Ernest Thompson Seton

Ernest Thompson Seton, Wikicommons

Ernest Thompson Seton (1860-1946), author, wildlife artist, founder of the Woodcraft Indians (later renamed the Woodcraft League of America) and one of the founding pioneers of the Boy Scouts of America, spent only a few years in Kawartha Lakes, but his pioneer experiences here defined his career path and the man he became. In his own words, “As I look back on the experiences of that place, I rate them among the very best of my life-training.”

Seton won several awards for his books and contributions to the science community and Scouting movement. In fact, Seton is much better known outside of Kawartha Lakes, despite this being the location that inspired him most:

Japanese creators have turned Seton’s books into anime and manga, and some of these productions have been dubbed with other languages and shown around the world. The Philmont Scout Ranch in Santa Fe is home to the Seton Memorial Library and Museum. The Seton Legacy Project organized an exhibition at the New Mexico History Museum. Greenwich, Conneticut is home to the Ernest Thompson Seton Scout Reservation. In Toronto, there’s the E.T. Seton Park and plaque on the family home at 6 Aberdeen Avenue. Carberry, Manitoba has dedicated an entire museum, art gallery and gift shop to honour the time Seton spent there.

In her book, Survival: a thematic guide to Canadian literature (1972), Margaret Atwood poses the question, “What have been the central preoccupations of our poetry and fiction?” Her answer is “survival and victims” and in her pursuit for an answer, she identifies a distinct genre of stories: “the “realistic” animal story, as invented and developed by Ernest Thompson Seton and Sir Charles G. D. Roberts, is not, as Alec Lucas would have it in A Literary History of Canada, “a rather isolated and minor kind of literature,” but a genre which provides a key to an important facet of the Canadian psyche. Those looking for something “distinctively Canadian” in literature might well start right here.” Atwood then goes on to list numerous authors following in this genre, including Farley Mowat. Characteristics of the genre include the theme of survival, animals as victims, and tragic endings. Characteristics that mirror Seton’s life.

Seton was a pioneer on the lands of Kawartha Lakes and his time here propelled him into a pioneer of Canadian literature.

“The fact that these stories are true is the reason why all are tragic. The life of a wild animal always has a tragic end.”

Seton, Wild Animals I Have Known (1898)

Arrival in Kawartha Lakes

Born Ernest Evan Thompson in 1860 at Number 6 Wellington Terrace in South Shields, England to Joseph and Alice Thompson, Seton was one of twelve boys. At the time of Seton’s birth, Joseph was a wealthy shipowner, but after financial loss, Joseph decided to take the family to Canada in 1866 to set up life as a gentleman farmer on a large tract of land.

July and August of 1866 we spent in Lindsay town. I can visualize it now—wooden sidewalks, huge pine-stumps everywhere with vigorous young cedars growing about their roots; barefooted, bare-headed boys and girls scoffing at our un-Canadian accent. Apple-trees laden with fruit to which we soon learned to help ourselves; tall rank weeds, with swarms of grasshoppers everywhere; the coffee-coloured river with its screaming roaring, sawmills; cows and pigs on the main street; great, hulking, heaving oxen drawing loads of hay, with heavy breathings that were wonderfully meadow-like and fragrant; and over and above all, in memory as in place, the far-pervading, sweet, sanctifying smell of new-cut boards of pine.

Father came prepared for the life of an English country gentleman. He proposed to take a huge tract of virgin forest, with a lake in it, build a castle on the lake, and live the life; so brought his library, his scientific instruments and a dozen different sporting guns.

We had come to live, at least in part, the lives of hunters. I think Mayne Reid and Swiss Family Robinson were the principal guide-books that my father had consulted, but Robinson Crusoe was not overlooked.

Yet we were doomed to continual disappointment; the hunter-dream faded slowly but surely.

Mother’s instinct was to go slow, to try it first in a little place, to make sure that this was what we wished to do. Mother’s views had no weight whatever, but the opinions and advice of sundry businessmen in Lindsay had. So we bought a partly cleared hundred-acre farm on Stony Creek, only three or four miles east of the town, but in the virgin woods.

The whole family went to see it and had a picnic. Down in the glorious woods by the creek, in a superb “beaver meadow,” surrounded by tall elms making Gothic aisles around us, we lighted our camp-fire, the first of my life.

