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The Men of the Last Frontier
Chapter VII. The Tale of the Beaver People

On the shores of a nameless lake I crouched and shivered in the wet sage-brush. It was breaking day; the smell of the dawn was in the air, and a clammy mist enveloped the land, through which, in spots, individual trees showed as shadows, faintly, if near at hand. Further than that nothing was visible.

Low, mysterious noises came to my ear, and as the light waxed stronger these became louder, so as to be distinguishable ; the leap of a fish; the quacking of a couple of ducks in a reed-bed; the staccato, nervous tapping of a woodpecker; a distant hollow crash in the depth of the forest; a slight rustle in the bushes behind me as a weasel peered out with extended neck, to vanish suddenly, appearing instantaneously ten feet away almost before his disappearance had been registered by the eye.

The mist commenced to rise, and a current of air stirred the poplar leaves to a light fluttering. The ducks became partly visible, and seen through the vapour they seemed to float on air, and to be of inordinate size.

I shivered some more.

Under the influence of the slight breeze the fog billowed slowly back exposing the little sheet of water; the wavering line of the hills on the far shore appeared and disappeared within its folds, and the crest of the ridges seemed to float on its surface like long, low islands. To the East was clear of fog and the streaks of clouds that hung there, as I watched, turned slowly pink. Not ten feet away, on a log, a muskrat rubbed himself dry with vigorous strokes, and as he scrubbed mightily I could hear his little gusts of breath in the thin air. A flock of whistlers volleyed overhead with bullet velocity, circled the pond and lit on the water with a slithering splash; a kingfisher dived like an emerald streak at the rise of a speckled trout, and, missing his stroke, flew with a chattering laugh to a dry limb. And at the discordant sound came the first notes of the plaintive song of the Canada bird, a haunting melody that ceases in full flight, the remainder of the song tantalisingly left unsung as though the singer had become suddenly weary: a prelude in minor cadence. And from all around, and across the pond, these broken melodies burst out in answering lament, while the burden of song was taken up by one after another trilling voice. There poured out the rippling lilt of the American robin, suggestive of the clear purling of running water; the three deep golden notes of some unknown songster, the first three chords of an obbligato plucked from the strings of a bass viol. Others, now indistinguishable for very volume, joined in as the slowly rising sun rolled up the curtain of the mist on the grand overture conducted by the Master Musician, that is the coming of day, in the unspoiled reaches of the northern wilds.

I drew the blanket-case off my rifle and pumped a shell into the .breech. I was there with a purpose: for the time was that of the spring hunt, and this was a beaver-pond. Two deer appeared in the reeds in a little bay, necks craned, nostrils working as they essayed with delicate senses to detect the flaw in the perfectly balanced structure of the surroundings which I constituted. I did not need them; and moreover, did they take flight with hoarse whistles and noisy leapings all living creatures within earshot would be immediately absorbed by the landscape, and my hunt ended. But I am an old hand at the game, and, having chosen a position with that end in view, was not to be seen, heard, or smelled.

Yet the scene around me had its influence, and a guilty feeling possessed me as I realized that of all present in that place of peace and clean content, I was the only profane thing, an ogre lurking to destroy. The half-grown ferns and evergreen sedge grasses through which the early breeze whispered, would, if I had my way, soon be smeared with the blood of some animal, who was viewing, perhaps with feelings akin to my own, the dawning of another day; to be his last. Strange thoughts, maybe, coming from a trapper, one whose trade it is to kill; but be it known to you that he who lives much alone within the portals of the temple of Nature learns to think, and deeply, of things which seldom come within the scope of ordinary life. Much killing brings in time, no longer triumph, but a revulsion of feeling.

I have seen old hunters, with their hair silvered by the passage of many winters, who, on killing a deer would stroke the dead muzzle with every appearance of regret. Indians frequently address an animal they are about to kill in terms of apology for the act. However, be that as it may, with the passing of the mist from the face of the mountains, I saw a large beaver swimming a short distance away. This was my game; gone were my scruples, and my humane ideas fled like leaves before the wind. Giving the searching call of these animals, I cocked my rifle and waited.

