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Beavers Don't Need Chainsaws

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I was just a young fellow of ten years of age when I remember my mother saying that it was time for me to accompany my father in the woods trappin’. She did not like the fact that he would be two weeks alone out in the woods without anyone around to look out for him. The woods can be a dangerous place for a fella on his own. If anything ever happened back there in the woods, he would be in bad shape! My daddy would go 50 miles back into the woods – that’s right-50 miles on foot into the woods. So after I had done about three years of school, I quit and headed into the woods with my daddy.

I kept him company while he was trappin’ and helped him carry the pelts on our backs, and stuff like that. We’d be gone two weeks at a time, so we would make a smoke hole to sleep in. That’s when you build lumber four feet high and have a fire inside to keep warm, during the cold January and February nights. The wind would be howlin’ and the snow would really be coming down. One time I had to chop wood right through the night because I didn’t want to freeze to death. A man could easily freeze in there! One night it was forty below zero and, my dear, if I turned to the side of the fire my front almost burned, but at the same time my back almost froze! You were either on fire or you were freezin’. What a life! I told my dad, ‘If I gotta do this all the time for a living, then I might as well shoot myself!’ He told me not to be so foolish.

We would carry oatmeal and cornmeal and we would catch fish in the lakes for food. It wasn’t the lap of luxury. It was just the kind of stuff that kept us going. Then when the trappin’ started we had to carry all of those furs on our backs. Sometimes they would be really heavy by the time we got back home, as we had several weeks worth of pelts. Some of my fondest memories are of trappin’ beavers. They are real smart animals, you know.

Back in 1956, the beaver had been over-trapped on the Mingan River, which is on the other side of the St. Lawrence. So the government was giving out contracts for us to trap live beavers at $20 a piece to take them back up to the North Shore and replenish the stock. I spent a few years just doing that. One year I trapped 270 beavers. I used to capture them alive and then they would come here to get them and take them to the airplane. They’d fly them up to Mingan River and drop them off from seaplanes into the lakes and rivers. I had a proper trap to catch them in. But I caught 26 by the tail as well. My wife would come with me and we’d head out at night and stand on the riverbank, listening for a beaver to come out of his house. Out he would come and swim around the house to make sure that there was no danger. Then he’d go back in, and after ten minutes or so, come back out and pound his tail on the water. If there were still no signs of danger, he’d go back in and get the whole family.

They’d all come out and stand in water about eight inches deep and wash their faces and the rest of their little bodies. We used to keep quiet then, because that is the way to find out how many were in the house. So we would watch the beaver pretty sharply and then we’d grab him by the tail and pull him out of the water. If you weren’t fast enough, they would try to bite your arms. We would grab them real quick and put them in the cage. It’s a pretty tricky job, but if you needed extra money, you did it.

One time we tore a house apart just to see how it was made. What we found out was that it is made of earth, hay and wood, and that they each have a bedroom. That is how you can tell how many live in the house.

When you really stop to think about it, it’s amazing how they can dam those streams and make those treetops fall right in the water. And they don’t even have chainsaws or anything like that.
An old trapper once told me that a mother only keeps two babies. If she has a third one, she gets rid of it and sure enough, I have trapped lots of beaver all my life and I never found more than two babies with the mother. Nobody knows why, I guess it’s some kind of mystery. The two babies grow pretty fast. They stay with the mother about a year and then they go and dam up a little creek of their own. One time I was up in northern Ontario and this fellow said to me, ‘You fellas, do you have many lakes down there? I said, ‘No, we don’t have many lakes, but I know what causes all your lakes up here, it’s the beavers. Every little creek I see up here has a beaver dam. And one little dam can bring the water up a foot or two and then the next year another beaver builds a second dam and here you have a dam up four, five or six feet high. And then soon enough you’ve got your lake. The beavers make all the lakes for you fellas. It’s all because of the beavers.’

I once told an architect that if he ever wanted to learn anything about building, all he had to do was watch the beavers building their houses, ‘cause they know how to do it right. I remember one time we were driving wood down the Cascapedia River and we had a call from the guy who was waiting on the wood. He said that he hadn’t got any wood and he wanted to know why we weren’t working. Well, we told him we’d been driving for four or five days, but there was still no lumber coming out. Turns out a beaver had that creek dammed up solid. Those engineers would have to have big construction outfits to dam the creek the way the beavers had done it.

We blew the dam apart with dynamite and in two days time they had closed her again! We had to blow her the next time and dig the beaver out from under her. Imagine that! So I always tell these engineers, take a lesson from those there beavers. They can dam any place they want and they don’t even have chainsaws.

*Wesley was born ‘up the Nor’west’ in 1916 and his wife Lois was born in Cascapedia in 1921. Wesley was well-known for his storytelling skills and knowledge about the Cascapedia River.He had a beautiful singing voice and he and Lois often entertained friends with their musical talents. Wesley passed away in 2005.