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)
Sketch by Seton’s brother, John Enoch Thompson, sent to G.W. Beall in 1925, depicting “The Elms” farm in Ops township as it was in 1866. Image is from the Beall Scrapbook, courtesy of Kawartha Lakes Museum & Archives, digitized by Kawartha Lakes Public Library. The date “1857” is carved in the log above the door.

We moved out to our backwoods farm that September. It had a small house—the usual pioneer log shanty—and a few ramshackle outbuildings, the handiwork of Bill McKenna, who had first staked the claim.

The house was very small for us, very badly prepared for winter, and swarming with rats.

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)

Fortunately, the Thompsons didn’t have to suffer living in the log cabin for too long.

Mother had been used to an ample house and a staff of competent servants. Now she and my cousin Polly were doing all the housework, as well as milking some of the cows; and the whole of us roughing it in one log shanty, composed of a big living-room, with a little box-room for Father and Mother in a corner, one for my cousin in another; and the rest of us in hammocks, or upstairs in a big loft through which the wind and weather romped as out of doors, and snow drifted across our bed-clothes.

Father had planned to build a convenient house with part of his remaining capital. “It must be roomy; is it not to be our home for life?” was the oft-repeated phrase.

The new house, a plain, substantial, two-story, eleven-room brick barn, forty by sixty feet, was begun in August, 1866, and finished in January, 1867, for the amazing sum of a thousand dollars. Yes, that was how we reckoned in those days. Seventy-five dollars per room, for a plain-built house. But labourers worked from 7 A.M. till 6 P.M., and got seventy-five cents; skilled labour, a dollar and twenty-five cents for a ten-hour day. Butter was ten cents a pound; eggs, six to eight cents a dozen; pork, four cents, and the best beef, eight to ten cents a pound. Board and lodging was a dollar and fifty cents a week. A good hired man got ten dollars a month and his keep; he worked from dawn until after dark—and was happy. We have changed things now, and have not improved them much, except in shortening the hours.

We moved into this brick barn in January, 1867. Every stick and brick in its building is bright in my memory. Every smell of lime, lumber, or dank, chill room is strong in my consciousness today.

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)
Seton’s sketch of “The Elms” house and log cabin. Part of the Seton Museum’s collection.

Where in Kawartha Lakes was this place that so heavily influenced Seton?

In his autobiography he mentions the property was on Stony Creek and originally Bill McKenna “had first staked the claim.”

A search through the land records for Ops township revealed the Thompsons were on the west half of lot 15 on concession 10, right about the south-west corner of Tracey’s Hill and Settlers Roads. Seton also says his father sold the land to William Blackwell in 1870, when Joseph Thompson decided farming wasn’t profitable and moved the family to Toronto where he worked as an accountant.

Land records of Victoria County, 1822-1954

The original land patent went to Samuel McConnell in 1837, and after passing through a number of transactions, ended up in the hands of Patrick McKenna by 1865. The “1857” carved above the cabin door had to have been made during McConnell’s, Proudfoot’s or Keenan’s time on the property because McKenna didn’t have the property until 1859.

The land records also shows the $1000 mortgage used to construct the brick house (mentioned in Seton’s autobiography, excerpted above) and that Joseph Thompson did have trouble making the farm financially viable.

The following table is a transcription of the above page from the land records.

