For many years Farley Mowat has written about animals, the natural environment and the Far North. His stories mix humour, personal experience and compassion. He is one of the most widely read Canadian authors in the world.
Farley was born in 1921 in Belleville, Ontario, the only child of Angus and Helen Mowat. His father's career as a librarian during the Great Depression kept the family moving across Ontario and finally into Saskatchewan. Farley had a lot of freedom when he was a boy; his parents allowed him to roam the countryside and to keep animals at home.
As a boy in Saskatchewan Farley had a passion for nature and a love of animals. He and his dog Mutt would roam the riverbank and the prairie collecting "owl pellets" (balls regurgitated by owls that contain bones and skulls of animals that they ate). Mutt later became the hero of Farley's book "The Dog Who Wouldn't Be."
Farley also kept a pet rattlesnake in his dresser drawer. Jitters the squirrel, Wol the owl, a Florida alligator, several cats, and hundreds of insects were also a part of young Farley's life
Farley and some friends created the Beaver Club of Amateur Naturalists. The club members were people interested in nature conservation and the environment. The Beaver Club started a museum in the Mowat family basement. Their collection included the joined skull of a two-headed calf, some stuffed birds and a bear cub. The museum later had to be moved from the basement after moths and beetles invaded it.
Young Farley combined his love of nature with writing. By the age of 13, Farley had started a magazine called Nature Lore, and had a weekly nature column for the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. Farley used the money he raised from selling copies of Nature Lore to help feed geese and ducks that would have starved because they could not migrate south for the winter. It was around this time that Farley's uncle took him on his first trip to the Arctic.
Farley often writes about wildlife, the environment, and the way that humans pose a danger to their natural habitat. In his twenties, Farley served as a scout in the Canadian Army and fought in World War II. His war experience helped him when he wrote "The Regiment." When he returned from the army, Farley accepted a position as a government biologist in Northern Canada. Farley's assignment was to study the wolf population and their behaviour. The Canadian government was concerned because the caribou population was shrinking, and they thought that wolves were killing the caribou, so they asked Farley to find evidence to support their suspicions.
After months of observing a male wolf and his mate, Farley realized that wolves were intelligent creatures who only ate what they needed to survive. He found out that the wolves would usually eat field mice, and would eat only sick or old and weak caribou. By killing the weakest of the caribou, Farley said the wolves actually helped strengthen the caribou herd.
Although the government did not agree with Farley's findings, he eventually turned his experience into the 1963 book "Never Cry Wolf." The book became popular worldwide. "Never Cry Wolf" changed the way people thought about wolves. Instead of being feared, wolves were now seen as positive symbols of the wilderness. After the Russian version of "Never Cry Wolf" was released, the Soviet Union banned the killing of wolves.
Many of his books are written for children. "Lost in the Barrens" (which won a Governor General's Award,) is a novel about a pair of teenaged boys who become lost and must face the winter alone in the wilderness. He also has written children's stories about family pets such as "The Dog Who Wouldn't Be" and "Owls in the Family."
Farley has had a lot of success as a writer, but he has said that writing isn't easy. He believes it can be a chore, and has said that writing is only fun during those rare times when a writer has a breakthrough and gets lost in his or her own words. Farley has also stated that a writer can write only about his or her own personal experience. It is with this belief that Farley has written his books. In a 1968 interview with CBC Radio, Farley admitted that he doesn't let the facts get in the way of the truth. Farley has spent most of his life telling stories and informing humans of the dangers they pose to animals and their environment. His work has been published in 52 languages, and has sold more than 14 million copies worldwide.
Farley is now 78-years-old, and lives in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. He still writes, and has said that his next book may be about his many trips to the Arctic.
Profile From: Canada Reads
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