At the call he stopped, raising himself in the water to sniff; and on the summons being repeated he swam directly towards me, into the very jaws of destruction. At about fifteen feet I had a good view of him as he slowed down, trying to catch some indication of a possible companion, and the beautiful dark fur apprised me of a hide that would well repay my early morning sortie. The beaver regarded me steadily, again raising himself to catch an expected scent, and not getting it he turned lazily to swim away. He was at my mercy, and I had his head snugly set between the forks of my rear sight, when my heart contracted at the thought of taking life on such a morning. The creature was happy, glad to be in God’s good sunlight, free after a winter of darkness to breathe the pure air of the dawn. He had the right to live here, even as I had, yea, even a greater claim, for he was there before me.'

I conquered my momentary weakness; for, after all, a light pressure on the trigger, a crashing impact, would save him many days of useless labour. Yet I hesitated, and as I finally laid my rifle down, he sank without a ripple, out of sight. And I became suddenly conscious of the paeans of praise and triumph of the feathered choir about me, temporarily unheard in my lust to kill; and it seemed as though all Nature sang in benediction of an act which had kept inviolate a sanctuary, and saved a perfect hour from desecration.

I went home to my cabin and ate my breakfast .with greater satisfaction than the most expertly accomplished kill had ever given me; and, call it what you will, weakness, vacillation, or the first glimmerings of conscience in a life hitherto devoted to the shedding of blood, since the later experiences I have had with these animals I look back on the incident with no regret.

At one time beaver were to the north what gold was to the west. In the early mining camps gold was the only medium of exchange; and from time immemorial at the northern trading posts a beaver hide was the only currency which remained always at par, and by its unchanging value, all other furs were judged. It took so many other hides to equal a beaver skin; and its value was one dollar. Counters were threaded on a string, each worth a dollar, and called “beaver,” and as the hunter sold his fur its equivalent in “beaver” counters was pushed along the string. No money changed hands. So many discs were replaced in settlement of the hunting-debt, and as the trapper bought his provisions the remaining “beaver” were run back down again, one by one, a dollar at a time, until they were all back where they belonged, and the trade completed.

They usually went back down the string a good deal faster than they came up, and the story is told of the hunter with two bales of fur who thus paid his debt, spoke twice, and owed a hundred dollars. Although pelts were cheap provisions were not. I have spoken with men, not such very old men either, who traded marten, now selling as high as forty dollars, at the rate of four to a beaver, or twenty-five cents each.

A hunter must have had to bring in a stupendous amount of fur to buy even the barest necessities, when we consider the prices that even to-day obtain at many of the distant posts; a twenty-five pound bag of flour, $5.00; salt pork, $1.00 a pound; tea, $3.00 a pound; candles, 25 c. each; sugar, 50 c. a pound; 5 lb. pail of lard, $4.5:0; a pair of trousers, $25.00; and so on. The oft-told tale of piling beaver hides to the height of the muzzle of a gun in order to purchase the weapon, although frequently denied, is perfectly true. Many old Indians living to-day possess guns they bought that way. It is not so generally known that some unscrupulous traders increased the price by lengthening the barrels, necessitating the cutting off of a length with a file before the weapon could be used.

Although beaver do not exist to-day in sufficient quantities to constitute a hunt, up till ten years ago they were the chief means of subsistence of an army of white hunters, and thousands of Indians. Since their practical extermination the Northern Ojibways are in want, and many of the bands have had to be rationed by the Government to prevent their actual starvation.

The first, and for over a hundred years, the only business in which Canada was engaged was the fur trade, of which the beaver was the mainstay; and its history affords one of the most romantic phases in the development of the North American Continent.

The specimens of beaver pelts exhibited to Charles of England influenced him to grant the famous Hudson Bay Company’s Charter, apportioning to them probably the largest land grant ever awarded any one concern. Attracted by the rich spoils of the trade, other companies sprang up. Jealousies ensued, and pitched battles between the trappers of rival factions were a common occurrence. Men fought, murdered, starved and froze to death, took perilous trips into unknown wildernesses, and braved the horrors of Indian warfare, lured on by the rich returns of the beaver trade. Men_ foreswore one another, cheated, murdered, robbed, and lied to gain possession of bales of these pelts, which could not have been more ardently fought for had each hair on them been composed of gold.