Patent10 April 1837The CrownSamuel McConnellW1/2 100 acres
136Deed12 Dec 18561116 Dec 1856William Proudfoot etuxThomas Keenansells whol lot 200 acres
808Deed24 April 18571118 Sept 1857Samuel McConnell by his atty Jas. HendersonWilliam Proudfootsells whol lot 200 acres (see power of atty attached)
1822B & I4 Feb 185910.155 Feb 1859Thomas Keenan etuxPatrick McKennasells W1/2 100 acres
1840mortgage4 Feb 1859109 Feb 1859Patrick McKenna etuxHenry K. Meredithmortgage W1/2 100 acres
1840Dis Mort22 May 1860Henry K. MeredithPatrick McKennaDis of nesN above Mort
2940Mortgage10 May 18601114 May 1860Patrick McKenna etuxTrust & Loan Company$800+Mortgages W1/2 100 acres
7102B & I13 April 1864213 April 1864Patrick McKenna etuxFrancis McKennaN1/2 of W1/2 50 acres
7103B & S13 April 18642.1513 April 1864Patrick McKenna etuxPatrick McKennaS1/2 of W1/2 50 acres
7740Lis Pendens9 Jan 186529 Jan 1865Peter Murtha vsPatrick McKennaW1/2 100 acres
9853Mortgage8 Sept 1866215 Sept 1866Joseph Logan Thompson + wifeTrust & Loan Company$1000W1/2 100 acres
12520B & S10 Aug 1866124 May 1868Trust and Loan CompanyJoseph ThompsonW1/2 100 acres Under power of sale
13560B & S26 Aug 18681026 Jan 1869Joseph Logan Thompson + wGeorge Molyneaux Roche$3443W1/2 100 acres Subject & Mortgage
13561B & S26 Aug 186810.526 Jan 1869George Molyneaux RocheAlice Thompson wife of J L Thompson$3443W1/2 100 acres Subject & Mortgage
156B & S30 Mar 18702.3030 Mar 1870Joseph L Thompson + Alice his wifeWilliam Blackwell$3000W1/2
157Mortgage30 Mar 18702.3530 Mar 1870William Blackwell etuxAlice Thompson$1600W1/2
174Dis Mort7 April 18702.3014 Apr 1870Trust & Loan CompanyJoseph Logan ThompsonDischarge of 9853
710Assignt15 May 187211.1025 May 1872Alice & Joseph L ThompsonJohn PatersonW1/2 Assignt of 157
766Dis Mort10 Oct 187212.4510 Oct 1872John PatersonWilliam BlackwellW1/2 Dis of 157
After the Blackwells the property went to the Callaghan family, who had the adjoining property to the south and according to a farm sign, the property remains in the hands of the Callaghan family today. (Note: this is the same Callaghan family for which Jack Callaghan Public School is named.)

Note the above table includes the Latin words and abbreviations used in the original document. “etux” is Latin meaning “and wife”; “Lis Pendens” is Latin meaning “pending lawsuit”; “B & I” is likely “Bank & Insurance”; “B & S” is abbreviated from “Bargain & Sale”; “Dis Mort” is abbreviated from “Discharge of Mortgage”; “atty” is abbreviated from “attorney”; “whol” is abbreviated from “whole”; and “assignt” is “assignment.” As for “Dis of nesN,” the first part is “Discharge of” but the last part is a mystery.

Moving to Toronto but returning to Kawartha Lakes

For four years I had seen only the big woods all about me. To the eastward the forest was solid and unbroken. It was inconceivable that there should be anything beyond that. My childish fancy made that the end—the rim of things. I knew there was nothing that way, no clearing, nothing but woods and woods and woods.

Then came the great change. We were not very successful as farmers. The work was far too hard; my big brothers had quit, one by one.

Mother told me we were going to Toronto to live. At my side of the schoolhouse wall hung the map of Europe, and on the lower part I made out “Otranto.” This I proudly pointed out as the new home we were headed for. Father, now nearly fifty years of age, was quite unfitted for farm life, but he was an expert accountant of modern training, and expected to get a position as such in our new home city.

On April 12, 1870, we said good-bye to the woods. The rough little cordwood railway train left Lindsay for Port Hope, forty long miles away; and with incredible speed, in half a day landed us there at noon. We stopped at a small hotel on the hill for midday meal. I stepped out on the back porch and got a marvellous thrill, for there was a great, wonderful mountain—not high, but enormously long and gloriously blue.

As I wondered about its name, and fitted it into the fairy tales of my woods life, I noticed beautiful white gulls flying about, and then a sail-boat crossing it; and slowly it dawned on me that this was no mountain —it was Lake Ontario. I was seeing it from a high hill, which, to my untrained eye, made it seem high. It was wonderful, beautiful, but puzzling. This was one of those moments of supreme joy, fraught with the happy sense that fairies are real, after all.

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)

Although, his older brothers found work and his father did well as an accountant in Toronto, Seton longed to return to nature. He found refuge in the wilds of the Don Valley, but it wasn’t enough. The family moved around Toronto, resulting in Seton needing to change schools, and he encountered bullies at every turn.

In 1875 we were living at 17 South Pembroke Street. I had been three years in Toronto, becoming more and more immersed in school studies, and very plainly showed a run-down condition at the end of the term in July.

