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.