Don’t Diss My Beaver

Monday July 1 was Canada Day, and I realized it’s been a few years since I wrote a ‘distinctly Canadian’ post.  It’s time I did, because somebody needs to defend the honour of our national animal (again).

Apparently our own esteemed Canadian, June Callwood, once said, “The beaver, which has come to represent Canada as the eagle does the United States and the lion Britain, is a flat-tailed, slow-witted, toothy rodent known to bite off its own testicles or to stand under its own falling trees.”

When I read that, I was crushed.  (Although not as severely as our dumb beavers, I guess.)  I had defended the beaver’s noble image back in 2011.  Surely there was some mistake.  Could I still be proud of our Canadian icon?

So your intrepid reporter delved deeply into the matter.  (Okay, fine; I spent a couple of minutes searching the internet.)  And it turns out that beavers do not, in fact, bite off their own testicles.  Whew.

That little fable started in ancient times.  They believed that if a beaver was cornered by hunters attempting to kill it for its castoreum (the gooey musk which the ancients incorrectly believed came from its testicles), the beaver would bite off its own testicles and throw them to the hunters, thereby escaping with its life.  The legend went on to say that if pursued by a subsequent batch of hunters, the crafty beaver would scurry to a high place and lift its leg to display its nutless status.

On to ‘modern’ times (the 17th century).  That’s when Sir Thomas Browne noted that a) Castoreum comes from the beaver’s anal glands, not its testicles; and b) Beavers don’t even have external testicles – they’re inside its body, so it’d be kinda tricky to bite them off.

Ha.  So once again the noble beaver rises above a scurrilous attack on its reputation.  (Although apparently beavers do occasionally get crushed by their own falling trees; but I’m gonna give our plucky little rodents a pass on that one.  Even professional lumberjacks sometimes have accidents.  It’s not stupidity; it’s just bad luck.)

And while I’m on my soapbox defending Canadian icons, I also want to address poutine.  First:  We Anglophones usually say ‘poo-TEEN’; but the correct pronunciation is rendered with a Québécois accent, which softens the ‘t’ to a sibilant ‘th’ and accents both syllables equally:  ‘pou-thsinn’.

But pronunciation doesn’t matter as much as authenticity.  I’ve run across some horrible bastardizations of the dish, and I want to make sure no innocent reader of mine believes that mess is actually poutine.

Check out the top right photo in this Wikipedia article.  That’s how poutine should look.  It’s NOT heavy opaque gravy poured over grated mozzarella — that’s cheese-fries-with-gravy.  Real poutine has clear savory sauce and nice big cheese curds that are so fresh they squeak when you chew them.  Don’t be fooled by poor imitations!

So that’s my community service for Canada Day.  Now, let’s have some poutine, and bring on the beaver jokes!

31 thoughts on “Don’t Diss My Beaver

  1. So glad you cleared up the nonsense about the beaver and his testicles. Good grief that’s a nasty rumor isn’t it? Living near the river here in Calgary we think of the beaver as a symbol of sheer determination, strength and industriousness. Seeing the sizable trees, which somehow a beaver or beaver gang have managed to chomp down in a single night, one can hardly believe the scene. And the good news is we have not spotted one flattened beaver beaver at the project site.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hooray for unflattened beavers! I’m amazed by how much work they can do overnight, too. And anybody who’s ever tried to deter or relocate a beaver can attest to their tenacity. They’re a real problem in some areas, but you have to respect their determination! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As always, I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post. I’ve never seen a beaver in Canada, unfortunately, but I did try poutine last summer. A good friend, who lives in Vancouver, told me to try it on the ferry to Vancouver Island, claiming it was the best version ever.

    But, it seems like it was closer to that mushy mess that you describe instead of the real thing. I should try it again some day, but when I saw it most recently advertised in Montreal, they were charging $9 for this “simple” dish, so I passed. We tried the “Beyond Beef” burger instead. This might make a good blog topic as well!

    We paid homage to Canada by spending Canada Day in Ottawa. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hooray! I hope you enjoyed your visit to Canada! 🙂 $9 seems pretty steep for poutine. If you’re near a Wendy’s fast-food restaurant, they offer a more reasonably-priced option that’s pretty good.

      How did you like the ‘Beyond Beef’ burger? I’ve heard so much about them, but I haven’t had a chance to try one. I’ve eaten some pretty bad ‘real’ burgers in my time; so I’m thinking ‘Beyond Beef’ can’t be any worse and is probably a whole lot better!

