What is Canada’s National Animal? The Polar Bear


What is Canada’s National Animal? The Polar Bear!  A Patriot’s Rant…




“The polar bear, with its strength, courage, resourcefulness, and dignity is perfect for the part,” Nicole Eaton said recently in a speech to the Canadian Senate, when suggesting a rebranding of Canada’s national animal from “our furry friend, the beaver.” [1]

Referring to the polar bear’s “strength, courage, resourcefulness and dignity,” she called it “Canada’s most majestic and splendid mammal, holding reign over the Arctic for thousands of years.  The polar bear has been and continues to be a powerful figure in the material, spiritual and cultural life of the indigenous people of the Arctic.”

I’m with Nicole on this one.

She’s drawn some fire referring to the industrious beaver as a “rat — a big rat, that doesn’t reflect our new values.  A dentally defective rat … a nuisance that wreaks havoc on farmlands, roads, lakes, streams and tree plantations,” but this just reflects her marvelous sense of humour.

Canadian-beaver-charles-livingston-bullNicole Eaton is well aware of the critical role the beaver plays in the ecology of green lands.  She’s well aware that the eager beaver faced annihilation in the middle of the last century (“By the mid-1900s, when fickle fashion trendsetters abandoned fur for silk, the Canadian beaver was close to extinction.”) — a tragedy averted in large part by the popular writings of Grey Owl.

We have beavers — and their dams — at the lower corner of our property.  And love to watch them swimming and playing.  If you’ve ever heard a beaver kit calling out with its comical, human babylike cry, you couldn’t help but respond with a warm laugh.

But you must remember that Canadians didn’t pick the beaver as our national symbol in the first place.  The Hudson’s Bay Company did.  The London-based HBC made its fortune on the furs and skins harvested in colonial Canada, including the rich beaver pelts that were shipped to England to be made into those fashionable beaver felt hats for the well-heeled gentlemen of the age.

Beavers weren’t cute, industrious and ecologically essential creatures to the company managers and shareholders of the day; they were raw material.  As an image, the Beaver was really a symbol of foreign corporate greed.

But Polar Bears…  “The polar bear is the world’s largest terrestrial carnivore and Canada’s most majestic and splendid mammal,” Nicole explained, saying it “survives in the harshest climate and terrain in the world.”

Right on!

We need a new National Totem.

An animal that reflects the Canadian soul.

butterfly-polar-bear-burhoeJust as the loon can be thought of as our national bird (what’s more Canadian than the lonely sound of a loon’s call across a forest-rimmed lake?), and the lone red-coated Mountie as our national Hero, so the mighty Polar Bear reflects our strength and beauty.

And perhaps our own endangerment as a culture.

Just as the Polar Bear struggles for its very existence in a melting habitat, so the failed Free Trade agreement allows more and more replacement of our own glorious culture and history with amoral multinational megacorp messaging that has little meaning to us — and no soul.  If it wasn’t for the sacred Game of Hockey (Go Team Canada!) and for CBC programming, we’d have no popular culture left at all.

I can remember a time when, as a kid, bookshelves of the older folks I used to visit were filled with volumes of Canadian stories. [2]  Flags hung on walls.  And photos and paintings displayed clearly Canadian images, including young men in uniform.  Those folk spoke knowingly of our own history.  My father once gave me a reader he had used in his own schoolboy days.  It was called THE VOICE OF CANADA: Canadian Prose & Poetry.   The first section was called “Love of Country.”  I still treasure it.

And now?

As I’ve said elsewhere, “Ask any Canadian who Wyatt Earp was — now ask them who Sam Steele was.”

Or — “Ask any Canadian who Mark Twain was — now ask them who Charles G D Roberts was.”  (To answer the second question, both were popular writers published in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine during the late 1890’s.  Roberts was the New Brunswick writer who became our first major poet and short story writer — and created the uniquely Canadian literary form, the Realistic Animal Story.  In 1935, Roberts received a knighthood from King George V who called him the “Father of Canadian Literature.”)

Of course, you know who Wyatt Earp and Mark Twain were.  How many Canadians know and love the sagas of Superintendent Sam Steele of the North-West Mounted Police and Sir Charles G D Roberts, Father of Canadian Literature?  Never been a major motion picture made about either of them, eh?

Here’s how it’s going to play out, my friend: if we continue to be little industrious beavers, we’ll be taken over — or, more precisely, sold out — and hung up by the tail in a fur shed to be skinned.  But if we call the Polar Bear our Sacred Totem and draw on it’s magnificent power…

Where’s your Petition, Nicole?  I’m signing it!

– Brian Alan Burhoe


==>> To read one of Charles George Douglas Roberts’ most beloved Animal Stories, go to “The Bear That Thought He Was A Dog” A Complete Short Story by Sir Charles G D Roberts


==>> “Of Polar Bears. As the Water Rises, Their Prospects Fall…”  To read more about the plight of our Polar Bears, go to THE POLAR BEAR: From Nanook of the North to Knut the Baby Polar Bear 


[1] To read Nicole’s speech “The Polar Bear” Click Here

[2] “… bookshelves filled with volumes of Canadian stories.”  Don’t know what I’m talking about?  See THE GREAT PULP FICTION MOUNTIES: From Corporal Cameron to Sergeant Preston 



Note on artwork: Beaver drawing by Charles Livingston Bull, illustrating the novel THE HOUSE IN THE WATER (1908) by Sir Charles G D Roberts.  Polar Bear and Butterfly illustration also by Bull, from the 1907 edition of Sir Charles’ THE HAUNTERS OF THE SILENCES.

Reference: THE VOICE OF CANADA: Canadian Prose & Poetry, Selected by A M Stephen, Illustrated by E Wallcousins, J M Dent & Sons, Toronto, 1927.

Keywords: bears, Canadian culture, Canadian national animal, Canadian national bird, Charles George Douglas Roberts, national animals, North-West Mounted Police, polar bear baby, polar bear facts, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, symbol of Canada, Voice of Canada


About Brian Alan Burhoe

A Graduate of the Holland College Culinary Course, Brian Alan Burhoe has cooked in Atlantic Coast restaurants and institutional kitchens for over 30 years. He is a member of the Canadian Culinary Federation. Brian's articles reflect his interests in food service, Canadian history, imaginative literature, wildlife writing, animal rights, wilderness preservation and our best friends -- our dogs. See his CIVILIZED BEARS!
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