Amisk: means beaver in Cree

The beaver is a critically important part of Canada's history, without it Europe may never have expanded to our territory.
In “Once They Were Hats,” Frances Backhouse explores humanity’s 15, 000 year relationship with the beaver as well as it’s unique influence on Canada’s landscape and history.

If you ask Backhouse, she’ll tell you she’s proud to call the beaver Canada’s national animal. “It’s not just some charismatic or glamorous species like a lot of national animals,” she says. “The beaver does so much for us and is so integral to the country on a historical and ecological level.”

Did you know?

threepenny-beaver
The image of the beaver was used in the
first Canadian postage stamp, the “Three Penny Beaver” of 1851.
  • Even at its height of power, the Roman Empire only acquired 1/100 of the size of the Hudsons Bay Company (Northern Wilderness by Ray Mears), which was 1/20th of the Earth's land surface from the Arctic Ocean to Northern California from St. Lawrence to the Pacific
  • The only reason the beaver is still around today is because of an extensive conservation effort over the course of the 20th century. By the time the fur trade industry collapsed in the middle of the 19th century, the beaver was close to becoming extinct.
  • Beavers work hard, remain with one partner for their entire life and usually only raise one family a year.
  • Don’t let their globular physique fool you. Beavers have been known to fell trees up to a metre in diameter using their incisor teeth and powerful lower jaw muscles.
  • They’re also built for the water. Their large flat tail that acts like a rudder and webbed feat make them excellent swimmers. When underneath the water, a protective transparent membrane allows them to keep their eyes open while valves in their ears and nose keep water from coming in.
  • The beaver’s incisors stick out in front of their lips allowing them to keep their mouth closed as they cut and chew wood submerged underwater. And they don’t have to rush while they’re down there. Beavers can stay underwater for up to 15 minutes.
  • The beaver was very important to First Nations populations who made use of as much of the animal as possible. In addition to using their fur, beaver meat was an important winter food for their populations because it contained three times more calories than other red meat.
    This respect was also reflected in the use of the beaver as a totem animal.