View from the Cheap Seats is kind of an extension of the newsroom. Whenever our three regular reporters, Calvin Daniels, Thom Barker and Randy Brenzen are in the building together, it is frequently a site of heated debate. This week: Remembering Farley Mowat.
For those of us of a certain vintage, Farley Mowat’s books were required reading of the kind that didn’t require slogging it out. I still have to give partial credit for my lifelong love of reading and writing to Mowat’s Lost in the Barrens. It transported me to places I could never have imagined.
But, as much as he was a giant of Canadian Literature, he was a larger-than-life character who had little patience for humanity’s disregard for nature.
Right up until his end at the age of 92 he could be counted on to deliver acerbic quotes as when the CBC asked him to comment on the recent announcement that WiFi would be introduced into national parks.
“It is a disastrous, quite stupid, idiotic concept, and should be eliminated immediately,” he said. An outspoken environmentalist, in his view, the parks were created to preserve nature and “human beings should be kept out of them as much as possible.”
Mowat’s poor estimation of our species had its roots in World War II in which he served for three years and returned traumatized by man’s inhumanity.
Despite what most people viewed as pessimism about the human race, Mowat always maintained he was an optimist.
“I keep my optimism alive and revitalized by accepting the fact that we are a bad species, and probably haven’t got much time here, and it’s not going to break my heart when Homo sap wanders offstage,” he told The Washington Post in 1994.
I can’t say if, or how much, Farley Mowat’s views helped shape my own, but they certainly fell on sympathetic ears when he said them. I am also a great fan George Carlin, another dead guy who believed “The planet is fine; the people are [expletive deleted].
What ever people thought about Farley Mowat, and he had more than his fair share of critics, Canada is a less interesting place for his loss.
Farley Mowat was a Canadian icon. There’s no doubt about that.
However, his passing really has no effect on me. And the reason is simple: I’m 26 and most of his work had been done well before I was born.
For my co-workers, who are slightly older than myself (by about 25 years), Mowat has, most likely, been someone they grew up idolizing by reading his work and following his career (both the author and environmentalist sides of things).
For myself, however, his passing really means nothing other than it’s sad that someone who has done so much and who has been so important is gone.
He was clearly a very important person, not just to Canada, but to the world.
But the most important thing he has done, in my eyes, has nothing to do with the author career or his environmental stuff.
No, what I appreciate Mr. Mowat for is his service in the Canadian Armed Forces in World War Two.
He participated in the Allied invasion of Sicily and spent most of his service time in the 1st Canadian Infantry Division in Italy.
For that, I thank him. May he rest in peace.
Anyone who knows me knows I am fiercely Canadian.
I only cheer for Canadian-based teams in sports, rally to the cause to review Canadian music and games before any other.
I was born here and wish to promote and support my country.
So as a humble scribe, who also happens to love to read, it should come as no surprise I look at a number of Canadian authors with the greatest of admiration.
That is why a visit to Margaret Laurence’s former home, turned museum was a highlight side trip when fishing near Neepawa, MB. last summer.
The best Canadian authors provide insights into what it is to be Canadian.
Many also manage to be a voice for change.
None combined those skills better than Farley Mowat.
Mowat’s first book, ‘People of the Deer’ (1952), inspired by a field trip to the Canadian Arctic he made while studying at the University of Toronto, was a shining example of how a book can be a vehicle for change.
Mowat was moved by the conditions endured by the Inuit living in Northern Canada, and that inspired him to write. The book was not without controversy, but it also put Mowat clearly in the public eye, no easy task for any author.
Mowat’s next book, (a children’s book) ‘Lost in the Barrens’ (1956), won a Governor General’s Award, testament to his skill as a writer.
And then in 1963, Mowat wrote an account of his experiences in the Canadian Arctic with Arctic wolves entitled ‘Never Cry Wolf ‘.
The book in my mind is a Canadian classic, all three books mentioned here are, but with Never Cry Wolf Mowat helped change popular attitudes towards wolves. That is the power of words when created by a master of the craft.
Add such fine works as ‘And No Birds Sang’ a 1979 release about his experience fighting in World War II, and ‘Owls in the Family’ (1962) about his childhood, and Mowat’s legacy is set.
With his passing a literary giant in this country will write no more, but his works will live on as some of the best this country has produced.
-- Calvin Daniels