– November 09, 2011; Rhys Smith, Contributor
What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of Canadian national symbols? A maple leaf? Hockey? Justin Bieber? God forbid. Officially, one of the national emblems of Canada is the beaver: the federal legislation was passed in 1975.
Believe it or not, though the creature has historical significance in Canada, its status is under attack. Ontario Senator Nicole Eaton is calling for a change of the emblem from the beaver to the polar bear, proclaiming the beaver to be a “dentally defective rat.”
Ever since the French established a permanent settlement in present day Quebec in the 17th century, beavers were a prominent part of the colonial economy. The trade of beaver pelts helped the colony’s economy and was also a good source of income for the French. Fast-forward to the mid-19th century and the creature still has significance: the beaver was the subject of the first Canadian postage stamp in 1851. “The beaver represents tenacity, intelligence and an ability to survive even the harshest climates,” states Glynnis Hood, a professor at the University of Alberta. Clearly, the beaver is an apt symbol of Canadian identity, right?
Not for Senator Eaton. On October 28, Eaton called for “a national emblem makeover by replacing a vegetarian rodent that defends its territory with urine with the world’s largest walking carnivore that thrives in the cold.” Indeed, the polar bear is both a strong and majestic creature, and would be a good symbol for a powerful, cold-loving nation. Digging even deeper, some argue that having the beaver as the national emblem has political significance. According to NDP PM Pat Martin of Manitoba, folklore has it that the beaver will “bite off its own testicles when threatened and give them to its tormentors.” Martin goes further and says that this scenario is a good representation of how the Canadian government gets bullied on trade issues by the United States, and that Canada responds to this bullying by “carving off pieces of our nation and offering them over to the Americans.”
This debate can most certainly be defended from both standpoints, but the question is: does this really matter? Undoubtedly, a national symbol is as important for Canada as it is for any nation, but why not just leave the beaver be? Although the animal has dental problems and can be somewhat pesky, it has been present throughout the country’s history. Personally, I see this as a symbol of distinction as opposed to one of inferiority.
Lastly, just one thing to add: when was the last time you saw a polar bear? I know beavers are not exactly regular pedestrians on Bloor Street, but come on!
Beaver or Polar Bear? Let us know in the comments down below!