Voyageurs' Blog

Countdown to Canada 150 – The Pesky Beaver

Posted: June 23, 2017 by Frank O'Connor

Never has a single animal, or rather its hide, been so instrumental in the development of a nation. The pesky beaver, an overgrown rodent of sorts, singlehandedly steered the direction of our nation’s growth. While explorers and adventurers were busy in the New World looking for the mythical “North West Passage” to the riches that lay to the east, they stumbled upon the abundance of beaver in this new found world. Back in Europe, tall beaver fur hats were all the rage for gentlemen merchants, businessmen and scholars. Europe, however, had depleted their stocks of beaver. We have all heard the term, “Mad as a Hatter” That is because the hat makers used a combination of mercury compounds, water and other materials to cure and prepare the fur hides into a felt material that was waterproof. After the guard hairs of the beaver pelt were removed the soft underfur was perfect for felting. It was later discovered that the mercury was poisonous, and seriously affected the hat makers.
And so it was, the Hudson’s Bay Company of Adventurers, the North West Company, and the coureurs de bois along with indigenous guides and metis paddlers set the direction and growth of this new found place. Next time you see a beaver building a dam, tip your hat in thanks.