When we had left Lindsay our farm had been bought by a highly respectable family named Blackwell. William Blackwell was a son of the pioneer of the region—Blackwell’s Settlement it was originally. His wife came of a good local family. While persons above the common run of farmers, they were eminently practical, industrious folk; and were making a success of life on the farm that we had failed on.

Acting on the doctor’s orders, Mother wrote to these people, and asked if “Ernest might visit them for a month this summer”; for she realized that food doesn’t count on a farm which produces everything; and, in this case, housed in the big house built by my father, there was plenty of room.

A cordial letter from Mrs. Blackwell resulted in my landing in Lindsay the next week. At the station I was met by George Blackwell, the son. He was three years older than myself, a picture of rugged health. He took me home in the democrat, out to the old farm, where I was kindly greeted by the big, bluff, hearty Mr. Blackwell and his gentle, motherly wife.

It was after sundown when we arrived. I was sad and silent. I took little interest in the supper. It was the first time I had been away from home and Mother. I subsided into myself, felt an overwhelm of hopeless gloom and heartsickness.

The motherly eye of Mrs. Blackwell made a quick and accurate appraisal of my condition. “He’s homesick,” she whispered to her husband. She called me, led me upstairs and helped me to bed; then tucked me in, kissed my tear-wet cheek, and left me.

How it came, about, I know not; but in the morning that black horrific cloud had rolled away. My life and interest in life were renewed, so that at once I took my place in the little world that hummed around me.

Three girls and three boys there were, all near my age; besides a hired man, a hired girl, and the father and mother of the family.

Then a new epoch was opened for me. Fresh food, fresh air, fresh life in abundance; plenty to do in the way of chores, but plenty of time for fun. The activities, exploits, and adventures of that time I have set down so fully in the Two Little Savages that it seems unnecessary to repeat them here.

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)

Blackwell’s Settlement School (SS No 10 Salem School)

Seton returned to stay with the Blackwells for several summers, becoming friends with their son, Sam, and wishing William Blackwell was his father. (Note: architect William Blackwell, who designed the Academy Theatre in Lindsay, is not this William Blackwell, but is related to this family.)

Seton even had a hand in influencing the construction of a new school nearby.

A curious friendship sprang up between us. He seemed profoundly impressed by my scholarship; which, translated into terms of local life, made clear the fact that, being in the upper form at college, I was entitled to a second-class teacher’s certificate, but must wait till I was sixteen before I could avail myself of it.

He, as school trustee, had to hire a new teacher from time to time. Usually a third-class diploma was all they could command, and the idea of this small boy being a grade too high was awe-inspiring. He used to ask me the most abstruse and difficult questions—so it seemed to him—such as:

“Airnest, this room is twenty-one feet by fifteen. How much carpet would it take to cover the whole floor?”

“Thirty-five yards,” I replied, almost without pause.

He was staggered. All of the household joined in by various methods to check up the result, and found it quite correct.

On another occasion he took me to a meeting of the school board. They were discussing a new brick school-house to replace the old log building. According to law, the Government would face half the cost if the schoolroom was adequately heated and ventilated and had a minimum of one hundred cubic feet of air per scholar when every seat was full. The heating and ventilating were easily settled; but how in the world to find out how much air, was beyond these horny-handed trustees. They could not trust the architect or the contractor—they belonged to the enemy.

Then it occurred to my burly friend that puny little “I” might prove a tower of strength in this extremity.

They spread the plans on the table, pawed over them with mighty finger-stabs, discussed and made sarcastic remarks. Then Blackwell turned to me, and said:

“Airnest, this yer schoolroom is thirty by twenty by ten feet high. How many feet of air is that?”

Without using pencil or paper, I at once replied: “Six thousand cubic feet.”

They were aghast, and still more impressed when they found it correct.

“Now how much does that give each pupil?”

“How many seats are there?” I rejoined.


“Does the teacher count?” I asked.

“He sure does; he’s as bad as two, and counts for two.” And many rude jests were bandied on the teacher’s need for air.

“That is fifty persons. That gives one hundred and twenty cubic feet of air for each.”

“There!” exclaimed Blackwell. “I told you they were doing us. Just a put-up job!” For the Government demanded only one hundred cubic feet of air apiece; and he was rejoiced to find that he had detected the swindle before it had slipped through.

