Anahareo, or Gertrude Philomen Bernard, c. 1925.
Anahareo was born to Mathew and Mary Bernard in Mattawa, Ontario, a small community on the border of Ontario and Quebec, just north of Algonquin Provincial Park. Her father was Mohawk and Algonquin, her mother Algonquin. Anahareo’s great-great paternal grandmother was Scottish. She was captured during the Iroquois Wars and married to Mohawk chief Naharrenou, from which the name Anahareo is derived.
Anahareo’s mother died when she was four. Anahareo was sent to live with her paternal grandmother and her three siblings to other relatives. At age 11, the grandmother fell ill, and Anahareo’s aunt and cousins moved in. Eventually, Anahareo’s father reunited the family.
As a child, Anahareo disliked school, preferring instead to run and play in the woods. “Off I’d go on those summer mornings, happy as a lark, to a day of hooky and adventure in the woods,” she later wrote.
In 1925, when Anahareo was 19, she took a waitressing job at Camp Wabikon, a resort on Lake Temagami, Ontario. It was there that she met 36-year-old Archibald Belaney, later known as Grey Owl, who was working at the camp as a guide. The two began a courtship, and Anahareo began spending time with Belaney at his home in the bush near Forsythe, Quebec.
While in Lac Simon, Quebec, an Algonquin band invited the couple to a feast. There, Archie and Anahareo asked the chief for a marriage blessing. By Canadian law, Archie was still married to his first wife, Angele, but for the couple the ceremony was official recognition of their union.
Anahareo worked to learn as much as she could about bush life from Belaney, who was a trapper by trade. The couple had a daughter, Shirley Dawn, in 1932, before splitting up in 1936. Though she knew it to be false, Anahareo supported Grey Owl’s public image as an Indigenous man because she thought it would help his conservation efforts. She did not, however, know that he was entirely British until after his death, since Grey Owl had told her he was part Mexican.
Adventurous and independent, Anahareo took up prospecting (the search for mineral deposits such as gold) when Grey Owl’s trapping business began to slow. Since Grey Owl had become a public figure, the Calgary Herald reported on Anahareo’s activities. Under the headline “Grey Owl’s Wife Leaves Alone in Search for Gold,” they noted Anahareo had “the courage of the sturdiest men.”
More than any other individual, Anahareo played an important role in converting Grey Owl into a dedicated conservationist. In Pilgrims of the Wild (1934), Grey Owl recounts how Anahareo, by saving the lives of two beaver kits, led him to change his whole way of life and to work for the protection of wildlife.
After Grey Owl and Anahareo broke off their relationship, Anahareo continued to champion the rights of wild animals. She was admitted into the Order of Nature of the Paris-based International League of Animal Rights in 1979. She is the author of an autobiography, Devil in Deerskins: My Life with Grey Owl (1972). In 1983, she was appointed a Member of the Order of Canada.