For a national icon, a “toothy tyrant” beats a frozen bear.
Last week, Canadian Conservative senator Nicole Eaton suggested Canada abandon the beaver as our national emblem and adopt the polar bear instead. Um. Seriously? We Beg to Differ.
Let’s be clear: polar bears are awesome
I have nothing against polar bears! I know they are threatened by global warming, and we need to care about them now more than ever. I also have no argument with senator Eaton when she says that polar bears are…
“Canada’s most majestic and splendid mammal” but also a “powerful figure in the material, spiritual and cultural life” of Canada’s Inuit. (Calgary Herald)
All true. Seriously, I’d be the last person on earth to disrespect a polar bear – particularly in person. They are fearsome, powerful creatures, and yes, they are iconic symbols of the Canadian wilderness along with a small pantheon (Cantheon?) of other animals like the moose, the Canada goose, and the loon, that are thought of as quintessentially Canadian.
But it’s one thing to say that a creature is *an* icon, and quite another to say it is *the* symbol of your country.
Just like any symbol or brand icon, the national animal needs to balance two things: 1) the real – that is, it has to fit the perceived character of the country as it is today, and 2) the ideal – it has to imply a realistic, but positive, set of characteristics we aspire to as a country.
10 reasons the beaver should remain Canada’s national animal:
- Historic. Beaver pelts were deeply valued by natives, and even more by the Europeans who came looking for them to build top hats. They were our first major export, and for centuries, Canada was explored, developed, and fought over mainly for our little bucktoothed friends. Polar bears? Not so much.
- Widely used. From Canada’s earliest days, the beaver has appeared on our national “marketing materials” as a symbol of Canada (see the postcard below). It also appears on the nickel, many official coats of arms and the Hudson’s Bay Company, as well as lending its name and image to the Canadian Pacific Railway, Roots Canada, Beaver Canoe, and to the iconic bush plane the de Havilland Beaver. The polar bear is used on our two dollar coin. And… that’s pretty much it.
- They’re cute (but edgy). It’s hard not to like a pudgy, buck-toothed beaver. But not in a cuddly sentimental way like a helpless baby seal -something polar bears love by the way. Basically, they’re cute but not cute enough to be a toilet paper mascot. Just like Canadians!
- They’re humble. Let’s face it, a giant carnivorous, seal-crunching, ice-smashing powerhouse of an animal doesn’t exactly seem like the Canada I know – or the one I’d want to live in. We’re a second-tier power, and not known for being ruthless or nasty.
- But not apologetic about it. Here’s where a beaver can take standard perceptions of Canadian-ness in a new direction. They’re not violent, but they’re not shy either. As a matter of fact, as anyone who has ever tangled with one will tell you, they’re dammed assertive little critters. In aboriginal totems, beavers represent these qualities: “determined, strong-willed, builder, overseer, and protector.”
- They build and change things. Beavers are the most ambitious builders on earth next to humans. No other animal can change their landscape as much, or with such positive results, as a beaver. But unlike people, beavers always create as many new habitats as they destroy – an example Canadians could stand to take more seriously.
- Adaptable and resilient. Water, land, wilderness, or city, beavers are there. There’s a beaver who lives two blocks from my house near downtown Ottawa. I’ve never yet seen a polar bear around here. But I’ll let you know if that changes.
- Warm weather animals. Canada has an undeserved reputation as a frozen place – a land of snow, ice, and igloos. And while Canada does get cold in the winter and a big part of Canada is indeed in the frozen north where the polar bears dwell, our national symbol should highlight the fact that 9/10 Canadians live most of our lives in hot summers and glorious long spring and autumn seasons – much more like a beaver than a polar bear.
- A unifier. There is only one symbol that is universally Canadian enough to be used as a heraldic symbol by Montreal, Toronto, 3 Western provinces, and the Hudson’s Bay Company. I’ll give you a hint. It ain’t a polar bear…
- Beavers are ours. Here’s the big one for Beg to Differ. Beavers are our symbol. No other place in the world is, or even wants to be, represented by a beaver. It’s a powerful Canadian differentiator
Let Russia, Chicago, and Boston have their bears. Let the Americans, Mexicans, and Germans have their eagles. The queen can keep her lion and unicorn – and one day, when we finally dump the British royalty, Canada can finally replace them in our national coat of arms with a majestic pair of iconic Canadian animals.
Okay, maybe then we could agree to have a beaver on one side and a polar bear on the other. But until then, I say let’s leave it to the beaver. How about you?