three days. We met the Governor General, but he only spent a short while there.
(Chief Tootoosis, Mrs. Etta Winters, Shirley Dawn, Chief Sam Swimmer)
But one night when they were having their bonfire, and were dancing around the fire, they invited Ella and I to join in the dance with the Indian Chiefs. We were quite honored to be invited to do that. It was a lot of fun, but very dusty.
(Chief Tootoosis, Shirley Dawn, Chief Sam Swimmer)
A lady from England came over to visit Grey Owl, and I went up with her on the trip. Gertie and Dawn arrived the next day, and I went back down to Prince Albert. But that is when Grey Owl and Gertie parted ways. It wasn't the life for her. They were still very fond of each other and good friends. So Dawn stayed with us pretty well all the time after that, with short visits with her Mother.
Grey Owl took a trip to Ottawa and Montreal that winter, and met a French Canadian woman in Montreal, and married her, Yvonne Perrier. He called her Silver Moon. They travelled around in Ontario and Quebec for a while [1936-37], and then came back to Ajawaan. We didn't see too much of Yvonne, as Gertie used to be at our place to see Dawn, and she did come first.
Grey Owl with his new wife Yvonne Perrier who he called Silver Moon.
Grey Owl took a second tour to England, and it was even more strenuous than the first one. Silver Moon went with him this time. He had a lecture at Buckingham Palace with King George VI and the Queen and Princesses, one our present Queen. He was well received there, and asked to stay longer so they could talk to him after he finished his lecture. He also did a lecture in Hastings to a big audience. His two Aunts were in attendance there, and he did go to see them after the lecture, and visited his old home.
He arrived back in Canada in February, and then toured the United States, and Eastern Canada. He arrived in Prince Albert, very tired, and went up to Ajawaan. The next day he called the Warden that he was sick, and they took him into Prince Albert to the Hospital. He had developed pneumonia, and had no energy to fight it, and he passed away very suddenly on April 13th, 1938 in his 50th year. The day after he died the North Bay Nuggett broke the story of his true identity. The papers were full of pictures and accounts of his busy life, but a short one.
Yvonne had to stop in Regina for an emergency surgery so wasn't there when he died or for his funeral. Gertie was at our place, and took Dawn to the Funeral Home to see her Dad and have her realize what had happened. But she [Gertie] didn't go to the funeral. She was at our place feeling very sad at the loss. Our family went to the funeral with Dawn. There was a picture in the Toronto Star Weekend of my Mother and I on each side of Dawn, watching the hearse drive away. It was a very sad for all of us, because we lost a very good friend, and it was a shock. The news of his heritage didn't bother us so much as losing him. I don't think it matters whether he was Indian or White, the work he did was a great legacy for him to leave behind.
Note: Margaret's memories continue under the menu topic Grey Owl Memories Part 2.
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