In the 1600’s, European explorers were very disappointed when they discovered that Canada was not the spice-rich Orient, but a land full of beavers. Millions and millions of them. Ever alert to a new product, traders turned beavers into a fashion accessory. The beaver pelts made very fine fur top hats. Popularity for the hats didn’t fade until an estimated 6 million beavers had disappeared, and the species was close to extinction. (As author Margaret Atwood noted, “Canada was built on dead beavers.”) Fortunately, by the mid-ninteenth century, the winds of fashion changed. Fur hats fell out of favour, and were replaced with silk ones.
The industrious beaver population eventually rebounded, and in 1975 Canada bestowed the greatest honour a rodent has ever received. The Canadian Beaver became an Official Emblem of Canada.
The Beaver likely thought this recognition was long overdue. Oh sure, it had graced Canada’s first postage stamp, the 1851 “Three Penny Beaver”. And in 1937, it appeared for the first time on the 5 cent coin. But the beaver’s official recognition in 1975 as being an industrious, honest, noble, sincere and dedicated rodent was long over due.
The Beaver’s good name has been used to great advantage for enterprises like Beaver Lumber, Beaver (Scouting), and Canada’s second oldest magazine, The Beaver (which later rebranded itself due to double entendre, the cowards.)
The Canadian Beaver was brought to life on Television with the birth of Bell Canada’s marketing strategy from 2005 to 2008 in the characters of Frank and Gordon. The commercials were a big success, and a few off them are still available for viewing at YouTube.
Beavers are sometimes viewed as being pests. They frequently come into conflict with landowners when they chop down trees and build dams in unwanted places. Under those circumstances, beavers are compared to lawyers:
Reduce the number of lawyers. They are like beavers – they get in the middle of the stream and dam it up.
– Donald Rumsfeld –
Some would say that the cuddly Canadian Beaver is not as inspiring an emblem as the fierce American Eagle. But I think each one fits the country they represent:
The Eagles may soar, beavers build dams.
– Joseph S. Nye Jr. –