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Beaver

Beavers are the only animals that made a substantial influence on the history of a whole country. It is not coincidental that it was this very animal that was depicted on the first postage stamp in Canada. In their chase for furs people put together fleets, build forts, and thousands of trappers invaded deeper and deeper in the forests of Canada away from the shore. Practically every major city in North America such as New York, Montreal, Quebec appeared on the cross-roads of beaver transportation routes. Cold climate, hostile Indian tribes, wild animals living in impenetrable forests – nothing could stop the fist explorers of the continent. Alexander MacKenzie, the first white man who reached the Pacific shore of America on foot was a clerk with North West Company, the enterprise engaged in the trade of furs. Beaver skins served as unofficial currency of Canada, and the first Canadian bank (Bank of Montreal) was founded for the very purpose of the fur trade. Those were the territories inhabited by beavers in Canada that were the cause of the Anglo-French war of 1756-63. Since 1600 lives of thousands of people evolved around beaver fur: those of trappers and hunters, Indians and missioners, fur traders, mercenaries and simply adventurers.

Beaver

There were legends circulating about beaver furs. In Europe they believed that beavers had their own government, judicial system and even military brigades; they believed that beavers would stand on their back feet and walk, plant trees, carry wood logs on their shoulders and build three-story dam-houses. A book published at the end of the 19th century had a picture showing how beavers transport heavy things by water: one animal would lie on its back hugging to itself several poles and the other pulls its friend by the teeth as if it were sledges.

Catholic church put beaver into the fish category as a water animal and allowed the consumption of its meat during fasting. North American aborigines in their turn believed beavers to be former human beings. Starting in the Middle Ages in Europe beaver underfur (the thickest underfur among all fur species) was used for the production of the highest quality felt for hats and until the 20th century the term “felt hat” was used in regard to such hats only. Castor hats (from the Latin “castor” for beaver) were precious and they were given down from generation to generation. French traders used to sell secondhand felt hats to Spain, then to even poorer Portugal, and from Portugal these absolutely worn-out hats were taken to Africa where they were exchanged for ivory. Castor oil made from the famous Castor (oily liquid generated by a beaver’s special glands to provide its fur with water-repellent qualities), was considered panacea, universal medicine against all illnesses.



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