RIP Farley Mowat (1921-2014)

Canadian author proved that literature can change the world

Celebrated Canadian author Farley Mowat passed away this week at the age of 92, leaving behind a legacy of acclaimed works, a passionate dedication to improving Canada’s environment and countless fans across the country.

As recently as last Thursday, Mowat was giving interviews on a decision by Parks Canada to introduce WiFi in a number of national parks. Even at 92, he possessed a razor-sharp wit, calling the decision “disastrous” and “quite stupid.”

Mowat grew up in Richmond Hill among other cities, and studied at the University of Toronto. He quickly became an outspoken force for a rethinking of many of Canada’s environmental policies and beliefs. His work, detailing his frequent trips to the Arctic, illustrated a Canada few of us knew. He drew criticism dramatizing his first-hand accounts, and famously remarked, “I never let facts get in the way of truth.”

When I first read Mowat in university I was concerned about the lack of a Canadian identity within literature. If we’re any good, then shouldn’t we first have a clear definition of who we are?

Then I read Never Cry Wolf. Through its vivid prose and deft, poetic touches, the whole thing became pretty damn clear: Mowat wasn’t worried about the Canadian identity crisis. He was too busy doing. So many young Canadians grow up with a clear idea of who we are as Canadians and what we are as a country because we’ve seen a few Olympians from towns we’ve never heard of win a few medals, and it’s nice to feel that together. Or perhaps we’ve visited the coasts with friends and family, have family from the Prairies or have got into too much trouble in Old Montreal.

But that only scratches the surface. Mowat was the unofficial documenter of the places so many of us were too scared to visit, or too often forgot. I started to care much less about trying to define Canada and realized that, thanks to the work of Mowat, this was a young country, still evolving with much to be discovered.

And if we didn’t make efforts to take care of this all-encompassing country and its natural beauty, which Mowat wrote about so alarmingly well in his dozens of books – translated into more than 50 languages, then that beauty could disappear. Funny, too: it’s the natural beauty of Canadian that we are often the most proud of when we still try to define the country.

In a recent CBC interview, Mowat said that after his time spent fighting in Word War II, he grew an affinity for animals. He said that there is “no form of life on this planet as deadly, as dangerous, as untrustworthy, as murderous as my own species.”

His work made a difference. People Of The Deer, his first novel, led to a re-examination of the Canadian Government’s policies in the Arctic. Never Cry Wolf led to the Soviet Government changing its policies on wolf-hunting.

There has been an outpouring of grief from politicians, authors and even former hockey players pained by his death. The influence of Mowat in a country as large as ours may never be fully realized. But the true beauty of this country may also never be truly realized until we take another look at his work and start to give a damn about the Canada we barely know.

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