by LORRAINE DMITROVIC
Farley and Claire
Mowat in their Port Hope home.
Special to The Independent
As he closes in on his 80th birthday, one of Northumberland's
most outspoken residents says it's time to pass the torch to
a younger generation -- although he’ll continue to write
books and brightly lead the way.
Farley Mowat was born in the Quinte region 77 years ago. At
one point he struck a few roots in Brighton, and he also lived
in Roseneath before making Port Hope home. But his many international
bestsellers are drawn from his travels through most of the northern
As a decorated Captain and Intelligence Officer, Farley Mowat
travelled to Canada's arctic to sweep his heart and mind of
the horror of World War II. He searched for, and found by 1949,
the purpose that became his life. There were stories to tell
of Canada's neglected native peoples and animals. His concerns
would expand to cover much of the globe. In short time he earned
a reputation as one of our country's most loved storytellers.
So it is that Farley, today a grandfather, has journalled his
remarkable life through a half-century of books and articles.
Claire Mowat, an author herself who met Farley on the Isle of
St. Pierre, has shared 36 of those years.
For the Mowats, it was love at first sight -- in his own words, "It
was right." Over time their relationship settled into the harmonious
recipe of the best Canadian Tortiere: Farley can be quite crusty
around the edges, but the middle is very tender-hearted. Claire's
quiet and softspoken humour is a perfect topping.
After all these years, we learn Mowat loves Earl Grey tea,
and finds the romantic classical strains of Schubert and Ravel
soothing. Claire favours baroque, and cooks as a hobby, mainly
fish dishes she became expert at early in their marriage.
The Mowats are still passionate about many issues, though Farley
admits "I've done my part, and it's time the young fellas take
the lead and carry the torch. Today I strongly support the moral
environmental stand Paul Watson and the Sea Shepherds Conservation
Society take against pirate whalers."
Mowat sees few sane reasons for hunting in this day and culture.
He notes, "With economic times so bad on the East Coast and
elsewhere, people are hunting for moose and deer to feed their
families. That's understandable." But some hunts incite his
indignation: "The spring bear hunt in this province is an absolute
abomination. At that time of year, the female is just emerging
with her cubs, and to take a mother bear - what kind of trophy
Mowat's views have made an impact. Total sales from 36 books
published in 52 languages have surpassed the 14 million mark.
Closer to home, the Mowats are disturbed by the way in which
local politics are reshaping Northumberland. They've lived in
Port Hope 31 years, and they're no strangers to the danger of
radioactive material in the harbour.
The scheduled Port Hope Hospital closing also raises hackles. "It's
a put-up job by politicians, says Farley.
"The hospital has everything going for it. Extra acreage. The
building plan allows it to be made into a two-story structure
one day. It appears a handful of conservative supporters in
Cobourg have engineered this, and they're ramrodding it to the
people. Ontario's become a different place under Mike Harris."
Mowat was born in quieter times in Belleville. For years his
family owned a cottage near Brighton, and sailed the Bay of
Quinte on 'Scotch Bonnet'.
The Brighton property, with a well and little electricity,
passed on to Farley. "But I must destroy the myth of a wall
signed by famous people," he says. "Not true at all. There's
a door my mother, father and I wrote personal things on. Claire
and I entertained in Brighton; there were good times with people
like Pierre Berton and Margaret Lawrence." When the Mowats grew
older and wanted to simplify their lives, the cottage was sold.
A large house was built near Roseneath. Claire relates
that, "after its construction, we felt it wasn't 'us'. We rented
it out after awhile, first to MP Christine Stewart and her husband,
then others." The Mowats sold the home, and not too long ago
it was destroyed by fire.
Today they divide their time between Port Hope and Nova Scotia,
and are partial to Cape Breton. Says Mowat, "The people are
extremely accepting of strangers. They're a tightly-knit society,
very tribal in a sense, and haven't lost their cultural identity."
In fact, he regards present-day Cape Bretoners as possible
descendants of long-ago travellers. Mowat's latest release,
The Farfarers, examines the Newfoundland landfall by a clan
he refers to as Albans. Farley surmises the Albans populated
the British Isles as early as 2000 B.C., and then went a-sailing
in skin-covered boats and discovered the New World 35 centuries
The archaeology and timeline Mowat follows is credible, and
he weaves history and speculation into a captivating story.
Claire also has a new book release, 'Last Summer in Louisbourg',
the third in the coming-of-age saga of Andrea Baxter, set in
Cape Breton Island.
In the meantime, they'll settle in for another winter in Port
Hope. But certainly come spring they'll be farfaring again to
the East Coast. They say winds of inspiration come blowing in
off the Atlantic. If so, there's every reason to believe that
Farley Mowat has another book or two in him yet....