Her Story

About the free-spirited woman who transformed a trapper into a conservationist.

Her Early Years (1906 - 1925)

Before she was a best-selling author, before she was a prospector, and before she met Grey Owl, Anahareo was Gertrude Bernard, also known as Gertie or Pony, a mischievous and spirited girl from the small town of Mattawa, Ontario. This page tells that story.

Ancestry     • Her Early Years      • Anahareo & Grey Owl       • Finding Her Own Way     
• Her Later Years      • Anahareo Remembered

Anahareo was born on June 18, 1906 in the small town of Mattawa, Ontario. Baptized Gertrude Philomen Bernard, Anahareo was occasionally referred to by her family as Gertie, but more often, she was simply called "Pony," because she was a wild and spirited child.

Not long after Anahareo's birth, her mother became ill with tuberculosis, passing away when Anahareo was only five years old. Though young, Anahareo remembered that day well -- a day her aunts, uncles, two grandmothers, and father were kneeling in prayer by her mother's bed. Unable to care for his young family due to the nomadic nature of his work, Anahareo's father divided his four children among various relatives, with Anahareo being raised by her grandmother, Catherine Bernard, whom she adored.

Anahareo's family adhered to both society's and the Catholic Church's expectations of behaviour, but Anahareo was too much of a free spirit to follow a conventional path. As Anahareo put it,

"Boys grew up and attained a sort of independence, but [...] women were regarded as perpetual minors, incapable of making up our own minds, fated unless we were closely watched and carefully guarded, to commit the most unforgivable errors. But somewhere in my make-up there is a streak of determined obstinacy."

~ Anahareo, My Life with Grey Owl

Rather than attend school, she would often cut out early and spend the day shooting, canoeing, and camping with the boys. Although she did attempt to behave herself for her grandmother's sake, when she was transferred to the care of a very critical aunt at the age of eleven, Anahareo's home became the staging ground for a battle of wills that included cutting class, raiding gardens --- and even picking off her aunt's hens with her .22 rifle!

When her father finally learned of how the situation had deteriorated, he found a way to bring his three older children back under his own roof. Although Anahareo's describes the home situation as "gay," it was nonetheless a solitary existence: Anahareo's sister was interested in far tamer pursuits than she was, her former playmates became "girl-conscious" and slowly drifted away, and she had by this point fallen so far behind in school, that she simply stopped going.

Although she was a town girl, Anahareo grew up hearing tales of the Northland: tales of wilderness, hardship, lucky strikes -- and adventure! When she was ninetween, there was one place in particular that appealed to her: Lake Temiskaming,

"... a body of water ninety miles long, its width varying from a few hundred yards to several miles. The water was reported to be the bluest you ever saw, and the description of the rocky islets, pine-clad, rising from the lovely shimmering lake, and the sandy spits and coves over which the wavelets danced and sparkled in the sun, would have done credit to the department that designs the Canadian Pacific travel posters. It was [...] a grand place for a holiday."

~ Anahareo, My Life with Grey Owl

It took three months of persistent badgering, but her father finally consented to allow her to take a three-week holiday at Camp Wabikon on Lake Temagami, provided she bring with her a married relative. Anahareo, of course, selected one who would prove to be "as little handicap to my free and adventurous spirit as a tail is to a dog."

With the help of Camp Wabikon's social secretary, Isobel Leduc, Anahareo found a way to stay the rest of the summer. Somewhere toward the end of her stay, Anahareo looked up from her book to see a man "dressed in brown deerskins stepping with the speed and grace of a panther from a canoe."

It was her Jesse James, "that mad, dashing, and romantic Robin Hood of America" -- Grey Owl.

NEXT: Anahareo & Grey Owl