The Indians, meanwhile, incensed at the wholesale slaughter of their sacred animal, inflamed by the sight of large bands of men fighting for something that belonged to none of them, took pay from either side, and swooped down on outgoing caravans, annihilating them utterly, and burning peltries valued at hundreds of thousands of dollars. Often, glad of a chance to strike a blow at the beaver man, the common enemy, they showed a proper regard for symmetry by also destroying the other party that had hired them, thus restoring the balance of Nature. Ghastly torturing and other diabolical atrocities, incident to the massacre of trappers in their winter camps, discouraged hunting, and crippled the trade for a period; but with the entire extinction of the buffalo the Indian himself was obliged to turn and help destroy his ancient friends in order to live. Betrayed by their protectors the beaver did not long survive, and soon they were no more seen in the land wherein they had dwelt so long.

Profiting by this lesson, forty years later, most of the Provinces on the Canadian side of the line declared a closed season on beaver, of indefinite duration. Thus protected they gradually increased until at the outbreak of the World War they were as numerous in the Eastern Provinces as they ever had been in the West. I am not an old man, but I have seen the day when the forest streams and lakes of Northern Ontario and Quebec were peopled by millions of these animals. Every creek and pond had its colony of the Beaver People. And then once again, and for the last time, this harassed and devoted animal was subjected to a persecution that it is hard to credit could be possible in these enlightened days of preservation and conservation. The beaver season was thrown open and the hunt was on.

Men, who could well have made their living in other 146 ways, quit their regular occupations and took the trail. It was the story of the buffalo over again. In this case instead of an expensive outfit of horses and waggons, only a cheap licence, a few traps, some provisions and a canoe were needed, opening up widely the field to all and sundry.

The woods were full of trappers. Their snowshoe trails formed a network of destruction over all the face of the wilderness, into the farthest recesses of the north. Trails were broken out to civilization, packed hard as a rock by long strings of toboggans and sleighs drawn by wolf-dogs, and loaded with skins; trails over which passed thousands and thousands of beaver hides on their way to the market. Beaver houses were dynamited by those whose intelligence could not grasp the niceties of beaver trapping, or who had not the hardihood to stand the immersion of bare arms in ice-water during zero weather; for the setting of beaver traps in mid-winter is no occupation for one with tender hands or a taste for tea-fights. Dams were broken after the freeze-up, and sometimes the entire defences, feed house, and dam were destroyed, and those beaver not captured froze to death or starved in their ruined works, whilst all around was death, and ruin, and destruction.

Relentless spring hunters killed the mother beavers, allowing the little ones to starve, which, apart from the brutality of the act, destroyed all chances of replenishment. Unskilful methods allowed undrowned beaver to twist out of traps, leaving in the jaws some shattered bone and a length of sinew, condemning the maimed creatures to do all their work with one or both front feet cut off; equivalent in its effect to cutting off the hands of a man.

I once saw a beaver with both front feet and one hind foot cut off in this way. He had been doing his pitiful best to collect materials for his building. He was quite far from the water and unable to escape me, and although it was late summer and the hide of no value, I put him out of misery with a well-placed bullet.

Clean trapping became a thing of the past, and unsportsmanlike methods were used such as removing the raft of feed so that the beaver must take bait or starve; and the spring pole, a contrivance which jerks the unfortunate animal into the air, to hang for hours by one foot just clear of the water, to die in prolonged agony from thirst. To inflict such torture on this almost human animal is a revolting crime which few regular white hunters and no Indian will stoop to.

I remember once, on stopping to make camp, hearing a sound like the moaning of a child a few yards away, and I rushed to the spot with all possible speed, knowing bear traps to be out in the district. I found a beaver suspended in this manner, jammed into the crotch of a limb, held there by the spring pole, and moaning feebly. I took it down, and found it to be a female heavy with young, and in a dying condition; my attempts at resuscitation were without avail, and shortly after three lives passed into the discard.

