Beaver
Polar Bear

Could the polar bear be our next national symbol? (Corel Professional Photos).

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:

  1. 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.”)
  2. The beaver does not properly reflect Canada’s majesty (to Eaton, the polar bear is the epitome of “strength, courage, resourcefulness and dignity.”)
  3. 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.

three-pence-beaver

Three-Pence Beaver Designed by Sir Sandford Fleming, it was Canada's first stamp (courtesy Canada Post Corporation).

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?

Visit The Canadian Encyclopedia for more on the beaver and the polar bear.

Join the conversation! 5 Comments

  1. This is another example of an identity crisis that Canada goes through every season. What’s Eaton trying to say? That Canada can remake itself by adopting the polar bear or get a new identity by attaching to an “it” animal? This is pathetic. The beaver is important because it’s what drove people to Canada when it was a crappy wasteland. It has history behind it. What’s the significance of the polar bear to Canada? Alaska or the Arctic Cirlce, made up of lots of countries, has more claim to it than Canada does. Furthermore, why does Canada need a new animal symbol? Can we not for once just be happy with who we are not try to reinvent ourselves or define ourselves all the time? Can you see the United States rethinking the eagle and writing editorials in newspapers about the wolf or the coyote being more “American” than the eagle?

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    • Nicole Eaton proves that you don’t need common sense to be a member of the Senate, an institution that is well beyond it’s prime. Unbelievable how easy she thinks it is to spend someone elses money (our taxes) when average Canadians are already cinching the belt tighter just trying to make ends meet. Shame on you Ms Eaton.

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  2. The beaver is so intrenched in Canadian history I can not think of a better National symbol

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  3. The symbolic beaver which developed this country should be left alone. If there is anything outdated it is the senate which should be abolished!

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  4. [...] Canadian Beaver Knitting Pattern Patternfish, $6.00 With its honour and historical significance challenged in October by Senator Eaton, who called the beaver a “dentally deficient rat,” a strong castor Canadensis front is [...]

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