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Farley Mowat, seen here at age 89, in his Port Hope, Ontario home on October 13, 2010. (The Globe and Mail/Peter Power)
Farley Mowat, seen here at age 89, in his Port Hope, Ontario home on October 13, 2010. (The Globe and Mail/Peter Power)

Acclaimed Canadian author Farley Mowat dead at 92 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

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 There was a media frenzy on both sides of the border, but the 1952 law wasn’t repealed until 1990.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. She was often in conflict with local poachers, tourism officials and other scientists. Mr. Mowat, who rarely, if ever, wrote from any perspective other than his own, published Virunga: The Passion of Dian Fossey in 1987 because he felt an affinity with her and her passion to stop the slaughter of the gorillas. Besides, he had managed, although he would never reveal how, to acquire access to her private journals.

In the 1990s and 2000s, Mr. Mowat, who wrote as compulsively as some people exercise, began recycling themes and subjects. As he told James Adams of The Globe in 2008: “There is no other subject that I know better than my own life. ... An organism needs a function. As a good student of animality, I know if you don’t have that, you die. Writing is mine and as long as I can hit the keys and vaguely remember what word I need, I’ll go on with it.”

He returned to his military service in My Father’s Son (1992), to his childhood in Born Naked (1993) and, even more often, the Canadian Arctic in High Latitudes: An Arctic Journey (2002) and No Man’s River (2004). In Rescue the Earth: Conversations (1990), he expounded on his beliefs as an environmental advocate; in The Farfarers (2000), he delved again into pre-Columbian interactions between Europe and North America. In Bay of Spirits: A Love Story(2006), he returned to the early days of his marriage with Claire and their travels to St. Pierre and the southwest coast of Newfoundland in the early 1960s. And in Otherwise (2008) he went back again to the war years, his trips to the far North and his beginnings as an environmental activist. He dedicated Otherwise to Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherd Society because it is “the only organization honest enough to go out and actually fight for The Others.”

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 at 88. 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” he said in November, 2009.

“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 wireless Internet access in Canadian national parks.

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