      Liked by 2 people

      • I really liked the “Beyond Beef” burger – the flavor and the texture and would order it before a real burger. But, I’ve never been a fan of red meat and am trying to be “mostly vegetarian”. Mark liked it as well, but he thinks that meat eaters would still prefer the real thing as it doesn’t quite looks and tastes like beef yet. You will have to try it! We have not tried the “Impossible Burger”, which – apparently – bleeds (beet juice) as well.

        Good tip about Wendy’s. I might try a poutine there, later this summer when we plan to explore the Maritimes a bit.

        Liked by 2 people

  3. So I start to read this and my sense of self preservation took over and I crossed my legs to protect myself….again…I’m a visual thinker.

    So, Mr. ignorant here has never heard of poutine….glad you included a Wikipedia link….I get it, just didn’t know it was a Canadian dish.

    What an enlightening post and internal testicles just seem so wrong….:) But a good idea if you’re felling trees!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m right there with you on the visual-thinking thing. I don’t even have the necessary equipment, and I winced in sympathy anyway.

      I think poutine is one of those obscure regional dishes that are just now beginning to be appreciated elsewhere. I expect to see an increase in heart attacks following its spread! 😉

      Liked by 2 people

  4. The beaver sat up, looked at me and opened its mouth.

    “I have a big belly and big flat tail. I also have very big teeth (good for biting legend spreaders) and have yet to meet another beaver who has had a tree fall on him.”

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I admire the industrious beaver, and, hey, anybody felling trees can have an accident now and then!

    Never had poutine, and the thought of “squeaky” cheese makes my teeth hurt, just like nails on a blackboard, so probably won’t be having any, ever, but isn’t it wonderful how everybody’s tastebuds march to different drummers?

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s funny — I’m super-sensitive to obnoxious noises like fingernails on a blackboard or cutlery scraping on an unglazed plate, but squeaky cheese delights me. Who’d’a thunk it?

      And you’re right; it is wonderful how different we are. I’m endlessly fascinated by the general quirkiness of human beings. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I have a painting done by Jackie Katz which depicts the beavers having the last laugh! Since I now live right in Lewis and Clark territory, I get a kick out of seeing it every day where it hangs in my kitchen. Check her out. Some very interesting things she’s done. See her at I think you’ll like her sense of humor on this one!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Did you ever catch the brief CBC series “Crawford” a year or two ago? I managed to grab it over the air (one of my antennas is pointed south to Canada…Amherstburg ON, to be exact). Sadly it never renewed for a second season, but it was quirky fun, and strange…in that uniquely Canadian sort of way. No beavers, but they featured trash pandas (oops, raccoons) and yes, they even mentioned poutine in one of the episodes.

    We do have a lot of Tim Hortons locations around us, eh? But no, poutine rarely if ever made its way across the Detroit or St. Clair Rivers. When I was around 10-12 years old, we used to vacation each year up in the Laurentian mountains at a resort that sadly went out of business and mysteriously (*cough* insurance money *cough*) burned to the ground. While we were driving through Quebec, I used to see all of the St. Hubert restaurants, which I supposed are like a Canadian version of Chick-Fil-A since they serve primarily chicken. They have poutines–four different varieties, three with chicken of course. But the one labeled simply “poutine” features the “St. Hubert poutine sauce,” which I’m hoping is a traditional poutine gravy.

    We do get into the hockey (we host one of the original six teams, and get Hockey Night in Canada here), and we share our fireworks celebration with Windsor towards the end of June each year. And a little bit of radio trivia–the area’s most popular (and most influential) radio station in the late 60s was The Big 8, CKLW, 800 AM, which dominated Detroit airwaves back in the day and was powerful enough to reach surrounding states. And on our lake here (the St. Clair variety of lake), if the fishermen drift a little too closely to the international border, they risk getting a visit from the Coast Guard. So we’ve always had a touch of Canada here in my area.

    What you do with your beavers up there is totally up to you–that sounds a little too personal (you know, trees and such). But I respectfully ask that you please take back the shit hawks (oops, Canadian geese). Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Sorry about the geese, but I’m still chuckling over ‘trash pandas’. I’d never heard that one before!

