THE BEAVER—SOME FACTS AND FICTION REGARDING IT
WITH the exception of man, the beaver is the only animal successful as a tree feller. His work, though not as clean cut as that of the human axe-man or sawyer, is always accurate and seldom is a tree selected for felling that is not just the thing needed to help in his work of dam building. And, though a clever workman, the beaver is never on exhibition; his photo is only secured after long waiting and most careful hiding: this is particularly due to his nocturnal habits.
That the felling of a tree, so that in falling it will drop in a certain desired place, requires a nicety and precision in preliminary cutting, any old woodsman will vouch for. This lumbermen do by making a cut in the side of the tree in the direction in which they wish it to fall. The cut is only a few inches in depth. After it is made with a saw it is notched out with an axe. This cut is then sawed to from the opposite side. This practice the beaver somewhat follows in his gnawing and the accuracy with which it can drop a trunk is one of the marvels of the animal kingdom.
In Canada's northland, where some of the world's greatest fur shipments come from, the beaver skin was long one of the most valuable furs and one of the largest in number. It is still valuable, but the output is growing smaller every year; and only in one district, that of Mackenzie territory, is it now allowed to be taken, all the other provinces protecting it with rigid game laws.
Because it was one of the chief furs taken in the northland the name "heaver" came into use to denote a certain monetary value, and as such figured largely in the rude exchange of the wilderness districts north of parallel 55 north latitude. Here very little cash money exists even to-day. A century and a half ago it was almost unknown, so the "beaver" became a money token then and is still used to-day. It has a purchasing valuation of from 40 to 75 cents (one and a half to three shillings) and is good only in trade. The variation in this value is caused by the distance a fur post is from civilization; the farther away, the greater the cost of goods owing to transportation costs, so the lesser purchasing power of the beaver. The average, however, is about 50 cents (two shillings). When an Indian comes to the fur post to trade his furs for goods, the trader estimates the pack to be worth so many "heavers." Upon the Indian accepting, the trader hands over various goods worth so many "beavers" each till the Indian has spent the price of his fur catch.
Among the Chipewyan Indians a belief exists that they are descended from the beaver. This does not, however, prevent them from killing the animal for their fur and castors, but before doing so the hunter always offers a prayer of apology to the animal by way of placating its spirit when it passes into the other world. Their legend concerning it as told the writer when recently in the far north is as follows:
"When the world w-as young, the beavers were a mighty race and ruled the world and men were their slaves. But at last the men revolted and after many battles conquered the beavers. The last battle took place around the home of the king of beavers on the north shore of Lake Athabasca. The king was badly wounded and dived from his home and swam across the lake, but he was so badly wounded that he crawled ashore only to bleed to death."
Curiously enough, and a fact which they point out to you, is the existence on the north shore of the lake of a great dome-shaped rock—an exact replica of a beaver house. This, they affirm, was the home of the king of beavers, and from this he swam across the arm of the lake to the opposite shore. Directly across the rock is of a peculiarly red formation, a pigment sort of strata which the Indians even to-day use for adorning themselves. This, they claim, is the dried blood of the king of beavers aid from this their race originated.
Evidently from this, the race of men whom the beavers ruled over were of a different kind from the Chipewyan Indians. This I pointed out to the old chief, who said: "Yes, all races have different origins."
Taken all in all the beaver is one of the most interesting of the animal kingdom. He stand-, for industry, for peace and a calm living of life. bothering no one. For the first two reasons, perhaps does he figure as one of Canada's emblematic animals.
Fur, News. Fur News, January 1916.
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