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Farley Mowat: the Greatest Canadian?

Today is a very sad day for me.

The greatest Canadian I have ever known and one of my closest and dearest friends has died.

I spoke to him just a few weeks ago and he was as full of life as he always has been. His passion for nature as profoundly strong as ever and he was just as outspoken as ever – in defense of Canada’s national parks, speaking up for the seals, leveling his pen and his wit at Canada’s notorious nature-destroying Prime Minister’s ruthless government.

I have known Farley Mowat all of my life from reading his books as a child to becoming a close friend of his over the last three decades.

I don’t think I have ever known a person more committed and more passionate about nature, animals and wilderness than Farley.

He was also in my opinion the greatest and most courageous Canadian writer in Canada’s entire history, whose many books have inspired generations of Canadians. Never Cry Wolf, A Whale for the Killing, Sibir, People of the Deer, Sea of Slaughter are just a few titles among his dozens of books translated into dozens of languages.

He honoured both Sea Shepherd and I by writing the forward to my book Ocean Warrior and by serving as the International Chair of Sea Shepherd International for more than two decades. And I was honoured to serve on the board of the Farley Mowat Foundation.

I will forever treasure the times I spent visiting him and his wife Claire in Port Hope, Ontario in the winter, or in the summer, at their home in Riviere Bourgeois in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia.

He was my close friend and close advisor, an incredible inspiration and one of the most perceptive, intelligent and wonderful human beings that I have ever had the privilege to know.

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Farley Mowat. Photo: Philip Teasdale.

I have sat at his desk and marveled that he produced his many books on an Underwood typewriter. Farley did not even have an e-mail address. His media was the pen and the typewriter and he was an absolute artist with both.

Sea Shepherd named a ship after him that carried his name to the Southern Ocean to defend whales and back again to the Canadian East coast to defend his beloved seals.

Although he saw that the future was bleak and that humankind was like a runaway train on a downhill slope without any brakes, he still was optimistic that some people would manage to save the world from ourselves.

He was a World War II combat veteran and collected the artifacts that formed the foundation of the Canadian War museum. He was bestowed with the Order of Canada although he always told me it was not such a honour coming from a government that had such contempt for nature and animals.

I have to admit I feel somewhat defeated by his loss. He has always been a source of strength for me as an advisor and what I will always treasure is just how damn courageously outspoken he was on every issue he was concerned about. The world for me is a lesser place without him in it.

For the last twenty years he kept telling me he was working on his last book and when completed the next book was his last and the book after that. I told him that he would never stop writing until the day he died and he never did stop writing.

He always seemed to me to be immortal. I saw myself in the future to be just like him, still working at 92.

Canada has lost their greatest literary treasure, the world has lost one of our most inspirational conservationists and Sea Shepherd and I have lost a wonderful friend.

Canada will one day name a national park in his honour for he has earned his place as a truly Canadian hero through talent, imagination, vision, courage and passion. Canada has a long history of contempt for people that they later almost canonize as heroes long after they die – people like Grey Owl, Louis Riel, Dr. Norman Bethune, Tommy Douglas, etc.

For despite his unpopularity with the conservative Harper government, Farley has always had the love and the respect of the Canadian people and he will not be forgotten.

Farley will always be with us as an inspiration. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society and I have had the great honour of having Farley with us as a friend and advisor.

We intend to carry on the struggle that he felt was most important and that is the defense and protection of the natural world, of the wilderness, of endangered species, of the oceans.

For myself I don’t intend to let him down and because of him I never intend to retire and like him I plan to work for the Oceans, the planet and the future until that last day before I return to the Earth.

From all of us in Sea Shepherd International from all around the world we can say that we will miss this man and we will never forget him and what he has done, what he has written and how he contributed to the strength and resolve we need to stay the course.

Farley Mowat. We love you and we always will.

Paul Watson is the founder of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society.

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