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Feature article published in The Independent, as it appeared in the Independent’s website prior to the newspaper's sale to Northumberland News in 2007.

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December 8, 1998

Under full sail:
At 36 books and counting, Northumberland's most famous author
may have a few books in him yet

Farley and Claire Mowat in their Port Hope home.

Lorraine Dmitrovic photo

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 hemisphere.

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 is that?"

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 before Columbus.

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....

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