Quick, name three things you know for sure are Canadian symbols. Beer, hockey…and…and…beavers!
The beaver is on the Canadian nickel, is the name for the group of Canada’s youngest Boy Scouts, ages 5-7, and a workhorse bush plane made by DeHavilland, whose sturdy little machines are found in military use from Peru to Uganda. For some of us, it’s a verb meaning to work at something persistently. (And yes, I know there’s a salacious meaning too.)
The American Museum of Natural History is showing a famous film about them, until January 2010.
As a proud ex-pat whose country, when not invisible to Americans, is ignored or derided for being booooooring, I’ve decided, from time to time, to add a little Canadian content to T/S — Can-Con as we call it.
On a visit home to Toronto last year, walking along the shore of Lake Ontario in one of my favorite parks, I saw a beaver swimming past me. In New York I’ve spotted all sorts of celebrities, but seeing a beaver from barely six feet away, studiously ignoring me as any celebrity would, was cool. Even after years of canoe trips in northern Ontario, I’d never seen one before, although you know they’re nearby if you see a dam or the gnawed-off trees in their area. Most people are lucky to ever see one, as they’re pretty reclusive.
The only place I normally see beavers, living near Manhattan, is in the friezes at the Astor Place subway station, a reminder of the enormous fortune made selling beaver fur by John Jacob Astor, who in 1822 created the American Fur Company. When he died in 1844, leaving an unimaginable fortune of $20 million, he gave $400,000 of that to help establish what became the New York Public Library at 42d Street and Fifth Avenue.