The Government of Ontario imposed a limit on the number to be killed, and attempted, futilely, to enforce it; but means were found to evade this ruling, and men whose allowance called for ten hides came out with a hundred. There is some sorcery in a beaver hide akin to that which a nugget of gold is credited with possessing, and the atmosphere of the trade in these skins is permeated with all the romance and the evil, the rapacity and adventurous glamour, attendant on a gold-rush. Other fur, more easily caught, more valuable perhaps, may increase beyond all bounds, and attract no attention save that of the professional trapper, but at the word “ beaver,” every man on the frontier springs to attention, every ear is cocked. The lifting of the embargo in Ontario precipitated a rush, which whilst not so concentrated, was very little, if any, less than that of ’98 to the Yukon. Fleets, flotillas, and brigades of canoes were strung out over the surface of the lakes in a region of many thousand square miles, dropping off individually here and there into chosen territories, and emerging with spectacular hunts unknown in earlier days. The plots and counter-plots, the intrigues and evasions connected with the tricks of the trade, resembled the diplomatic ramifications of a nation at war.

History repeated itself. Fatal quarrels over hunting grounds were not unknown, and men otherwise honest, bitten by the bug of greed and the prospect of easy money, stooped to unheard-of acts of depravity for the sake of a few hides.

Meanwhile the trappers reaped a harvest, but not for long. Beaver in whole sections disappeared and eyes were turned on the Indian countries. The red men, as before, looked on, but this time with alarm. Unable any longer to fight for this animal, which, whilst no longer sacred was their very means of existence, they were compelled to join in the destruction, and ruin their own hunting grounds before others got ahead of them and took everything. For ten years the slaughter went on, and then beaver became scarce.

The part-time hunter, out for a quick fortune, left the woods full of poison baits, and polluted with piles of carcases, and returned to his regular occupation. The Indian hunting grounds and those of the regular white trappers had been invaded and depleted of game. The immense number of dog-teams in use necessitated the killing of large numbers of moose for feed, and they also began to be scarce. Professional hunters, both red and white, even if only to protect their own interests, take only a certain proportion of the fur, and trapping grounds are maintained in perpetuity. The invaders had taken everything.

To-day, in the greater part of the vast wilderness of Northern Canada, beaver are almost extinct; they are fast going the way of the buffalo. But their houses, their dams, and all their works will long remain as a reproach and a heavy indictment against the shameful waste perpetrated by man, in his exploitation of the wild lands and the dwellers therein. Few people know, or perhaps care, how close we are to losing most of the links with the pioneer days of old; the beaver is one of the few remaining reminders of that past Canadian history of which we are justly proud, and he is entitled to some small niche in the hall of fame. He has earned the right to our protection whilst we yet have the power to exercise it, and if we fail him it will not be long before he is beyond our jurisdiction for all time.

The system that has depleted the fur resources of Canada to a point almost of annihilation, is uncontrolled competitive hunting and trapping by transient white trappers.    .

The carefully-farmed hunting territories of the Indians and the resident white trappers (the latter being greatly in the minority, and having in most cases a proprietary interest in the preservation of fur and game, playing the game much as the Indian played it) were, from 1915 on, invaded by hordes of get-rich-quick vandals who, caring for nothing much but the immediate profits, swept like the scourge they were across the face of northern Canada.

These men were in no way professional hunters; their places were in the ranks of other industries, where they should have stayed. The Indian and the dyed-in-the-wool genuine woodsmen, unsuited by a long life under wilderness conditions to another occupation, and unable to make such a revolutionary change in their manner of living, now find themselves without the means of subsistence.

Misinformed and apparently not greatly interested provincial governments aided and abetted this destructive and unwarranted encroachment on the rights of their native populations who were dependent entirely on the proceeds of the chase, by gathering a rich if temporary harvest in licences, royalties, etc. A few futile laws were passed, of which the main incentive of enforcement often seemed to be the collection of fines rather than prevention. Money alone can never adequately pay the people of Canada for the loss of their wild life, from either the commercial, or recreational, or the sentimental point of view.

We read of the man who opened up the goose to get all the golden eggs at once, and the resultant depression in the golden-egg market that followed. The two cases are similar.

