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An­i­mals pop up ev­ery­where in the story of Canada. They’re in the ocean and the wilder­ness, in farms, cities and even our liv­ing rooms. Indige­nous peo­ples were the first to use an­i­mals to make food,cloth­ing, homes, tools and more. Inuit, Métis and First Na­tions peo­ple all over the coun­try still hunt and fish,as well as hav­ing pets and work­ing an­i­mals. Euro­peans likely first came to what is now Canada look­ing for crea­tures of the sea and land.

In 1497, Gio­vanni Caboto (John Cabot) and his crew were sail­ing near the is­land of New­found­land and couldn’t be­lieve their eyes. As some­one said in a letter home to Italy, if they low­ered a bas­ket into the ocean it would fill up with cod. Be­fore long, ships were sail­ing from France, Spain, Por­tu­gal and Eng­land to catch fish for Europe. Some com­pa­nies took the cod ashore, split them and dried them on the stones or on wooden plat­forms in places such as Grande Grave in what is now Fo­ril­lon Na­tional Park in Que­bec. In some parts of New­found­land, when peo­ple say “fish,” they mean cod — that’s how im­por­tant it was to the is­land. So many ships from all over the world fished cod so heav­ily and for so long in the area that in 1992 the Cana­dian govern­ment banned all cod fish­ing ex­cept for peo­ple catch­ing food for their fam­i­lies.

The best way to get rid of rats and mice that might chew through your ship’s ropes and eat the food needed for a long sea voy­age is to keep a cat on board. The Em­press of Ire­land, shown above, was about to sail out of Que­bec City on May 28, 1914, when the ship’s cat, Emmy, jumped off. The next day, the Em­press crashed into a coal ship in the mid­dle of the St. Lawrence River and sank. More than 1,000 peo­ple drowned.

Whalers from the Basque re­gion, which lies partly in north­ern Spain and partly in south­ern France, sailed to the coast of Labrador to hunt bow­head, shown be­low, and right whales, shown above, from about 1530 to 1600. Dur­ing that time they killed at least 20,000 whales. They wanted the baleen — the bony fringe the whales used to fil­ter their food out of the wa­ter. The baleen was used to stiffen women’s un­der­clothes, like the corset at right, for knife han­dles and other prod­ucts. Blubber (whale fat) was melted to make oil for lamps.

Fancy hats made from beaver pelts were so pop­u­lar in Europe start­ing in the 1600s that their mak­ers couldn’t keep up. Af­ter they killed pretty much all the beavers at home, they turned to the vast wilder­ness of Canada. Voyageurs and traders trav­elled a huge ter­ri­tory from what is now Que­bec to the Yukon and Northwest Ter­ri­to­ries to buy pelts from Indige­nous peo­ple. Fash­ion al­most de­stroyed Canada’s beaver pop­u­la­tion, but thanks to the rise of silk hats in the mid-1800s, and the work of peo­ple to pro­tect the busy crea­tures, they now thrive nearly ev­ery­where ex­cept the Arc­tic is­lands.

In 1698, this is how one il­lus­tra­tor from France imag­ined beavers would look as they built a dam, in­clud­ing walk­ing on two legs like peo­ple. Some in France were sure that these Cana­dian beavers had a king, while oth­ers said they held elec­tions. An­other in­sisted he had seen vil­lages made up of beaver palaces in the wilder­ness.

Beaver pelts were so im­por­tant to the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany that it put four of them on its coat of arms. Founded in 1670, HBC is the old­est com­pany in North Amer­ica.

Canada’s first stamp was the 1851 Three Penny Beaver.

The beaver be­came an of­fi­cial na­tional sym­bol of Canada on March 24, 1975.

Canada’s most fa­mous beavers were likely Jelly Roll and Rawhide. They lived in a cabin with a man known as Grey Owl and his Mo­hawk wife Ana­hareo (Gertrude Bernard), first in Rid­ing Moun­tain Na­tional Park in Man­i­toba and then in Saskatchewan’s Prince Al­bert Na­tional Park. The four of them be­came fa­mous in the 1930s through films and Grey Owl’s books. Many peo­ple were shocked to learn he was ac­tu­ally an English­man named Archie Be­laney, but that didn’t take away from the cou­ple’s work to pro­tect beavers and their habi­tat.

Horses first came to east­ern Canada in 1665, when King Louis XIV of France sent 21 mares (fe­male horses) and two stal­lions (males). Horses were very im­por­tant on farms, where they pulled ploughs and hauled out stumps. Set­tlers mov­ing west took ev­ery­thing they owned in horse-drawn wagons. For cen­turies, horses also pulled car­riages, fire wagons, sleighs, de­liv­ery carts and just about ev­ery­thing else, whether in small towns, cities or in the coun­try­side. By 1921 there were 3.5 mil­lion horses in Canada, nearly all of them used for work. When cars and trac­tors came along, horses mainly be­came a kind of big pet, rid­den for fun.

