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 with Rob Miskosky

A Rodent for the Ages

The beaver is an interesting animal that, as most of us know, played a very large part in the fur trade and the development of Canada. Without its then valuable fur, Canada as we know it would not be the same and in fact, might be an entirely different country. So, for this, the beaver deserves recognition. And recognition it was given. “The beaver was given official status as an emblem of Canada when ‘An Act to provide for the recognition of the Beaver (Castor canadensis) as a symbol of the sovereignty of Canada’ received royal assent on March 24, 1975.”

The importance of the beaver was noted as far back as 1621 when the Hudson’s Bay Company put four beavers on the shield of their coat of arms. In 1851, the beaver was again recognized with its appearance on the United Province of Canada’s first postage stamp. According to Canada Post, “The original Three Pence Beaver was based on a sketch by Sir Sandford Fleming” and “As postal historian Thomas A. Hillman notes, the Three Pence Beaver is one of the world’s earliest examples of a pictorial stamp, and until 1939, the only one featuring a rodent.”

That’s correct, a rodent; in fact, the beaver is the largest rodent in North America and the second largest in the world, only falling behind South America’s capybara.

But because of the beaver’s fine fur that was highly sought-after and used to produce everything from felt hats to winter coats, it was nearly brought to extinction because of over-hunting and trapping and by the early 1900’s, finding a beaver was tantamount to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack—there just weren’t any beavers left. Recognizing this, English immigrant and former trapper, Archibald Belaney, also known as Grey Owl, took up the fight to save the beaver. Grey Owl brought international attention to the beaver and its near extinction with his many writings. Then, in 1928, a 13-minute movie was made by the Dominion Parks Branch featuring Grey Owl and his two pet beavers, Rawhide and Jelly Roll. The trio led the charge to save the beaver, which, as we know, became a tremendous success story.

Problem is the beaver can multiply fast and by the 1950’s the beaver was once again highly sought after, only this time for all the wrong reasons. Each year, an adult beaver can cut down approximately 215 trees for food and building materials. They can also turn a beautiful pond setting into an ugly bomb site, flood roads, farmer’s fields and waterfront real estate, so not everyone is enamoured with old yellow tooth.

Often, the beaver is brought up in conversation as to why it’s Canada’s official national emblem. After all, shouldn’t national emblems be majestic animals like the grizzly bear or the wolf, or like the United States, the eagle, which represents the freedom and strength of America? Not a dentally challenged rodent with a sweet smelling butt that wreaks havoc on the environment for goodness sakes! That’s correct; the beaver has a sweet smelling butt! How do I know, well, I’ve smelled enough beaver butt over my years trapping to know that a beaver’s butt actually smells quite good.

In 2011, Canadian senator Nicole Eaton launched a campaign to change Canada’s national animal from the beaver to the polar bear. She called the beaver “a toothy tyrant that does nothing but destroy the environment.” Apparently, beavers love the dock at her summer cottage and despite many attempts at their removal, they refuse to move on. I guess Eaton’s only recourse was to try to have their Canadian status revoked. However, her campaign failed because despite the beaver’s many misgivings, Canadians appear to be quite proud to have this buck-toothed rodent with its sweet-smelling butt as their official animal.

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