“Hold on!” I exclaimed. “There’s a lobby inside the room, that must come off.” The lobby was ten feet by ten feet by ten feet. This gave one thousand cubic feet. “Take that from the six thousand, equals five thousand; divided by fifty gives exactly one hundred cubic feet per person,” the Government minimum. The plans were all right; and in the burly committee, I felt a certain sense of disappointment that they had not been able to convict the architect of trapping them into a loss.

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)

The school in question was School Section (S.S.) No. 10, known as the Salem school when “Blackwell’s Settlement” became known as Salem. The book, Ops: Land of Plenty (1968) says, “We have no date concerning the first school built in this section. An entry in an old school register states “In the summer of 1876 the first school of S.S. No. 10, situated on the north half of lot 18, concession 10 was torn down.” In the same summer, the south half of lot 19 was purchased and added to the original property (on the Hugh Moore farm). Mr. Fell of Lindsay was the builder and it is noted that the red bricks from the old school were used for the inside wall of the new one.” From Seton’s autobiography, it’s clear this was the school.

Lifelong Impressions

In all his years in Kawartha Lakes, Seton met a number of characters who left an impression on him. To name a few: the Sanger Witch (from whom he studied the medicinal uses of plants), Old Tom aka “Old Tobacco Creek”, and Cracked Jimmy Hussey. All of these people were so very good to him. A stark contrast to the bullying he received in Toronto and the abuse he got from his own father. Many of these characters make an appearance in the book, Two Little Savages (1903), autobiography thinly disguised as fiction.

Perhaps the biggest influence on Seton was the abundance of birds in Kawartha Lakes. He wanted to learn the names of every one and wished he had a book he could consult. Imagine his delight when he learned about the taxidermied birds in Lindsay.

Then I heard that a man named Charlie Foley, a hardware-man in town, had a collection of stuffed birds. Much scheming and many pleadings it cost before I was taken to town to see the great man. Into his room over the store I followed, awe-silenced, and there on a few board shelves were forty or fifty birds stuffed by himself. He talked little with me, as a sporting friend was present who discoursed volubly on his dogs. But he told me the names of many—the tanager, the wood duck, the blue crane, the gull, the barn swallow.

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)

The Seton Name

His father would not let him become a naturalist and insisted Seton study art instead. Seton went on to become a world-renown artist. Among his accomplishments, he won awards for his art and illustrated Emily Dickinson’s volume of poetry, A Bird Came Down the Walk.

Seton broke his relationship with his father, when upon turning 21, his father presented him with a bill, itemized with all expenses related to Seton’s existence, including his birth. It was around this time when he decided to change his last name to Seton, the family name of Joseph’s mother, likely an attempt to please his father. He ultimately moved to Manitoba to live on his brother’s farm.

My ancestors on the paternal side were Scottish. During the turbulent days of the Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1745, they had sided with the Stuarts. After the fatal battle of Culloden, 1746, in which the Highlanders were scattered in flight by the troops supporting King George, many of the clansmen sought hiding in England; among them, Alan Cameron, a brother or a cousin of the Cameron of Lochiel. He was a man of importance, so a price of one thousand pounds was set on his head.

Among the shipyards of South Shields he took refuge. He assumed the name of “Thompson”; and, being a man of education, he spoke English well enough to complete his disguise. His grandson was my father.In the earlier rising, our great-grandfather, Lord Seton, the Earl of Winton, had taken part, and lost everything, fleeing for his life to Italy, where he died. His only grandson, and his lawful heir, was George Seton, of Bellingham, Northumberland, my father’s first cousin.

In 1823, after the general amnesty, this George Seton appeared before the Bailies of Cannongate, the highest tribunal in Scotland; and proved himself the only grandson and lawful heir of George Seton, Earl of Winton. The bailies acknowledged the validity of the claim, and George Seton was served with the title of Earl of Winton.

He died without issue, but named my father as his heir and the lawful successor to the title, as he was the only male survivor of the line.

My father’s grandmother was Ann Seton. She never ceased to urge our people to make a stand for their rights. My father always meant to do so; but his natural indolence effectually stopped all action.

