Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content

Farley Mowat, photographed in his Port Hope, Ont., home on October 13, 2010. Mr. Mowat died on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. He was 92. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Farley Mowat, photographed in his Port Hope, Ont., home on October 13, 2010. Mr. Mowat died on Tuesday, May 6, 2014. He was 92. (Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

Scarred by war, acclaimed author Farley Mowat spent his life trying to save animals, nature and First Nations Add to ...

Globe and Mail Update May. 07 2014, 1:15 PM EDT

Video: In his own words: The life and times of Farley Mowat

After that, there wasn’t much point in continuing to live in Burgeo. He and Claire moved back to Ontario, settling in Port Hope, the town east of Toronto where his father had lived for many years, and bought a place in Cape Breton, where they spent the summer months. But moving away from Newfoundland didn’t dissipate his rage at the consequences of human greed on the whaling and cod fishing industries. In fact, he seemed to get angrier the farther inland he carried his typewriter.

In 1984 he published a denunciation of “the destruction of animal life in the north Atlantic” dating back to John Cabot’s arrival in what is now Newfoundland in 1497. Sea of Slaughter, or “his great sermon,” was his favourite book in terms of intent because it provided an exhaustive “record of man’s inhuman attitude toward life on Earth,” but also his greatest failure because he gave readers too much “truth” and overloaded the narrative.

The following year, about to embark on an American promotional tour for Sea of Slaughter, he was stopped by U.S. customs officials at Pearson Airport in Toronto and refused entry under a McCarthy-era law that enabled border officials to turn away foreigners holding subversive political beliefs, which usually meant people who were suspected of being Communist sympathizers.

Mr. Mowat, a self-promoter from way back, believed the gun lobby was behind his exclusion, and went public with his suspicions. There was a media frenzy on both sides of the border, but the 1952 law wasn’t repealed until 1990. By then, Mr. Mowat had long since turned his experience – including the RCMP’s role in supplying information about him to U.S. authorities – into yet another book, My Discovery of America, a short diatribe unleashed in 1985.

His own problems with officialdom probably piqued his curiosity about his next obsession: Dian Fossey, the American anthropologist who was found dead, with an axe in her skull, atop a mountain in Rwanda in 1985. Ms. Fossey, famous for her pioneering behavioural studies of the endangered mountain gorillas of Virunga, was, like Mr. Mowat, stubborn, outspoken, passionate and openly defiant of authority. Mr. Mowat, who rarely, if ever, wrote from any perspective other than his own, published Virunga: The Passion of Dian Fossey in 1987.

Determined to go out at his post, banging away on his manual typewriter on the second floor of a heated shed in his backyard, Mr. Mowat insisted that writing was the only function – “well, almost only function” – that he was still capable of performing as he approached his tenth decade. He refused to have a bulging aortic aneurysm treated or to undergo a triple-bypass several years ago and he insisted until the end of his life that refusing medical intervention not only prolonged his existence, but enabled him to enjoy a higher quality of life. “I’m floating on a very, very thin surface tension, which can erupt at any moment. Fine, so be it,” he said with typical defiance. And as he lived, so he died, at 92, after railing earlier this week against plans to offer limited WiFi in national parks. He will be missed.

Single page

In the know

Most popular videos »

Highlights

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular