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Beavers can't cut it as national emblem, but polar bears can, senator says

Beavers are an outdated symbol of a 19th-century Canada defined by the fur trade, Senator Nicole Easton argues in an appeal to make the polar bear Canada's official emblem instead.

The Canadian Press

A Conservative senator is urging the country to dump the iconic beaver in favour of the polar bear as an official emblem of Canada, saying the rodent has had its day.

Senator Nicole Eaton, apparently unmoved by the pride of place that Canada has accorded the furry rodent over the years, announced in a statement that it's time to trade in a "19th-century has-been for a 21st-century hero."

The Ontario senator, appointed in 2009 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, says the polar bear should replace the beaver as a chief symbol for Canada.

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"The polar bear, with its strength, courage, resourcefulness, and dignity is perfect for the part."

She said it's time for Castor canadensis to step aside.

"The beaver was named an official emblem of Canada on March 24, 1975. After 31 years, it is time for an emblem makeover."

While Ms. Eaton's proposal is serious, she used a statement in the Senate Thursday to take several light-hearted potshots at the beaver, noting the creature isn't universally beloved.

"Many accuse the dentally defective rat of being a nuisance that wreaks havoc on farmlands, roads, lakes, streams and tree plantations," the senator said.

Her staff explained the Toronto-based senator is a fan of Canada's North, having visited several times, and noted her office features several photos of polar bears.

NDP MP Pat Martin, whose home province of Manitoba is a habitat for both beavers and polar bears, said the senator's proposal leaves him cold.

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He said the rodent – or the drive to hunt its fur, more precisely – has a unique role in Canada's early beginnings.

"Polar bears are cool but the beaver played a pivotal role in the history of Canada. It was the relentless pursuit of beaver that opened the great Northwest."



Ms. Eaton said Canada is ready to restyle itself.

"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."

The senator said the polar bear is more noble and rugged.

"The polar bear is the world's largest terrestrial carnivore and Canada's most majestic and splendid mammal," she said, noting it "survives in the harshest climate and terrain in the world."

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Mr. Martin, however, said the beaver more perfectly captures the ethos of a nation of immigrants.

"You can't beat a beaver for stoic hard work and industry, a perfect metaphor for our pioneering Canadian spirit."











She says naysayers are wrong when they criticize the Canadian government for neglecting the polar bear. Scientists have warned the bear is at risk from global warming.

"Contrary to unsubstantiated accusations, Canada is a world leader in its exemplary system of polar bear management," Ms. Eaton said.

She listed all her arguments for her case:

» "The polar bear is the world's largest terrestrial carnivore and Canada's most majestic and splendid mammal, holding reign over the Arctic for thousands of years."

» "The polar bear has been and continues to be a powerful figure in the material, spiritual and cultural life of the Indigenous People of the Arctic."

Canadians may be attached to their favourite furry rodent but the senator said times change.

"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" Ms. Eaton said.

The Department of Canadian Heritage traces the beaver's history as an iconic image in Canada.

"The trade of beaver pelts proved so lucrative that the Hudson's Bay Company honoured the buck-toothed little animal by putting it on the shield of its coat of arms in 1678," it says.

"Sir William Alexander, who was granted title to Nova Scotia in 1621, had been the first to include the beaver in a coat of arms," Canadian Heritage says on its website.

"In 1690, in commemoration of France's successful defence of Quebec, the "Kebeca Liberata Medal" was struck. A seated woman, representing France, with a beaver at her feet, representing Canada, appeared on the back."

The beaver was included in the armorial bearings of the City of Montréal when it was incorporated as a city in 1833, the Canadian Heritage department says.

"Sir Sandford Fleming assured the beaver a position as a national symbol when he featured it on the first Canadian postage stamp – the "Three Penny Beaver" of 1851."

In 1975, the beaver attained official status as an emblem of Canada when an "act to provide for the recognition of the beaver (castor canadensis) as a symbol of the sovereignty of Canada" received royal assent.

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

Steven Chase has covered federal politics in Ottawa for The Globe since mid-2001, arriving there a few months before 9/11. He previously worked in the paper's Vancouver and Calgary bureaus. Prior to that, he reported on Alberta politics for the Calgary Herald and the Calgary Sun, and on national issues for Alberta Report. More

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