Day 659: Beaver Fever

Laetitia headed south out of Thunder Bay with her group. Their destination was La Verendrye Provincial Park, named after Quebecois explorer Pierre Gaultier de Varennes, sieur de La Veréndrye. There are actually two La Verendrye Provincial parks in Canada. This park is in Ontario on the Pigeon River, which forms the border between the United States and Canada. There is another park with the same name in Quebec. The Ontario park is unstaffed, but offers great hikes and wildlife viewing. Afterward the group headed back north toward Thunder Bay to Fort William Historical Park on the Kaministiquia River.

The original Fort William owed its existence to the fur trade. During the period from 1550 until 1850, hats made of felt from beaver underfur were so immensely fashionable in Europe that the fur trade nearly drove the American beaver into extinction. In 1670, the Hudson’s Bay Company, North America’s first commercial corporation, was set up to take advantage of this market.

About a century later, the North West Company became its rival, bringing its furs out through the Saint Lawrence Seaway rather than Hudson’s Bay. The North West Company’s original post was in what is now Grand Portage, Minnesota. There the “pork eaters” from Montreal in large lake canoes, propelled by as many as 12 paddlers, rendezvoused with the trappers, who brought their furs down from the wilderness in small canoes, portaging from lake to lake and then ultimately traversing the Pigeon River to a point just above its high falls. When Minnesota became part of the United States in 1794, the company shifted its rendezvous point north across the border to Fort William. Today the fort has more than 40 reconstructed buildings and re-enactors in period costumes who attempt to recreate the flavor of the fur trade era.

During her usual bar sojourn before dinner, Laetitia’s mind wandered from today’s tour, with its focus on the fur trade, to Robert Burns. The Scottish poet wrote the poem and song Cock Up Your Beaver in 1792, at a time when the subject beaver (hat) was immensely popular. Whether Burns intended a double-entendre is obscure. How and when “cock” and “beaver” joined the extensive list of slang synonyms for male and female genitalia, respectively, is the subject of speculation. The beaver is a symbol closely associated with Canada. It is often pictured on Canadian coins and stamps, but beaver’s slang meaning can sometimes be troublesome. Recently Canada’s 90-year-old magazineThe Beaver changed its name to Canadian History. Blocking of its online version by spam filters and declining popularity of the magazine among young readers and women of all ages were given as reasons for the change. Laetitia enjoys double-entendre, but not everyone does. For those, she offered some facetious advice.

If slang English words oft assail ya
With unwished thoughts of genitalia
Then pack up your stuff
And leave in a huff
For someplace like Spain or Westphalia.