Finalist for the 2015 Lane Anderson Award and the 2016 Butler Book Prize
Discover deeper truths and quirky facts that cast new light on this keystone species
Beavers, those icons of industriousness, have been gnawing down trees, building dams, shaping the land, and creating critical habitat in North America for at least a million years. Once one of the continent’s most ubiquitous mammals, they ranged from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Rio Grande to the edge of the northern tundra. Wherever there was wood and water, there were beavers — 60 million (or more) — and wherever there were beavers, there were intricate natural communities that depended on their activities. Then the European fur traders arrived.
In Once They Were Hats, Frances Backhouse examines humanity’s 15,000-year relationship with Castor canadensis, and the beaver’s even older relationship with North American landscapes and ecosystems. From the waterlogged environs of the Beaver Capital of Canada to the wilderness cabin that controversial conservationist Grey Owl shared with pet beavers; from a bustling workshop where craftsmen make beaver-felt cowboy hats using century-old tools to a tidal marsh where an almost-lost link between beavers and salmon was recently found, Backhouse goes on a journey of discovery to find out what happened after we nearly wiped this essential animal off the map, and how we can learn to live with beavers now that they’re returning.
“Fascinating and smartly written.” — Globe and Mail
“Backhouse’s history of the web-footed mammals that have a historic tie to Canadian identity makes for unexpectedly delightful reading — there is much to learn from the buck-toothed rodents of yore.” — National Post
“Every true-blue cottager should study, if not memorize, Backhouse’s writings.” — Ottawa Magazine
“Frances Backhouse is a writer in her prime, able to parse complex bits of data for the reader while also telling a good story. . . Once They Were Hats works as a cultural history of the beaver. It could almost be used as a master class on how to write long-form creative nonfiction.” — Times Colonist
“Backhouse is a skilled and personable narrator who guides us on a tour of the long, fond and sometimes lethal relationship we have entertained with this pudgy little rodent.” — Literary Review of Canada
“With diligence and brio worthy of its subject, Backhouse restores the beaver to its iconic status as nature’s bucktoothed workaholic.” — Melissa Milgrom, author of Still Life: Adventures in Taxidermy
“Cod, salt, whales, and water have all inspired terrific exploration narratives. Now the humble, much-maligned beaver stakes a claim to equal accomplishment. Author Frances Backhouse ranges through history, rambles the contemporary backwoods, and brings us all face to face with . . . wait for it . . . the Mighty Beaver!” — Ken McGoogan, author of Fatal Passage, Lady Franklin’s Revenge, and Celtic Lightning
“Frances Backhouse has written a wise and wily book, effortlessly blending history, natural history, science and sense, she tells us much that we didn’t know about our national totem, and about the persistence of nature caught in the spotlight of civilization.” — Wayne Grady, author of The Natural History of the Great Lakes
"A welcome addition to the ranks of accessible histories . . . She expertly guides us through woods, ponds, auction halls, and laboratories as she tracks the Mighty Beaver." – BC Studies