We blame the United States for their short-sighted policy in permitting the slaughter of the buffalo as a means of solving the Indian problem of that time, yet we have allowed, for a paltry consideration in dollars and cents, and greatly owing to our criminal negligence in acquainting ourselves with the self-evident facts of the case, the almost entire destruction of our once numerous fur-bearing and game animals. Nor did this policy settle any Indian problem, there being none at the time, but it created one that is daily becoming more serious. The white man’s burden will soon be no idle dream, and will have to be assumed with what cheerful resignation you can muster.

We must not fail to remember that we are still our brother’s keeper, and having carelessly allowed this same brother to be robbed of his rights and very means of existence (solemnly agreed by treaty to be inalienable and. perpetual, whereby he was a self-supporting producer, a contributor to the wealth of the country and an unofficial game warden and conservationist whose knowledge of wild life would have been invaluable) we must now support him. And this will complete his downfall by the degrading “dole” system.

At a meeting I attended lately, it was stated by a competent authority that there were more trappers in the woods during this last two years than ever before. The fact that they paid for their licences does not in any way compensate either the natives or the country at large for the loss in wild life consequent on this wholesale slaughter.

The only remedy would seem to be the removal from the woods of all white trappers except those who could prove that they had no alternative occupation, had followed trapping for a livelihood previous to 1914 (thus eliminating the draft evaders and others who hid in the woods during the war) and returned men of the voluntary enlistment class. It is not perhaps generally known that the draft evaders in some sections constitute the majority of the more destructive element in the woods to-day. Forced to earn a livelihood by some means in their seclusion, and fur being high at the time, they learned to trap in a kind of way. They constitute a grave menace to our fur and game resources, as their unskilful methods make necessary wholesale destruction on all sides in order to obtain a percentage of the fur, leaving in their path a shambles of unfound bodies, many of them poisoned, or crippled animals, which, unable to cope with the severe conditions thus imposed on them, eventually die in misery and starvation.

Regulations should be drawn up with due regard for conditions governing the various districts, these to be ascertained from genuine woodsmen and the more prominent and responsible men of native communities. Suggestions from such sources would have obviated a good deal of faulty legislation. Those entrusted with the making of our game laws seem never to become acquainted with the true facts until it is almost too late, following the progress of affairs about a lap behind.

Regulations, once made, should be rigorously enforced, and penalties should include fines and imprisonment, as many illegal trappers put by the amount of a possible fine as a part of their ordinary expenses.

There is another point of view to be considered. If the depletion of our game animals goes on much longer at the present rate, specimens of wild life will soon be seen only in zoos and menageries.

How much more elevating and instructive is it to get a glimpse—however fleeting—of an animal in its native haunts than the lengthy contemplation of poor melancholy captives eking out a thwarted existence under unnatural conditions? Fur farms may perpetuate the fur industry eventually unless the ruinous policy of selling, for large and immediate profits, breeding animals to foreign markets is continued. But these semi-domesticated denatured specimens will never represent to the true lover of Nature the wild beauty and freedom of the dwellers in the Silent Places, nor will they ever repopulate the dreary empty wastes that will be all that are left to us when the remaining Little Brethren have been immolated on the altars of Greed and Ignorance, and the priceless heritage of both the Indian and the white man destroyed for all time.

In wanderings during the last five years, extending between, and including, the Districts of Algoma in the Province of Ontario and Misstassini in the Province of Quebec, and covering an itinerary of perhaps two thousand miles, I have seen not over a dozen signs of beaver. I was so struck by this evidence of the practical extinction of our national animal, that my journey, originally undertaken with the intention of finding a hunting ground, became more of a crusade, conducted with the object of discovering a small colony of beaver not claimed by some other hunter, the motive being no longer to trap, but to preserve them.

I have been fortunate enough to discover two small families. With them, and a few hand-raised specimens in my possession, I am attempting the somewhat hopeless task of repopulating a district otherwise denuded of game. It is a little saddening to see on every hand the deserted works, the broken dams, and the empty houses, monuments to the thwarted industry of an animal which played such an important part in the history of the Dominion.

Did the public have by any chance the opportunity of studying this little beast who seems almost able to think, possesses a power of speech in which little but the articulation of words is lacking, and a capacity for suffering possible only to a high grade of intelligence, popular opinion would demand the declaration of a close season of indefinite duration over the whole Dominion.

