cover image Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver

Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver

Frances Backhouse. ECW (Legato, U.S. dist.; Jaguar, Canadian dist.), $16.95 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-77041-207-1

Backhouse (Women of the Klondike) sets out to restore some respect to the waffle-tailed, buck-toothed, industrious Castor canadensis%E2%80%94better known as the beaver%E2%80%94in this thoroughly entertaining and informative cultural history. "The humble and much-maligned beaver is actually the Mighty Beaver, arguably North America's most influential animal, aside from ourselves," Backhouse writes. Beavers sculpt geographic landscapes, guide the evolutionary paths of other species, and even have their own unique, louse-like parasite. Backhouse begins her quest for beaver redemption with a pilgrimage to the Beaver Capital of Canada, a nondescript stretch of ponds and dams nestled in Saskatchewan's Pasquia Hills. From there, she charts the beaver's unique history in nine chapters covering the animal's prehistoric ancestors (including some giants), its centrality to First Nations peoples and fur traders (pelts were indeed made into hats), its return from the brink of extinction, and its canonization by biologists as an indispensable keystone species in North America. Backhouse's writing is casual but always illuminating, and she approaches her furry subject with both reverence and humor. This book should interest a wide general readership as it gives the beaver its well-deserved dues. Agent: Carolyn Swayze, Carolyn Swayze Literary Agency. (Oct.)