Farley Mowat passed away this week at the age of 92. It has been thirty years since he wrote “Sea of Slaughter”, a book that I’ll never forget. He sold almost 17 million books over his long and decorated career. His books about nature (translated into 52 languages) were a major contributor not only to the Canadian environmental movement, but the global movement to protect the earth.
Millions of people around the world view Canada in a better light because of his life’s work. He mixed the serious with humour in devastating ways, making us smile one minute, cry the next and then rant with a rage over how we treat this planet.
I’ve been thinking about my favourite Farley Mowat book, “No Bird Sang”, since I heard the news today.
I first met Farley in the back room of a book store in Belleville, having arrived late for an interview following a book signing. I was late because I detoured to pick up my wife and daughter -- I didn’t want them to miss a chance to meet him!
Farley was kind enough to extend his stay in the bookstore to give me my interview (I was working for a small community newspaper in Stirling, Ontario). I tried to enlist him as columnist for the Community Press. I even offered to buy him a bottle of fine scotch per column in return for his penmanship! Unfortunately, Farley turned me down, with a smile, saying he’d switched to vodka.
When I first came to Sierra Club I learned he was a not only a great supporter of our campaigns spiritually, but financially too. Whenever things got tight around here, Elizabeth would turn to him for help, be it making an appearance, signing a letter, or helping keep the lights on. He was there for us--always. Farley put his time and money where his mouth was.
Farley’s famous “Boat That Wouldn’t Float” was in fact parked at the restaurant owned by Elizabeth May’s family in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, not far from where he spent his summers. I know it’s pretty hard to picture a young Elizabeth May serving Farley Mowat fish and chips, but there he was - encouraging her environmentalism between mouthfuls. Elizabeth has a piece of Farley Mowat inside her.
I remember hearing Farley on CBC radio one day describing how he’d become persona non grata in the United States. Apparently the American authorities didn’t appreciate his humour or his quip about shooting down a B-52 with his shotgun. The Americans took Farley seriously - I wish more Canadians had too.
In 2009, I had the great fortune to spend a morning with Farley and his wife Claire. British Columbia was holding a plebiscite on proportional representation and Elizabeth thought he would be the perfect person to do a video in support of ending the first past the post system. So Michael (now our board chair) and I set out for Port Hope, excited to spend the day with Farley. As we headed home, Michael turned to me and said, “That’s the best wild goose chase Elizabeth ever sent me on!” I had to agree.
Farley has left this planet that he loved so dearly having lived a long and productive life. He fought hard to preserve this little blue dot for you and me. Many will sing his praise for generations to come.