Fierce animals like eagles, elephants and lions have historically been used as symbols both by monarchies and nation states, clans and companies. The Roman empire and Napoleon, chose an eagle as a symbol of military victory. The Castor Canadensis, or common beaver is Canada’s national animal symbol. It is much less about war, and much more grounded in our nature.
Humble, hard-working the beaver builds houses that can survive winter. It was well chosen for common traits shared with Canadians: a love of water, wood and wilderness. Shared also is a determination to flood the landscape in the form of dams, whether for food or hydroelectricity.
The beaver is in our DNA
The world’s largest rodent relates to its history in Canada’s development as a trading nation. Native peoples used the beaver emblem to sign treaties with the first Europeans. It has been on our nickel since 1937. Early this year, University of Toronto professor Stephen Scherer and his genetic research team at SickKids honoured Canada 150 birthday with the beaver’s first genome sequencing. He describes the rodent glowingly as diligent, methodical, meticulous. So too are the genetic researchers who will use some of that beaver DNA sequencing and apply it to other work in understanding autism in children.
This is the most important animal in Canadian history. Like humans, the beaver is the only species that can modify its environment.” Stephen Scherer, director of the McLaughlin Centre and professor in the department of molecular genetics at the University of Toronto’s Faculty of Medicine.
Food for thought
Fried dough treats are found in many cultures. Made with simple ingredients of sugar, salt, lard and flour, its comfort food in various forms. Known as beignets in French, or fritters in English, and long churros in Spain, Philippines and Latin America. The Tim Horton’s Canadian coffee chain is famous in part for its doughnuts.
A unique variation in Canada is branded the BeaverTail. This version is broad and flat, about the size of adolescent animal of the same name. The plain canvas allows toppings to be added to suit expressions of personal taste: classic cinnamon and sugar, to wacky flavour variations. Thecompany is holding a contest to create the next iconic flavour for Canada150. Other countries sell their fried dough at carnivals and fairs. In Canada, BeaverTails are most commonly enjoyed on frozen canals, at mid-winter Carnaval du Quebec, or at the top of ski-hills.
From aboriginals and couriers-du-bois to fashionable fur top hats in Victorian England, the role of the beaver in early Canada is significant. It has continued as a symbolic motif on our coins, stamps, and on Victory Bond posters. The beaver is well traveled. Appearing on logos of luxury hotels, railways, and on tough bush planes, which land on water and make our remote northern lakes accessible.
Most memorably the beaver has been the symbol of Parks Canada for more than 100 years. In 2017, Canada’s spectacular and vast national parks system that is the envy of the world will be free for all visitors.