Karsh Signature

Yousuf Karsh, master photographer of the 20th century

Grey Owl

Grey Owl, 1936

The conservationist known as Grey Owl was born Archibald Belaney in England in 1888 and died on this day, April 13, in 1938, two years after he was photographed by Karsh.

In 1925, Belaney began calling himself “Grey Owl”, and telling people he was Native American.

Karsh wrote: “Not until John Buchan (then Lord Tweedsmuir and Governor General) came to the studio for a sitting and noticed my portrait of Grey Owl, did I learn that (he) was, in fact, an Englishman named Archibald Belaney. Still, he looked his chosen part and played it superbly… His false identity cannot, however, diminish his achievements as one of Canada’s earliest conservationists. His writings, speeches, and travels demonstrated a love of nature, the wilderness, and its animals, especially the beavers, those old symbols of our nation. He did much to convince the nation that they must be protected from man’s greed and folly. In that sense he was not an impostor but, I like to think, a prophet.”