Farley Mowat was born in Ontario between the two world wars into an eccentric family who encouraged his love for the natural world. His was an innocent childhood, spent largely in the company of owls, dogs, squirrels, snakes and other wildlife, and he chronicled it stunningly in an array of books that include Owls in the Family, The Dog Who Wouldn't Be and Born Naked.
He enlisted enthusiastically into the army as the Second World War was declared. Like so many of his fellow Canadian soldiers, he was just 18 on enlistment. After spending almost two years training and waiting in England, he was sent into the carnage of the Italian campaign. That experience became And No Birds Sang at once a compassionate portrait of the endurance of the average Canadian soldier and one of the most searing anti-war books ever written.
Returning to Canada, his faith in humanity shattered, Farley found himself unable and unwilling to fit back into post-war life. Desperate, he embarked on a scientific collecting expedition to the Barren Grounds in what is now Nunavut. It was there, in that bleak, beautiful landscape that he found his purpose, first with the wolves and then with the Ihalmiut, the Barren Ground Inuit. Out of these experiences came his first forays into activism as he tried to secure aid for the starving Inuit, and as he tried to change how the world looked at wolves. Out of this time came People of the Deer, The Desperate People, and Never Cry Wolf. It is not an exaggeration to say that these books changed how Canadians viewed their north and its inhabitants forever.
From this seminal time, Farley continued to use his writing and his immense popularity to fight for the causes he believed in and created a body of work staggering in its quality and breadth: Sea of Slaughter, A Whale for the Killing, Grey Seas Under, Lost in the Barrens, Virunga: The Life of Dian Fossey (that became the movie Gorillas in the Mist), and many more. He used his writing to speak to deep truths about human responsibility for the planet and the species we share it with, and in doing so, he became one of the pioneers of the environmental movement.
In his later years, Farley continued to give his name to environmental causes and has continued to write with undiminished vigour. Recent years gave us, among others, The Farfarers, Walking on the Land, Bay of Spirits, Otherwise, and this year's Eastern Passage.
Farley's writing has attracted controversy over the years and he has himself famously said that he "never lets the facts get in the way of the truth". This line is crucial, for what Farley has always been most interested in is the truth that is revealed at the intersection of story and documentary. (In fact, he was one of the first practitioners of a genre now widely accepted creative non-fiction.) And his purpose has always been to use his storytelling gifts to make his readers willing to listen to the morals and message that lie at the heart of everything he writes. He was seeking nothing less than changing how a nation looked at itself, its peoples, and the stewardship of its lands.
In all, Farley has a body of work of over 40 books, encompassing fiction, non-fiction and young adult. These have been translated into over 50 languages and have sold literally millions upon millions of copies worldwide. Their popularity belies their careful artistry and stunning style.
Returning to Canada after the war, Mowat studied biology at the University of Toronto. During a field trip to Northern Canada, Mowat became outraged at the plight of the Ihalmiut, a Caribou Inuit band, which he attributed to misunderstanding by whites. His outrage led him to publish his first novel, People of the Deer (1952). This book made Mowat a literary celebrity and contributed to the shift in the Canadian government's Inuit policy: the government began shipping meat and dry goods to a people they previously denied existed.