How are beavers responsible for the exploration of Canada?

BBC Wildlife contributor Christian Dunn answers your wild question.

A side view  image of an adult beaver 'Castor canadesis'  sitting looking around from the edge of his pond.

Canada was explored by beaver trappers © Richard McGouey / Getty

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Canada may not have existed as we know it today if it wasn’t for the beaver, and certainly wouldn’t have been explored by Europeans as quickly. From the mid-16th century, beaver pelts were brought from North America to Europe primarily for making hats, and this continued – to varying degrees – into the Victorian era, when silk became the preferred material.

Demand for beaver fur was so high that European trappers had to enlist the help of indigenous people to seek out new hunting grounds. This inevitably meant going west into the very heart of North America, away from the trading ports and settlements of the east coast, and opening up completely uncharted territory.

Such was the value of the beaver-pelt industry that it affected trading and political alliances across North America and Europe, helping to shape the country that was to become Canada.

The importance of the beaver to this nation is difficult to overstate – little wonder that it has become one of the country’s national emblems. 

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