On her deathbed, his grandmother, in these, her last words, enjoined him: “Never forget, Joseph, you are the heir. You are Seton, the Earl of Winton. You must stand up for your rights.”According to the law of Scotland, and under the original grant of the title, the Earldom should be transmitted through a female when a male heir was lacking; said female was to carry the surname Seton as though a male. Therefore, though lineally Cameron, my father’s legal surname was Seton.

These facts were common knowledge in our family; and frequently Father said that he felt it his duty to take his real name and assert his rights.

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)

Eventually, Seton was able to study wildlife as he wanted to, and in 1891, he was appointed Provincial Naturalist by the government of Manitoba.

I found joy in all these possibilities, and stirred by memory of Charlie Foley’s bird-room, I resolved on having a museum of my own, a stuffed collection of all the birds I knew. At the time I thought this would comprise some twenty or thirty birds; in the years long after, when my dream came true, the list exceeded a thousand. And thus early I realized the need of money to establish my laboratory and museum.

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)

The End of Seton in Kawartha Lakes

Seton returned to the area later as part of his lecture series, performing at the Academy Theatre. At that time, he was a household name in Kawartha Lakes and the locals were quite proud of their connection to Seton.

Watchman-Warder 1905
Fenelon Falls Gazette, 1905
Watchman-Warder, 1912

Seton’s Legacy in Kawartha Lakes

For the longest time, the only indication that Seton was ever in the Kawartha Lakes was an Ontario historical plaque. The plaque was originally located at Lindsay’s museum, when it was located on Kent Street West (near the current location of Pizza Hut.) The ceremony for the unveiling of the plaque at this site was held in 1963.

Left to right: Mr. J.B. Childs, warden of Victoria County (now Kawartha Lakes); Mr W.H. Cranston, chairman of the province’s historical sites board; Mr. Arthur Burridge, member of Victoria County Historical Society; Mr. D. McQuarrie, President of the V.C.H.S. ; Rev O.G. Locke, Minister of st. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Lindsay; Hon. Leslie Frost Q.C., M.P.P.; and Mr Lloyd Found, Reeve of Lindsay. Photo part of the Kawartha Lakes Museum & Archives collection.

When the museum was removed from this location, so too was the plaque. In 2011, the plaque was unveiled in its new location on the property of Fleming College, where it remains today. The Fleming College article about Seton is not correct: Seton didn’t spend his childhood in Lindsay. In fact, he spent no more than two months in Lindsay when the family first arrived from England. His happiest days, indeed the days that most influenced the artist and naturalist that he became, occurred over the next four years in Ops township, or as stated on the plaque, “near Lindsay.”

Text on the plaque reads, “Ernest Evan Thompson, who later adopted his ancestral name of Seton, was born in England and in 1866 emigrated with his family to a farm near Lindsay. There and in the Toronto region, where he lived 1870-79, he developed a consuming interest in nature. After illustrating a number of other writers works on natural history, he combined his observation to produce many books of his own. “Two Little Savages” and “Wild Animals I Have Known” are probably the publications for which he is best remembered. His writings did much to further popular interest in wildlife and the identification of birds and animals.”

From 1988 to 1999, the Kawartha Art Gallery (then the Lindsay Art Gallery) hosted 206 pieces of Seton’s art on loan from one of his descendants. One piece of art remains in the Gallery’s permanent collection. It’s oil on paper, untitled, and thought to have been made around 1895.

Portrayed is a cow in a snowy field with hills in the distance while a dog looks on from the ridge in the foreground. Likely this is a scene from Seton’s life in Manitoba, and the dog is one of the ranch’s dogs, perhaps the collie or shepherd he wrote about in Wild Animals I Have Known (1898).

“Untitled” by Ernest Thompson Seton. Courtesy of Kawartha Art Gallery.

These days when the name Ernest Thompson Seton is uttered, the response is always, “Who’s that?” Hardly surprising since the greatest effort made by Kawartha Lakes to recognize Seton was to reduce his formative years here to 110 words on a plaque that’s forgotten somewhere within the woods of a college campus. A mere few of his books remain on the shelves of the public library. One piece of art exists in the public art gallery.

There are many, many more stories about Seton’s time in Kawartha Lakes contained within the pages of his books. Many more than have been excerpted here. But one thing is apparent: his time in Kawartha Lakes made the biggest impact on his life. His legacy here should be much bigger than it is.

