EDITOR’S NOTE: In conjunction with Canada’s Sesquicentennial in 2017, members of the Manitoulin Writers’ Circle are crafting stories and poems to pay tribute to our country on this pivotal milestone birthday.
by Vince Belenson
The beaver is one of Canada’s symbols, right? We could say it is Canada’s mascot, almost as iconic as the maple leaf. When I first learned this, before immigrating to Canada, I was delighted because it put me in mind of one of my favourite childhood characters from the Uncle Wiggly series, by American author Howard R. Garis Grampa Whackum! Reading about Grey Owl and his caring for two orphan beavers at his cabin, Beaver Lodge, it is hard not to see these creatures as almost human, and Grey Owl (also an immigrant from England) as having saved them from extinction. Little stuffed figures of parka, the Canadian beaver symbol (that looks a bit like a diminutive Smokey the Bear) can be found in just about every gift shop that tourists frequent, although it came as a surprise to me that the figures I found in the gift shop of one provincial park were actually made in China. Even ol’ parka has fallen victim to globalisa-tion. I guess the imported figures are cheaper than those made in Canada and can thus be sold for a less expensive price, resulting in a higher turnover and bringing in more profit to the gift shop and thus to the province. Never mind that they are not authentically Canadian. To the unwary tourist I say: caveat emptor. It was with some trepidation that I first tried a “beaver tail,” sold from kiosks on the frozen Rideau Canal in winter in Ottawa, but I was relieved to discover that they are really just fried stuffed pastries and not actual tails! And quite tasty, too.
But my love affair with beavers stops at this point. After moving to Manitoulin Island and the property on Union Road that we now inhabit, I soon experienced another side to these creatures. They love to chew down trees and build dams. No matter how many times I have destroyed one of their lodges, the next day they were built up again. They are indeed industrious animals. It is quite disheartening to find a series of logs across the driveway, like so many huge matchsticks that have been strewn in the path, and always just when I am running behind and need to get quickly out onto the road. And even that can be a problem. Since they dam up the creek running adjacent to our property and cause flooding of the forest path to the lake, they also cause the water in the creek to overflow onto the road thereby inhibiting traffic wanting to get over the bridge. At least in this instance, the municipality, or was it even the province (which I doubt) came with their equipment to clear the dam, allow the water to flow downstream, and make the public road passable once again.
It was a sad day when we lost our unique 12-sided five cent coin to have it replaced by the current round coin (was that actually 50 years ago?), but it did not daunt our ubiquitous beaver friend who easily made the transition from the back of the old coin to the back of the new one. If the nickel gets phased out, as did the penny, what, oh, what will the poor beaver do? Maybe by then we will be using Chinese yen, and if so, undoubted Mr. Beaver will find a home there.