Canada's History - - CUR­RENTS -

But per­haps the most com­mon de­pic­tions of an­i­mal death were de­void of blood and guts and left the killing im­plicit: These were im­ages of men like Cree trapper Isa­iah Clark of Nor­way House, Man­i­toba, hold­ing the pelts of an­i­mals he’d trapped, or of bales of furs be­ing graded in the com­pany’s London ware­houses, or of an HBC fox fur stole — com­plete with in­tact head — draped over the shoul­ders of a shapely model in one of the mag­a­zine’s ad­ver­tise­ments.

Ex­cept for that ad, al­most no con­nec­tions were made be­tween, on one hand, the liv­ing, breath­ing beavers, foxes, wolves, mink, rab­bits, and marten, whose lives the mag­a­zine in­vited its read­ers to be en­chanted by, and, on the other hand, the furs they were turned into. And that’s not sur­pris­ing: Look­ing at it now, the ad for the fur stole is un­set­tling — ex­actly be­cause the con­nec­tion be­tween liv­ing an­i­mal and dead com­mod­ity is so ap­par­ent.

It’s also un­set­tling be­cause at­ti­tudes have changed — some­thing that’s in part a re­flec­tion of our changed re­la­tion­ship with the world of an­i­mals. As an ur­ban­ized pop­u­la­tion, we find an­i­mal death dis­turb­ing, even as we con­tinue to rely on an­i­mal bod­ies to sus­tain us. So we look away. And so, too, did the ed­i­tors of The Beaver, al­though their rea­sons also had to do with changes to the HBC’s oper­a­tions.

Ini­tially an in-house pub­li­ca­tion, The Beaver shifted from be­ing a “mag­a­zine of progress” to a “mag­a­zine of the North.” Then, as the com­pany’s re­tail arm over­shad­owed its fur-trad­ing arm, The Beaver turned into a his­tory mag­a­zine, one that was less con­cerned with sub­jects re­lated to its busi­ness and its own past — nat­u­ral his­tory, wildlife con­ser­va­tion, and ex­plo­ration and the fur trade — and more en­gaged with broader top­ics in Canada’s his­tory.

That his­tory was de­cid­edly hu­man-cen­tred, and by the 1970s and 1980s it had much less space for an­i­mals — with one notable ex­cep­tion: Dogs, and specif­i­cally sled dogs, were a part of the mag­a­zine from the start, in recog­ni­tion of the cru­cial role they played in sus­tain­ing life in the North for both Indige­nous and non-Indige­nous peo­ples. In the twenty-first cen­tury, the pres­ence of these dogs is one of the few re­minders of both The Beaver’s past and our own, a time when we were much more aware of how our lives are en­tan­gled with those of non-hu­man oth­ers.

Above: A wolf on Ellesmere Is­land in what’s now Nu­navut devours a muskox circa the 1960s. The im­age by David Free­land Parm­lee ac­com­pa­nied an es­say he wrote on wolves. Parm­lee, a bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Kansas State Teach­ers Col­lege, spent a decade study­ing wolves in the Cana­dian Arc­tic. Bot­tom left: Roy McDer­mott, son of HBC post man­ager John McDer­mott, pre­pares to ride his pet dog at Fort Simp­son, N.W.T., in 1922. The im­age, ti­tled “A Rough Rider of the North,” ap­peared in the July 1922 is­sue and was likely sub­mit­ted by Roy’s par­ents. Op­po­site page, top: Sled dogs slog through deep snow some­where in “north­ern Canada” in this 1947 photo by Richard Har­ring­ton. Op­po­site page, bot­tom left: HBC em­ployee Reuben Plough­man plays with a sun­glasses-wear­ing po­lar bear cub in 1943 at Southamp­ton Is­land, in present-day Nu­navut. Pho­tog­ra­pher un­known. Op­po­site page, cen­tre right: A beaver swims through a pond in On­tario’s Quetico Pro­vin­cial Park in this 1971 photo by Mark A. Fisher. It ap­peared with an ar­ti­cle by Fisher in the Spring 1971 is­sue. Op­po­site page, bot­tom right: Young swans pad­dle through the wa­ter circa the late 1930s. The im­age by Lorene Squire ap­peared in the June 1940 is­sue as part of a photo es­say on baby an­i­mals.

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