When we left the farm and big backwoods it seemed that I had left behind all the loved world of the wild things, the king-birds in the orchard, the robins by the barn, the swallows in the stable, the phœbes in the cowshed, the flicker on the dead tree, the peetweet tipping up his tail on the logs that crossed the creek, as well as the great blue crane (heron) that rose on mighty wings and squawked as he made away. But I was slowly learning this great truth—the things you love are begotten inside you.

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)
Ernest Thompson Seton, image from Wikimedia Commons, photo by G.G. Bain, Library of Congress


Mammals of Manitoba (1886)

Birds of Manitoba, Foster (1891)

How to Catch Wolves (1894)

Studies in the Art Anatomy of Animals (1896)

Wild Animals I Have Known (1898)

The Trail of the Sandhill Stag (1899)

The Wild Animal Play for Children (musical) (1900)

The Biography of a Grizzly (1900)

Tito: The Story of the Coyote That Learned How (1900)

Bird Portraits (1901)

Lives of the Hunted (1901)

Twelve Pictures of Wild Animals (1901)

Krag and Johnny Bear (1902)

How to Play Indian (1903)

Two Little Savages (1903)

How to Make a Real Indian Teepee (1903)

How Boys Can Form a Band of Indians (1903)

The Red Book (1904)

Monarch, the Big Bear of Tallac (1904)

Woodmyth & Fable (1905)

Animal Heroes (1905)

The Birchbark Roll of the Woodcraft Indians (1906)

The Natural History of the Ten Commandments (1907)

Fauna of Manitoba, British Assoc. Handbook (1909)

Biography of a Silver Fox (1909)

Life-Histories of Northern Animals (two volumes) (1909)

Boy Scouts of America: Official Handbook, with General Sir Baden-Powell (1910)

The Forester’s Manual (1910)

The Arctic Prairies (1911)

Rolf in the Woods (1911)

The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore (1912)

The Red Lodge (1912)

Wild Animals at Home (1913)

The Slum Cat (1915)

Legend of the White Reindeer (1915)

The Manual of the Woodcraft Indians (1915)

Wild Animal Ways (1916)

Woodcraft Manual for Girls (1916)

The Preacher of Cedar Mountain (1917)

Woodcraft Manual for Boys; the Sixteenth Birch Bark Roll (1917)

The Woodcraft Manual for Boys; the Seventeenth Birch Bark Roll (1918)

The Woodcraft Manual for Girls; the Eighteenth Birch Bark Roll (1918)

Sign Talk of the Indians (1918)

The Laws and Honors of the Little Lodge of Woodcraft (1919)

The Brownie Wigwam: The Rules of the Brownies (1921)

The Buffalo Wind (1921)

Woodland Tales (1921)

The Book of Woodcraft (1921)

The Book of Woodcraft and Indian Lore (1922)

Bannertail: The Story of a Gray Squirrel (1922)

Manual of the Brownies, 6th edition (1922)

The Ten Commandments in the Animal World (1923)

Animals (1926)

Animals Worth Knowing (1928)

Lives of Game Animals (four volumes) (1925–1928)

Blazes on the Trail (1928)

Krag, the Kootenay Ram and Other Stories (1929)

Billy the Dog That Made Good (1930)

Cute Coyote and Other Stories (1930)

Lobo, Bingo, The Pacing Mustang (1930)

Famous Animal Stories (1932)

Animals Worth Knowing (1934)

Johnny Bear, Lobo and Other Stories (1935)

The Gospel of the Redman, with Julia Seton (1936)

Biography of An Arctic Fox (1937)

Great Historic Animals (1937)

Mainly about Wolves (1937)

Pictographs of the Old Southwest (1937)

Buffalo Wind (1938)

Trail and Camp-Fire Stories (1940)

Trail of an Artist-Naturalist: The Autobiography of Ernest Thompson Seton (1940)

Santanna, the Hero Dog of France (1945)

The Best of Ernest Thompson Seton (1949)

Ernest Thompson Seton’s America (1954)

Animal Tracks and Hunter Signs (1958)

The Worlds of Ernest Thompson Seton (1976)

One thought on “Ernest Thompson Seton

  1. Pingback: “The Elms”: home to two writers? – Kawartha Lakes Writers

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