Did the Provinces collaborate on any such scheme, there would be no sale for beaver skins, and the only source of supply being thus closed, poaching would be profitless. Even from a materialistic point of view this would be of great benefit, as after a long, it is to be feared a very long, period a carefully regulated beaver hunt could be arranged that would be a source of revenue of some account.

It is generally conceded that the beaver was by far the most interesting and intelligent of all the creatures that at one time abounded in the vast wilderness of forest, plain and mountain that was Canada before the coming of the white man.

Although in the north they are now reduced to a few individuals and small families scattered thinly in certain inaccessible districts, there has been established for many years, a game reserve of about three thousand square miles, where these and all other animals indigenous to the region are as numerous as they were fifty years ago. I refer to the Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario. This game sanctuary is guarded in the strictest manner by a very competent staff of Rangers, and it is a saying in the region that it would be easier to get away with murder than to escape the consequences of killing a beaver in their patrol area.

This little worker of the wild has been much honoured. He ranks with the maple leaf as representative of the Dominion, and has won a place as one of Canada’s national emblems, by the example he gives of industry, adaptability, and dogged perseverance; attributes well worthy of emulation by those who undertake to wrest a living from the untamed soil of a new country. He is the Imperialist . of the animal world. He maintains a home and hearth, and from it he sends out every year a pair of emigrants who search far and wide for new fields to conquer; who explore, discover, occupy, and improve, to the benefit of all concerned.

The Indian, who lived by the killing of animals, held his hand when it came to the beaver. Bloody wars were waged on his behalf by his red-skinned protectors, until the improvements of civilization raised economic difficulties only to be met by the sale of beaver skins, with starvation as the alternative.    _    _

The red men considered them as themselves and dignified their Little Talking Brothers with the name of The Beaver People, and even in these degenerate days of traders, whiskey, and lost tradition, there are yet old men *54

The beaver arrives at the top of the house, with his load, still erect. He places his armful of mud, packing it into the gap with his hands, a?id forcing the stick into a crevice by the same means. The tail is never used for this or any other purpose save as a support in walking. This beaver house is 22 ft. long, 18 ft. wide and 8 ft. high. Built by two beavers in less than two months. amongst the nations who will not sit to a table where beaver meat is served, while those who now eat him and sell his hide will allow no dog to eat his bones, and the remains, feet, tail, bones and entrails, are carefully committed to the element from which they came, the water.

It would seem that by evolution or some other process, these creatures have developed a degree of mental ability superior to that of any other living animal, with the possible exception of the elephant.

Most animals blindly follow an instinct and a set of habits, and react without mental effort to certain inhibitions and desires. In the case of the beaver, these purely animal attributes are supplemented by a sagacity which so resembles the workings of the human mind that it is quite generally believed, by those who know most about them, that they are endowed to a certain extent with reasoning powers. The fact that they build dams and houses, and collect feed is sometimes quoted as evidence of this; but muskrats also erect cabins and store food in much the same manner. Yet where do you find any other creature but man who can fall a tree in a desired direction, selecting only those which can conveniently be brought to the ground? For rarely do we find trees lodged or hung up by full-grown beaver; the smaller ones are responsible for most of the lodged trees. Instinct causes them to build their dams in the form of an arc, but by what means do they gain the knowledge that causes them to arrange that curve in a concave or a convex formation, according to the water-pressure?

Some tame beaver objected strongly to the window in my winter camp, and were everlastingly endeavouring to push up to it articles of all kinds, evidently thinking it was an opening, which it is their nature to close up. That was to be expected. But they overstepped the bounds of natural impulse, and entered the realm of calculation, when they dragged firewood over, and piled it under the window until they had reached its level, and on this improvised scaffold they eventually accomplished their purpose, completely covering the window with piled-up bedding. Whenever the door was open they tried every means of barricading the opening, but found they could never get the aperture filled. One day I returned with a pail of water in each hand to find the door closed, having to set down my pails to open it. I went in, and my curiosity aroused, watched the performance. As soon as I was clear, one of the beaver started to push on some sacking he had collected at the foot of the door, and slowly but surely closed it. And this he often did from then on. Instinct? Maybe.

