The lowly beaver has strong roots to Canadian history, and over time, the world’s second-largest rodent has established itself firmly as the national animal, and one fo the most prominent symbols for Canada. How fitting that Jason Alleman of JK Brickworks and ParLUGment decided to pay tribute to Canada by building a mechanized version of the beaver, complete with chomping teeth and smacking tail.
The beaver, being widely-spread across Canada, has historically been tied to many Native American cultures and traditions. To the Blackfoot people, the Beaver is a symbol of wisdo;, the cree people have legends about the beaver creating a dam so large that it flooded the world; and the Ojibwe tell tales about how the beaver got his tail from flattening it underneath a tree. Often the beaver has represented industriousness and efficiency, but sometimes also selfishness, building dams with little consideration for his surrounding environment.
In Canada, the early French settlers and explorers, the courier-de-bois, hunted the beaver and the beaver was one of the prime economic motivators for the development of Canada. The Hudson’s Bay Company did the same, establishing outposts across the country seeking to harvest the many natural bounties across Canada, with the beaver taking a prominent spot. The beaver’s slick fur was prized for hats and other garments, while its meat was often cooked and eaten (not to be confused with the modern confection of the BeaverTail, a large deep-fried piece of dough smothered in chocolate or other treats). Even its rectal sacs were coveted for castoreum, an important ingredient in the early days of making perfume.
With Canada turning 150, the beaver serves to remind Canadians of our history and attachment to and history with our land. Some aboriginal groups even now see the beaver as a symbol of what their people have lost. Canada’s colonial history is largely written in deals that were made with the First Nations people of Canada in search of beaver pelts, with deals that heavily favoured European colonialist motivations.
The debate continues to this day about the controversy of Canada turning 150, with many groups of people, including at official celebrations on Canada Day in our nation’s capital. There are many complex issues to be resolved, as Canada has had its fair share of dark chapters in history. Perhaps the beaver is continuing to do it’s lowly work in a new way, then, as it stirs debate and hopefully one day, reconciliation among Canadians. Perhaps one day all Canadians may celebrate the many histories that make Canada so great, and drive us to heal wounds – those of the past 150 years of nationhood, beforehand, as well as those beyond today.