Conservative senator Nicole Eaton has made headlines arguing that the “19th-century has-been” beaver should be replaced by the “most majestic and splendid” polar bear.
“A country’s symbols are not constant and can change over time as long as they reflect the ethos of the people and the spirit of the nation,” she was quoted as saying. Senator Eaton’s screed against the historically valuable beaver revolves around the following points:
- The beaver is dated (she was quoted as saying that it’s time to trade in a “19th century has-been for a 21st-century hero.”)
- The beaver does not properly reflect Canada’s majesty (to Eaton, the polar bear is the epitome of “strength, courage, resourcefulness and dignity.”)
- The beaver is not loved by all Canadians (“Many accuse the dentally defective rat of being a nuisance that wreaks havoc on farmlands, roads, lakes, streams and tree plantations.” This is true, at least for Ottawa’s farmers.)
All quotes from The Globe & Mail
But is the beaver really so bad? And can we ignore its history? Since 1975, the beaver has been the official emblem of Canada. The industrious, buck-toothed rodent has had a greater impact on the history and exploration of Canada than any other plant or animal. Its valuable pelt lured explorers into the vast, untamed regions of what later became Canada.
So formative was the beaver to the nation’s early roots that the country’s big industries all paid tribute: the beaver’s furry, hunched figure is represented on the coat of arms of the Hudson’s Bay logo, the Canadian nickel, the first Canadian stamp (named the “Three-Pence Beaver” and designed by Sir Sandford Fleming in 1851), the crest of the Canadian Pacific Railway Company, and the masthead of Le Canadien, a newspaper published in Lower Canada, among many others. The industries of trade, commerce, transportation, journalism, and the postal system all tipped their hats to the beaver.
Which leads us to the question of the hour: which animal represents Canada more fully? The industrious, “dentally deficient” beaver with a signifant history or the magnificent, possibly soon-to-be-endangered polar bear? Perhaps, more importantly, do these emblems matter to our own understanding of our country?