In April 2023, I was blessed to take a deep dive into the history, geography, geology and culture of the far northeast corner of America, the Canadian Maritimes and the St. Lawrence River and Seaway. Con su permisio, as they say in Spanish, I would like to share with you some of what I learned in these blog posts over the next couple of months. Hope you benefit and enjoy!
“The humble, hard-working beaver is honored on the Canadian nickel and for good reason. The beaver is an animal that was the architect of the nation of Canada,” explained David, our ship’s history presenter. “It was beaver fur that first drove exploration and exploitation.”
“The beaver is not leading-man material,” David quipped,” but is well adapted to its aquatic life. Its engineering acumen is what makes it outstanding. Its behavior comes from its genes; they are genetically programmed to build. Their ability to do it well develops over time and with practice. The longest known beaver dam is in Northern Canada and is over a mile long.”
Beavers are revered in Canada for a different reason. So what made it such a star? Its FUR! Fur trading was a big part of the economy since the first white explorers arrived. Samuel Champlain established a fur trading post in what became Quebec City in 1608. There were other fur-bearing animals but beaver were the most plentiful, were easy to find and catch. The First Nations were happy to trade beaver furs for the white man’s goods. Beaver fur was the currency of the frontier. As the beaver were trapped out, people (forts, towns) moved west with them. By the 1850s, the west was “beavered out” clear to the Rocky Mountains.
Today it’s hard to realize the great demand for beaver fur. Fashion drove the industry in the early 1800s: beaver hats were “the thing.” Luckily for the beaver, by the 1850s fashion was changing. Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert, wore a silk top hat and quickly beaver hats were out. The beaver’s work was done; Canada was established.
By 1867, Canada was a nation built in many ways upon the humble beaver. To honor this “founding father,” the beaver is featured on the Canadian nickel.