What is a symbol? Why are they important? Every day, we are surrounded by symbols. They come in all shapes and sizes, but most importantly, they serve as convenient ways for us to make associations. They can be religious like the Christian cross or Star of David. They can have a professional connotation like the Caduceus in medicine. They can represent a country like the American eagle or English lion. What’s important is that symbols quickly say a lot about something without saying anything at all.
Canadians can be very proud because we have a national symbol that is well known throughout the world and when people see it, it immediately speaks to many of Canada’s core values like: peace, order, good government, multiculturalism, generosity, politeness, vast wilderness, northern lights, John Candy and hockey. This symbol is, of course—the maple leaf. But…wait just a minute…the maple leaf is not actually an official emblem of Canada. The Canadian flag with the maple leaf on it is a national emblem, but not the leaf itself. Here lies a good example of symbolism and association. Now ask yourself what is the more effective symbol for Canada…the maple leaf or say, another of our official emblems, the beaver?
The beaver was given official status as an emblem of Canada on March 24, 1975 by royal assent, when Parliament passed the National Symbol of Canada Act.1 Of course, it was associated with Canada long before this time. However, if asked about its value as a symbol most Canadians would probably give some vague and unenthusiastic reference to the fur trade or the Hudson’s Bay Company. Of course, both were important elements in the creation of Canada, but do they really speak to what it is to be Canadian?
We say not. If we are going to be honest with the beaver as a symbol of Canada, at best it represents industriousness and perseverance. However, the official status of the beaver a national emblem is really one that is commerce-related rather than one representing the virtues that Canada has come to be associated with. In fact, the beaver is arguably better associated with vanity since the fur trade was built on European fashion dictating the rise of this Canadian commodity.
The beaver was almost driven to extinction in the process so it’s strangely ironic that it’s embraced the way it has been. The fur trade was the reason for the settlement of Canada, and while it doesn’t serve as a cohesive symbol, I understand why they went with the beaver. It was the most popular and valuable pelt, but the beaver was still just a commodity. In more recent times, the argument has been made that it was chosen for its industriousness, its engineering, and the fact that it gets the job done. Anybody who has seen this animal at work knows that all these qualities are abundantly true. Personally, I always liked those associations with Canada, but realistically this is still a stretch and it comes off as a forced attempt to hold the beaver up as something that people just don’t associate it with.
So now we’re back to the original line of questioning…what is an effective symbol? As mentioned earlier, the maple leaf lives up to the value of a national symbol, but there is, in fact, another one worth considering. If you’ve seen any media coverage out of the City of Moose Jaw or the city’s mayor, Fraser Tolmie, you know we’re talking about the moose.
It’s the worst kept secret, but the moose is in fact the de facto animal symbol of Canada. Perhaps you never realized it, but when you actually think about it, the moose is everywhere. Whether it’s Bullwinkle, or Peter Moosebridge in Disney’s Zootopia, or the hordes of plush toys in any tourist shop across the country, the moose, not the beaver reigns supreme. So, considering its symbolic value to Canada, it can be argued that the moose is a better emblem than the beaver.
In all honesty though, this is not an article meant to split views and polarize opinions. In fact, it’s meant to do the exact opposite. It’s a fun debate—moose or beaver? Beaver or moose? And, it’s intended to encourage us to think about symbols and how they can mean so much. We are living in a world that seems to be becoming more extreme and combative. It can feel like we’re being knocked down by the negativity that seems to surround us. This is why symbolism is so important in our lives. Symbols can unite us and help us embrace what we have in common, not what drives us apart. Whether you’re watching Hockey Night in Canada in English, French or Punjabi, you’re all watching Hockey Night in Canada and cheering together.
Let’s cheer on something else together.
The beaver has had its day in the sun. Let’s come together and embrace the moose and all its Canadian-ness. Join us, and many others in the wave to get our beloved moose declared Canada’s national animal. It’s a way to reflect on what we have in this country, what we can strive to do better, what we can hold up as sacred, and most of all, it’s fun.
Ready to join the Moose Movement and make 2020 the Year of the Moose? Follow the Great Canadian Moose Debate on Facebook and make your voice heard.
1Official symbols of Canada, Government of Canada, canada.ca/en/canadian-heritage/services/official-symbols-canada.html#a6