Their general system of working is similar in most cases, and the methods used are the same. However, in the bush no two places are alike, and it requires no little ingenuity on the part of a man to adapt himself to the varying circumstances, yet the beaver can adjust himself to a multiplicity of different conditions, and is able to overcome all the difficulties arising, meeting his problems much in the way a man would.

In the accompanying sketch will be seen a lake A, representing a pond well-known to me on which there was a beaver family. There was much feed at the place marked Z on the further bank of the river B,but none on the lake, which had been very shallow, but was dammed at X. Between the spot on the river marked Z and the lake was a distance of two hundred yards. The problem was to get the feed across to the pond. The river route was too far, and to draw it such a distance in a country bristling with dangers was not to be considered, so the beaver dug a canal towards the river. Now this stream had run swiftly two miles or more before it reached the point Z, therefore, naturally at that place would be much lower than the level of the lake. On the completion of the canal C the lake would consequently be drained. This the beaver were well aware of, and to avoid this contingency, the channel was dug as far as D, discontinued for a few yards, and continued on to the river, leaving a wall, which being further heightened, prevented the escape of their precious water.

Thus they could float their timber in ease the full dis-156 tance, with the exception of one short portage. A problem not easily solved.

Their strength is phenomenal and they can draw a stick which, in proportion, a man could not shift with his hands; and to move it sideways they will go to each extremity alternately, poise the end over their head and throw it an appreciable distance. I have seen two small beaver struggling down a runway with a poplar log, heaviest of soft woods, of such a size that only the top of their backs and heads were visible above it.

Shooting them when they are so engaged, a common practice, somehow seems to me in these latter days, like firing from ambush on children at play, or shooting poor harmless labourers at work in the fields.

The beaver is a home-loving beast and will travel far overland, around the shores of lakes and up streams, searching for a suitable place to build. Once settled where there is enough feed, and good opportunities to construct a dam, a family is liable to stay in that immediate district for many years. The young, at the age of two years, leave home, and separating, pick each a mate from another family, build themselves a house and dam, and settle down to housekeeping; staying together for life, a period of perhaps fifteen years. At the end of the third year they attain full growth, being then three feet and a half long with the tail, and weighing about thirty-five pounds. In the spring the mother has her young, the male making a separate house for them and keeping the dam in repair. The last year’s kittens leave the pond, going always downstream, and wander around all summer, returning about August to assist in the work of getting ready for the winter. The first part of these preparations is to build a dam, low to begin with, and being made higher as needed. The main object of this structure is to give a good depth of water, in which feed may be kept all winter without freezing, and heavy green sticks are often piled on top of the raft of supplies, which is generally attached to the house, in order to sink it as much as possible. Also by this means the water is flooded back into the timber they intend to fall, enabling them to work close to the water and facilitating escape from danger.

Much has been said concerning the timber they are supposed to spoil in this way, but the shores of a lake are hardly ever low enough to allow any more than the first narrow fringe of trees close to the water to be drowned, and that is generally of little value commercially.

The immense amount of work that is put into a dam must be seen to be realized. Some of these are eight feet high, a hundred yards long, and six feet through at the base, tapering up to a scant foot at the water level. Pits are dug near the ends from which are carried the materials to prevent seepage, and a judicious admixture of large stones adds the necessary stiffening at the water-lines. Canals are channelled out, trees felled near them, neatly limbed, cut up, and all but the heavier portions drawn to the water and floated away. The heightened water facilitates this operation, and besides thus fulfilling his own purpose, the beaver is performing a service for man that, too late, is now being recognized.    .

Many a useful short-cut on a circuitous canoe route, effecting a saving of hours, and even days, a matter of the greatest importance in the proper policing of the valuable forests against fire, has become impracticable since the beaver were removed, as the dams fell out of repair, and streams became too shallow for navigation by canoes.

The house alone is a monument of concentrated effort. The entrance is under water, and on a foundation raised to the water level, and heightened as the water rises, sticks of every kind are stacked criss-cross in a dome shaped pile some eight feet high and from ten to twenty-five feet in width at the base. These materials are placed without regard to interior accommodation, the interstices filled with soil, and the centre is cut out from the inside, all hands chewing away at the interlaced sticks until there is room enough in the interior for a space around the waterhole for a feeding place, and for a platform near the walls for sleeping quarters. The beds are made of long shavings, thin as paper, which they tear off sticks; each beaver has his bed and keeps his place.

