Another Hinterland Who’s Who for you this week – the Castor Canadensis. We’re talking about the North American beaver, a most important creature in our proud history.
It’s hard to believe in today’s political climate, but there was a long period when beaver and other furry animals were vital to the fashion trade in many parts of the world. Anyone who has studied Canadian history will have read Donald Creighton and Harold Innis on the importance of the fur trade, and the rivalry between the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Northwest folks.
Later, when overtrapping threatened the very survival of the sharp-toothed critters, they found a new champion on the prairies in a man named Grey Owl. He was actually an Englishman masquerading as an Indian, but he restored the beaver to a respected status. Reach into your pocket and pull out a nickel and you’ll see what I mean.
Just a few weeks ago came what may be the greatest beaver tale of them all. Near Lake Claire in Alberta’s Wood Buffalo National Park, an American named Rob Mark was the first person to explore the world’s largest beaver dam. It’s 850 metres long, which is more than the height of the CN Tower. It was discovered seven years ago with satellite images provided by Google Earth, and it appears to have taken the creatures almost 40 years to build.
Several times over the years, in northwestern Ontario, the Trans-Canada Highway was washed away by a large beaver dam. When I lived in Regina, I used to cycle along Wascana Creek, and one day the paved trail that runs close to the Saskatchewan legislature was blocked by half a dozen poplar trees that Castor Cananendis had brought down.
All I can say is, they’d better not try to put them in a plastic tank at the zoo, with or without the polar bears.
I’m Roger Currie
Photos courtesy of Magnus Manske and Marcin Klapczynski