PORT HOPE -- One of Port Hope’s most famous residents, Farley Mowat, now has two public monuments.
A full lineup of Thanksgiving weekend events paid tribute to the internationally recognized author who died in 2014. The events were centred around the move of the boat roofed house monument from Catherine Street where it has been for 10 years, to the Eastside Ganaraska Park. The monument is the largest known dedicated to the author.
Family members participated in the events, including his wife Claire Mowat, son Sandy Mowat, grandson Justin Mowat and brother John Mowat. The family donated a bronze bust of the author on the second floor of the Port Hope Public Library. The bust is a smaller version of a bronze statue depicting him and his beloved dog, Chester, created by George Boileau. The statue is in Saskatoon where the author grew up.
Farley would have been “extremely happy” to see the boat roofed house in a public location within view of library, said Claire after the bust unveiling. The author believed in books and reading and likely would have been glad that the monuments inspire people to read, she added.
Farley’s family had a long history in the area. Farley’s father, Angus Mowat, a librarian and First World War veteran, retired in Port Hope where he served on the library board. Farley and Claire moved to Port Hope in 1968, said his grandson Justin, adding they spent summers at a home in Cape Breton.
“He really cared about Port Hope -- he could have chosen anywhere to live in Canada,” said Justin to a large crowd gathered in the library for the bust unveiling on Oct. 8.
Farley forged a strong, long-lasting connection with the Port Hope Public Library -- he started a Christmas tradition, reading stories to the young and old, Justin said.
“Where better to commemorate Mr. Farley Mowat than in one of his favourite Port Hope spaces,” said Justin. “I can even pull a Farley Mowat book off the shelf and enjoy it in the shadow of his bust -- I think he would like that.”
Justin added a personal note about his famous grandfather.
“To me he was always just my grandpa and he was just this crazy dude who looked like a child in an old man’s body and would say the most ridiculous stuff and did not care what other people thought of him ...” said Justin.
Farley saw the statue Boileau created. He climbed up on a ladder “so he could look himself in the eye,” said Boileau at the Port Hope Library unveiling. Farley told him the statue made him look “oracular” or like an oracle.
“That has been, thus far, the best compliment I have ever received,” said Boileau.
He said it is an honour to have his piece in the library.
“Farley Mowat was a force of nature -- figuratively and literally.”
The boat roofed house idea came from Port Hope dry stone waller John Shaw-Rimmington who met Farley about 12 years ago, he said.
“We met at party -- he said to me ‘You should read my book ‘Farfarers,’ because he knew I was a dry stone waller,” said Shaw-Rimmington.
The book details archeological examples of boat-shaped dry stone walls in Canada that pre-dated the Vikings landing.
“I decided this was a really cool thing to make a replica of this boat roofed house,” said Shaw-Rimmington.
He asked Farley if he would like to see a monument built for him rather than having tourists drive by his home in Port Hope.
“He said ‘sure, knock yourself out’,” said Shaw-Rimmington.
Ten years ago, about 10 or 15 dry stone wallers got together and built it on Catherine Street on Stephen Smith’s land. Smith, who also took part in the weekend events said he was relived to see the monument in public hands. He has sold his property and is moving to another home in Port Hope, he said. When the council of the day would not agree to build it in a visible downtown location, Smith, a friend of Farley, offered his property 10 years ago, he said.
“I was glad to have it,” he said.
Tourism buses and groups of school children would navigate the small street to see the monument, he said. Smith recalled a time when about 300 school children came down to see it.
“Farley was thrilled -- he had a unique way with kids,” said Smith.
Farley also loved the monument, Smith said.
“He was delighted with the thing -- he threatened to put his ashes in it,” Smith said. “It’s a monument to his work.”
Among those gathered to re-dedicate the monument was Ryan Young, a former Sea Shepherd Conservation Society crew member. Sea Shepherd, an international non-profit, marine wildlife conservation organization, has named three ships after Farley Mowat, said Young on Oct. 9.
“It seems that Farley is followed or animated in his life by ships of all sorts and boats so I think it is great that we are here once again in relation to Farley Mowat connected to a boat,” said Young.
Young brought a message from Captain Paul Watson, the founder of Sea Shepherd. Watson, originally from Toronto, cannot enter Canada because the Japanese Coast Guard has an arrest warrant out on him. In the message, Watson said he wanted to be in Port Hope for the re-dedication.
“Farley was inspiration to me in the ‘60s as a writer and even more so in the ‘70s as an activist,” said Watson. “When I think of Canada, the first thought that comes to me is Farley Mowat.”
Farley is the true spirit of what every Canadian should be --- a defender of Canada’s nature and First Nations people and a visionary, Watson said.
“He never shied away from controversy, never stepped aside from fear, never back down from confrontation,”
The weekend events also drew friends such as Mike Austin, a London resident and life-long penpal of Farley’s. Austin wrote a letter to Farley when he was 11 years old, nearly 40 years ago, after he read ‘Never Cry Wolf’. The two exchanged letters until Farley died. As a tattoo artist, with a tattoo of Farley on his leg, Austin often drew on his letters. The last thing he sent Farley was a hand-drawn birthday card, which Farley never opened, he said.
Port Hope is expected to continue paying tribute to Farley with a possible environmental writing workshop in the works and a new sign.
This time next year, Mayor Bob Sanderson said he would like to see a sign on Hwy. 401 that reads “Port Hope, Home of Farley Mowat.”