Pieces of feed are cut off the raft outside under the ice, and peeled in the house, the discarded sticks being carried out through a branch in the main entrance, as are the beds on becoming too soggy. Should the water sink below the level of the feeding place the loss is at once detected, and the dam inspected and repaired. Thus they are easy to catch by making a small break in the dam and setting a trap in the aperture. On discovering the break they will immediately set to work to repair it without loss of time, and get into the trap. When it closes on them they jump at once into deep water and, a large stone having been attached to the trap, they stay there and drown, taking about twenty minutes to die; a poor reward for a lifetime of useful industry.

Late in the Fall the house is well plastered with mud, and it is by observing the time of this operation that it is possible to forecast the near approach of the freeze-up.

And it is the contemplation of this diligence and perseverance, this courageous surmounting of all difficulties at no matter what cost in labour, that has, with other considerations, earned the beaver, as far as I am concerned, immunity for all time. I cannot see that my vaunted superiority as a man entitles me to disregard the lesson that he teaches, and profiting thereby, I do not feel that I have any longer the right to destroy the worker or his works performed with such devotion.

Many years have I builded, and hewed, and banked, and laboriously carried in my supplies in readiness for the winter, and all around me the Beaver People were doing the same thing by much the same methods, little knowing that their work was all for nought, and that they were doomed beforehand never to enjoy the comfort they well earned with such slavish labour.

I recollect how once I sat eating a lunch at an open fire on the shores of a beautiful little mountain lake, and beside me, in the sunlight, lay the body of a fine big beaver I had just caught. I well remember, too, the feeling of regret that possessed me for the first time, as I watched the wind playing in the dead beaver’s hair, as it had done when he had been happy, sunning himself on the shores of his pond, so soon to become a dirty swamp, now that he was taken.

In spite of his clever devices for protection, the beaver, by the very nature of his work signs his own death warrant. The evidences of his wisdom and industry, for which he is so lauded, have been after all, only sign-posts on the road to extinction. Everywhere his bright new stumps show up. His graded trails, where they enter the water, form ideal sets for traps and he can be laid in wait for and shot in his canals. Even with six feet of snow blanketing the winter forest, it can be easily discovered whether a beaver-house is occupied or not, by digging some snow off the top of the house and exposing the large hollow space 160

melted by the exhalations from within. The store of feed so carefully put by, may prove his undoing, and he be caught near it by a skilfully placed trap. Surely he merits a better fate than this, that he should drown miserably three feet from his companions and his empty bed, whilst his body lies there until claimed by the hunter, later to pass, on the toboggan on its way to the hungry maw of the city, the home he worked so hard to build, the quiet and peace of the little pond that knew him and that he loved so well.

This then is the tale of the Beaver People, a tale that is almost told. Soon all that will remain of this once numerous clan of little brethren of the waste places will be their representative in his place of honour on the flag of Canada. After all an empty mockery, for, although held up to symbolize the Spirit of Industry of a people, that same people has allowed him to be done to death on every hand, and by every means. Once a priceless exhibit displayed for a king’s approval, the object of the devotion of an entire race, and wielding the balance of power over a large continent, he is now a fugitive. Unable to follow his wonted occupation, lest his work show his presence, scarcely he dares to eat except in secrecy, lest he bring retribution swift and terrible for a careless move. Lurking in holes and corners, in muddy ponds and deep unpenetrable swamps, he dodges the traps, snares, spring poles, nets, and every imaginable device set to encompass his destruction, to wipe him off the face of the earth.

Playful and good-natured, persevering and patient, the scattered remnants of the beaver colonies carry on, futilely working out their destiny until such time as they too will fall a victim to the greed of man. And so they will pass from sight as if they had never been, leaving a gap in the cycle of wilderness life that cannot be filled. They will vanish into the past out of which they came, beyond the long-forgotten days, from whence, if we let them go, they can never be recalled.

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