In the days when I was a kid growing up here at the Manse in Queensborough, Farley Mowat was – as he remained until his death last week at the age of 92 – very famous indeed. We read a lot of his books in school (that would be Madoc Township Public School), and I vividly remember my heart being in my mouth over the adventures in Lost in the Barrens, and the whole class laughing as a teacher read us Owls in the Family.
I also recall a TV ad that I must have seen hundreds of times on the Manse’s old black-and-white set. Does anyone else remember it? There were Farley and one or two of his dogs – Labs, I think – kind of wrestling on the floor as he told it (them?) a yarn. All day I’ve been trying to think what the ad was for; it finally came to me just now, as in my head I heard him once again roaring the punchline: “It was the Ontario Humane Society!” And of course, Farley being a well-known animal-lover, it would have made perfect sense that he’d support that organization in that way.
I’d hoped to find the ad itself on YouTube to show you (and refresh the memories of those who are, like myself, of a certain vintage) but sadly it does not seem to be there. I’m pretty sure it ran on the CBC; perhaps that organization will eventually dig it up in its archives.
Anyway, I must also tell you that I came to know Farley and his wife, Claire, in later life. As a young reporter and editor I lived and worked for many years in Port Hope, Ont., where the Mowats also resided when they were not in Cape Breton. I hadn’t known that these famous people lived there when I moved to Port Hope, and I can still recall the rather thrilled shock I experienced one evening very early in my career when, as I was doing some research on plans for an annual canoe and kayak race down Port Hope’s Ganaraska River (poetically called Float Your Fanny Down the Ganny), the chief organizer mentioned casually that “Farley” would be on hand for the event. “Do you mean Farley Mowat?” I asked. Wow. And there Farley was on the day in question, and I subsequently attended many a public and private function in Port Hope that the Mowats were at. Farley was pretty much always the life of the party, and people of course gathered round him to see what outrageous and funny thing he might come out with. And Claire was (and is) always just lovely, kind and soft-spoken – and also, in case you didn’t know, a very talented author in her own right.
As I sit writing this here at the Manse, I think about how incredulous I would have been if someone had walked into this very room 40 or so years ago and told me I’d one day be on a friendly first-name basis with the author of the book I was reading:
Farley lived such a long and productive life. He never stopped reminding us to treat the animals well and to stop wrecking our environment. Those are important messages for us all today, even as they were way back in the 1960s and ’70s, to a star-struck young fan in Queensborough.