In a province with no shortage of wilderness to explore, there’s a secluded road in Prince Albert National Park that’s one of the most coveted: the trail to Gray Owl’s Cabin.
The famed and controversial conservationist’s house is at the end of a convoluted trail that begins about 25 minutes up the road from the Kingsmere River Trail in the northeast corner of the park.
The man who called himself Gray Owl lived in the modest cabin on the shore of Lake Ajawaan.
After his death in 1938, it emerged that this environmentalist, actually Archibald Belaney of England, was posing as an Aboriginal man.
During his lifetime, Belaney wrote three popular books promoting the value of nature.
Belaney even had two beavers living in this cabin with him, Jellyroll and Rawhide – swimming in and out of an opening he built in the ground.
The journey to the cabin is not easy. Hikers start with a visit to the national park office in the town of Waskesiu to check in and alert staff that they are heading out – a safety measure in case something goes wrong on the trail which has no cell service.
After a short drive down the river in a canoe or small motorboat, the craft are then placed on a trolley and guided down a rail track before being relaunched for the final leg in Kingsmere Lake.
Mark Purdy, speaking to CTV News while leading a small group, says he’s made the trip at least ten times over the years. He calls it a “Saskatchewan bucket list adventure.”
“Kingsmere is a very unpredictable lake, it’s round like a big bowl and if the wind picks up you have somewhere to go quickly,” Purdy told CTV News.
The journey is something of a pilgrimage for many who are able to make the 40 kilometer journey.
Purdy’s preferred mode of transportation on the lake is a zodiac boat. Probably a good idea, Purdy says, for those unaccustomed to hours of canoe paddling.
There is also the option of hiking around Lake Kingsmere; not for the faint of heart as it cannot be done in a day and is 33 kilometers one way. This version is usually done with camping gear for overnight stays along Kingsmere Lake.
Once across the lake, the last part of the hike starts up to Gray Owl’s cabin.
This isolated trail rated “difficult” by Parks Canada winds through the forest for nearly 3 kilometres.
It’s 45 minutes one way for Purdy and his group.
“It’s part of the journey and the experience to get here and really take in the story. The truths, the legends of the Gray Owl story,” said Mark Purdy.
Colliding with others is not uncommon. Like Ella Ophir, who hiked and camped overnight on Kingsmere Lake.
“Seems like a thing to do in Saskatchewan and I’m from the west coast and that’s an excuse to go hiking. I like to walk when there is a destination at the end,” Ophir said.
For some, the trip is about taking on the challenge of the remote backcountry trail and for others it’s the bonus of seeing firsthand where the conservationist known as Gray Owl, his wife Mohawk Anahareo and her daughter lived and are buried just behind the cabin on the shores of Lake Ajawaan.