Taken around 1901, the photo at right shows an Indige­nous woman from what is now Man­i­toba with a horse hitched to a Red River cart

Horses were help­ful ev­ery­where, but nowhere more than in the Red River re­gion, the area around mod­ern Win­nipeg. The Métis were ex­pert rid­ers who used horses when they were hunting bi­son, and to pull Red River carts. These carts were per­fect for the area — they could float, were easy to take apart, and had high wheels that could go through mud.

From the late 1800s well into the mid-1900s, in mines from Al­berta to Cape Bre­ton, small but strong pit ponies were used to haul loads of coal up to the sur­face.

The Cana­dian horse is a spe­cial breed that goes all the way back to those first horses in New France. In 2002, it was named Canada’s na­tional horse.

Sable Is­land is a big, long sand dune in the ocean about 300 kilo­me­tres east of Nova Sco­tia. The only land mam­mals on it are wild horses, shown above left, whose an­ces­tors were brought to the is­land in the 1700s as part of a failed at­tempt at farm­ing. The Sable Is­land horses are now pro­tected by the Cana­dian govern­ment.

Dogs have done lots of im­por­tant work in our past. The Cana­dian Inuit dog or qim­miq, shown at left, is a spe­cial breed dat­ing back thou­sands of years. De­scended from wolves, these dogs can pull twice their own weight. In 1647, the French set­tlers of Ville Marie (now Montreal) feared an at­tack by the Iro­quois, whose land they had taken for their set­tle­ment. A dog named Pilote used to pa­trol the vil­lage every day, her pup­pies trail­ing be­hind. One day some pups wan­dered into the sur­round­ing for­est, where Pilote sniffed out the Iro­quois war­riors hid­ing in the trees and barked to warn the vil­lagers.

In the First World War, med­i­cal ser­vice dogs de­liv­ered first aid sup­plies on the bat­tle­field. Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, when planes fly­ing from the U.S. to Rus­sia over north­ern Canada crashed, trained huskies car­ry­ing sur­vival gear and med­i­cal sup­plies parachuted down to help the sur­vivors.

There were once 30 mil­lion bi­son on the Cana­dian Prairies, enough to cir­cle the earth one and one-third times. For thou­sands of years, Indige­nous peo­ples had hunted the bi­son, typ­i­cally us­ing nearly every part of it for food, cloth­ing, tipis, tools and more. But when Euro­peans moved west, huge num­bers of bi­son were killed just for their hides, which were made into leather. The govern­ment of Sir John A. Mac­don­ald looked the other way as the bi­son were slaugh­tered. If Indige­nous peo­ple lost their main food source, they would have no choice but to move to re­serves in ex­change for food from the govern­ment. That meant the land would be avail­able to set­tlers who wanted to start farms.

Bi­son meat was ex­tremely im­por­tant in the fur trade. Dried and eaten as jerky or pounded into a pow­der and mixed with fat and berries to make pem­mi­can, it fu­elled many a long ca­noe jour­ney.

For many First Na­tions in Bri­tish Columbia, sal­mon, like the sock­eye shown above, is more than just an im­por­tant food. The fish is part of their leg­ends, cul­ture and art, too. For as long as mem­ory tells, Indige­nous peo­ple caught sal­mon swim­ming from the ocean up­stream into fresh­wa­ter rivers. There were of­ten strict rules about who could har­vest sal­mon, what to do with the first sal­mon caught, and about how the re­mains of sal­mon should be dis­posed of.

Be­tween 1880 and 1950, about 200 fac­to­ries for can­ning sal­mon popped up along the west coast of B.C. The can­ner­ies were a bit un­usual be­cause they em­ployed women as well as men, and many work­ers who were First Na­tions or from Chi­nese or Ja­panese back­grounds.

Start­ing in the late 1800s, coal min­ers took caged ca­naries un­der­ground with them to act as warn­ing sig­nals. If a canary breathed a poi­sonous gas, its re­ac­tion gave the min­ers time to get out or at least put on a mask. Pi­geons, like the one shown at right, were im­por­tant wartime mes­sen­gers. Sol­diers would write notes on tiny pieces of pa­per and at­tach them to the leg of a pi­geon that would carry the notes where they needed to go. In 1942, Beach­comber the pi­geon flew all the way from Eng­land to France with a mes­sage about the up­com­ing Dieppe Raid, earn­ing the Dickin Medal, the high­est hon­our for an an­i­mal.

Grey Owl (Archie Be­laney) feed­ing a young beaver

Il­lus­tra­tions by: Matt Kehler

Women at a Steve­ston, B.C., sal­mon can­nery, 1958

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