      I never saw Crawford — I don’t watch much TV. But if you ever want to see a quintessentially Canadian movie, rent Men With Brooms. It’s also quirky, fun, and strange. We’ve watched it so many times that among our group of friends, all it takes is for someone to say, “I hear bagpipes”, and then we know it’s time to watch Men With Brooms again! (Bagpipes are played a few times in the movie for no apparent reason.)

      And ooh, yes! If you had St. Hubert poutine, you’ve had REAL poutine! St. Hubert also makes a powdered sauce mix, which we can’t even buy out here on the west coast. I found some on Amazon for a ridiculously inflated price, but I was afraid to buy it since the product photo looked as though it had been through the wars. Next time I’m out east, I’m going to stock up. The good news is that we have a small local cheeseworks that makes excellent cheese curds, so I’m halfway to poutine! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Men With Brooms–noted!

        I’m not a TV watcher myself, other than hockey playoffs (or tuning in Hockey Night in Canada to see what zoot suit Don Cherry is wearing that day). But the ads for Crawford during the playoffs made me curious enough to watch, especially since a well-known Canadian rock musician makes a few appearances in the episodes (“It’s freakin’ super COOL!”). No bagpipes, but Dad is mute retired cop who “speaks” through an app on his phone and hears things in the walls, and Mom is in an open relationship with a dumb-as-rocks U2-loving bodybuilder, working as an exec for a cereal company. Yes, cereal. Their son Don (one of the main characters) is a gay rock musician moving back home to finish his album but gets sidetracked by the trash pandas; youngest son Brian (clearly adopted) skips school, eats pot cookies with his dad, bends street signs at night, and is balding; and moody/hormonal daughter Wendy (“Wenders”) works for a construction company and is dodging a cheating boyfriend.

        And that’s just the family!

        I got a kick out of your Canadian-to-Engilsh translator list from 2011. These really need to be in the Google Translate app, or at least TripAdvisor so tourists don’t feel lost. I knew some of them (thank Bob & Doug McKenzie for the tuque and backbacon), but others I will have to work into my daily routine. 😁 (And at the risk of insulting anyone from Quebec, they probably have a separate translation, one that involves NOT speaking English! 😉

        I used to like Canadian money as a kid–it was so colorful compared to our boring green bills.

        Happy belated Canada Day!

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I always appreciate the Canadian nickel as the Queen is on one side and when you flip it over you find her royal beaver. Beaver numbers were decimated during the fur trading era, but they have come back.
    I can get poutine on this side of the border at one place in town. There was once talk of getting a Tim Horton here, too, but the local donut shop was a bit put out by the thought.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Uh-oh. A Canajen invasion is imminent if there’s talk of Timmie’s. But I think you have Wendy’s in the States, don’t you? Their version of poutine is actually pretty decent.

      And I’m never going to look at a nickel again without snickering!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Despite my aversion to gravy I have to admit that I’ve always wanted to try poutine. Mostly because our Canadian friends rave about it. But so far what we have here isn’t even good enough to call a “bastardization” of the real thing. It’s truly foul. Oh well, one of these years I’ll make it up there to try it.
    And beavers are hard working, industrious critters. Definitely noble.
    Belated Happy Canada Day!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Michelle! I keep trying to make the best of the beaver situation, but it’s hard to compete with a lion and an eagle. Lucky I’m a fiction writer! 😉

      And maybe you won’t hate real poutine sauce — it’s not very gravy-like at all. But even if you can’t stomach it, you can always go for the cheese curds. You can’t go wrong with those.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I laughed out loud reading this and nearly fell up the stairs as I was laughing so hard had to pause until I was actually in the house and could try to read it sensibly but still laughed so hard.

    I’ve never heard of poutine but cheese is good in any form


    • I’m glad you got a belly laugh, and avoided personal injury! I agree, cheese of any kind is good; but squeaky-fresh cheese curds are absolutely delicious, with or without the fries and sauce. YUM! Must… go… buy… cheese curds … NOW…


  11. I never make fun of beavers or Canadians. However, I will admit that I never understood poutine.

    and for the record, I’ve always thought of Canadians as mostly lumberjacks so beavers (an animal that cuts down trees) makes sense as the national animal.


    • Off-colour jokes aside, I don’t think anyone has made a meal of beaver in recent times. I think the trappers and fur traders might have eaten their leftovers, though. And don’t feel badly about not having poutine there — it has barely made its way across Canada, much less outside our borders. Maybe it’s because it’s a heart attack on a plate…? 😉


What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.