Archibald Stansfeld Belaney, “Grey Owl” (1888–1938) was an Englishman who immigrated to Canada and worked as a trapper. He joined the 40th Battalion at Digby, Nova Scotia, on May 6, 1915. His military documents show that he changed some facts about his life at the time of Attestation. Belaney claimed that he was born in Montreal, Quebec, that he was two years older than his actual age, and that he served with the Mexican Scouts and the 20th Dragoons.
Belaney convinced his military comrades that he was of mixed British and Aboriginal ancestry. He served as a sniper with the 13th Battalion in France and was promoted to Lance Corporal on July 15, 1915, but was demoted to Private a month later after being absent without leave. On January 21, 1916, he was injured by a bullet to his right wrist. He then suffered a gunshot wound to his right foot at Ypres on April 23, 1916. He underwent surgery to have a metatarsal bone removed and later to have a toe amputated. The derangement and dysfunction of his right foot left him with pain on walking and a permanent limp. He was given an honourable discharge for medical reasons on November 30, 1917. After the war, Belaney further disguised his British roots by taking on the persona of an Aboriginal trapper and hunting guide named Grey Owl. In the 1930s, he became a successful writer and a public figure who promoted an appreciation for Canada’s natural environment. It was not until his death that his true identity was revealed. Archibald S. Belaney died in Prince Albert, Saskatchewan, on April 13, 1938.
Service Record Details
Date of Birth : September 18, 1888 (Hastings, England) (Paperwork in his service file indicates Montreal, Quebec)
Date of Attestation : May 6, 1915 (Digby, Nova Scotia)
Age at Enlistment: 27 years, 9 months old
Prior Military Service: Mexican Scouts, 20th Dragoons, and 13th Battalion in both England and France
Height: 6 feet, 1 inch
Weight: Not indicated
Description: Light complexion, grey eyes, light hair. Slight scar on left side. Issued prescription eyeglasses while being treated in England. A “Teetotaller.” Church of England.
Home Address: Biscotasing, Algoma District, Ontario
Trade : Trapper
Married : His service record indicates that he married during the war. It is thought he married before the war, but he does not acknowledge that at the time of Attestation.
Next of Kin: Wife, >Mrs. Ivy Belaney, living at 19 St. Andrew’s Square, Hastings, Sussex, England. Louis Legacie (as written in the pay book in his service file) and John McVane of Westfield, New Brunswick.
Theatre of War : Canada, Britain, France, Belgium (Ypres)
- November 13, 1915 – Belaney is reported ill with influenza.
- November 14, 1915 – His illness is queried as “Appendix?”
- January 1916 – He is treated for a gunshot wound to the right wrist. “No disability resulting.”
- April 23, 1916 – Belaney is injured at Ypres by a gunshot wound that penetrates the sole of his right foot and fractures the 5th metatarsal bone. As the wound heals, the 4th metatarsal bone projects, causing him pain on walking, and has to be surgically removed. The damaged 4th toe is amputated later. Additional derangement of the 1st, 2nd and 3rd metatarsal bones contributes to the severe impairment of his right foot. A detailed description of Belaney’s condition mentions the spasticity and hypersensitivity of his foot, the fallen arch, and that his “general physical condition [is] poor.”
- March 28, 1917 – He complains of mistiness in his right vision, has noticed frequent headaches for 11 months, and the snowblindness he had about 5 years ago has made his vision bad since. He wears glasses.
- September 19, 1917 – He is invalided to Canada for further medical treatment.
- November 30, 1917 – He is given an honourable discharge on medical grounds in Toronto, Ontario. It is noted that his military character on discharge is “very good.”
Interesting Details from the Service Record
- March 1916 – Following sniper school, he is in the field barely 10 days when he sustains the injury to his right foot.
- April 21, 1917 – A copy of his prescription for eyeglasses.
- May 17, 1918 – His marriage is approved (it is likely he met and married his wife Ivy when he was on convalescent leave in England).
- A copy of the Daily Orders from his Battalion listing him as a casualty.
- A copy of an excerpt from a letter written by Ex-Sergeant L. Meacher, Regimental No. 408152, Belaney’s sniping observer, addressed to The Times on April 22, 1938:
- “It was at The Bluff at Ypres that one night about 8 o’clock Belaney left his dugout, and after about half an hour he returned dragging his rifle and one leg. He mentioned that he had trodden on a thorn or wire and had injured his foot, but on examination and after removing his long wadded rubber boot we discovered he had been shot.”
- August 4, 1959 – A clipping from The Globe and Mail: “Grey Owl Remembered on Camp Site Plaque.”
- April 17, 1963 – A clipping from The Ottawa Journal: “Grey Owl 25 Years After.”
- March 6, 1971 – A clipping of an article from Ontario Hydro News: “Grey Owl—Mysterious Indian Lover, Great Con Man and Scallywag Supreme” (reverse side of clipping shows a Mental Health panel discussion advertisement for an event at the National Library on Wellington, now Library and Archives Canada).
The London Gazette
No mentions found.
Military Medals, Honours and Awards (1812–1969)
No mentions found.
At age 22, Archie Belaney is living in Ontario in the District of Nipissing, Sub-District of Bear Creek. He is listed as the head of his household; no other persons are listed with him. He states he was born in Quebec and that he is Anglican.
A similar entry is found for another Archie Belaney, age 22, born in August, 1889, in England. That person is listed as the brother-in-law of the head of a large household run by Dan Messabie (?). A wife Angele and a daughter Agnes are also listed as living there.