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Farley Mowat's love of nature celebrated at private funeral service

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PORT HOPE, Ont. - Family members and friends remembered Farley Mowat as an impassioned writer and nature lover on Tuesday at a private funeral for the internationally beloved author of classics including "Owls in the Family" and "Never Cry Wolf."

Outside the church, Justin Mowat — the writer's 18-year-old grandson — said the service was "very respectful, very peaceful, exactly how I'm sure Grandpa Farley would have liked it."

In addition to penning over 40 books, Mowat was a staunch defender of the environment and wildlife, a quality that was top of mind for the mourners at St. Mark's Anglican Church.

"There's actually a tree right over there that he stopped us (at) one time when we were down here on a walk, and he stopped and he patted it and he told us that every time he walked by this tree with his dog he would pat the tree and he would hold onto it and the tree would talk to him," recalled Justin Mowat of Palgrave, Ont., who spoke at the service.

"I knew — whether he was joking or not — that it was very evident that he had a very strong connection with nature, and that really brought that out."

Green Party Leader Elizabeth May was among those who attended the service at the quaint white church, held under cloudy skies in this small, picturesque community about 100 kilometres east of Toronto. For the past few decades, Mowat divided his time between Port Hope and Cape Breton, N.S.

"We lost one of the best," said Firooz Hooshmandi, a Port Hope resident who stood outside the church. "I respect him. I've read all his books."

Suzanne Camm, a neighbour of Mowat's who also stood outside, said the author was very low key and approachable.

"Every morning at about six, 6:15 a.m., he was walking down the street with his dog and everyone knew if you wanted to have a conversation with Farley, get up early and get out and he'd be out there strolling," she said. "He was always the life of the party. He was just a fun man. You didn't bother him when he was at home, particularly in the morning, because you knew he was writing. But if he was out he was approachable, particularly if he had a dog. I mean, I think he loved dogs more than he loved people. He really, really loved animals."

Mowat died last week at age 92.

From the time he was 13, he was fiercely dedicated to writing about the natural world and became an outspoken champion of various environmental and social issues.

He called Canada's treatment of aboriginals "abominable," said the seal hunt was "perhaps the most atrocious single trespass by human beings against the living world that's taking place today," and felt hunts in general were "symbolic of the massive destruction that we've visited upon life."

Mowat said he was lucky to be able to combine his two passions: writing and nature, calling it "the only subject I really want to write about."

A Second World War veteran who served from 1940 to 1945, he also wrote about his difficult experiences on the battlefield in his book "And No Birds Sang."

Several war veterans attended Tuesday's service, including Bob Wigmore of Belleville, Ont., who served with Mowat in the Hastings and Prince Edward Regiment.

"At each passing of a member of our regiment, we like to remember and know that they're always in our memories, so we've formed what we call the White Batallion and everyone that passes away is posted to the White Batallion. We also have an honour roll and his name goes on that roll."

Geoffrey Dale, who also served in the war and became friends with Mowat in Port Hope, said he hoped Mowat will be remembered "as a great champion of the environment and a person who cared very greatly about that and about other people."

Mowat received numerous awards, including the Governor General's Award for his 1956 children's story "Lost in the Barrens," the Leacock Medal for Humour for "The Boat Who Wouldn't Float" in 1970, the Order of Canada in 1981 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Fund for Animal Welfare in 2003. He was also inducted into Canada's Walk of Fame.

Justin Mowat said he spoke during the service about how his grandfather taught him "about passion and how to drive yourself and always ask questions and seek the answers."

"I actually had a very nice conversation with him the last time I saw him about that, about passion, and he told me that he'd like to say that he tried his best in life," he said. "But then he stopped, he corrected himself and he said that he'd like to say that he succeeded in life — he did everything he wanted to do, he succeeded to himself and to others and that he can now die happy."

Following the service, Mowat's ashes were interred at a cemetery beside the church, which is also the resting place of former governor general Vincent Massey.

Mowat is survived by his wife Claire, sister Rosemary, brother John, and sons Sandy and David — as well as three grandchildren.

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