Frances Backhouse – Once They Were Hats

Each year, UVic faculty, staff, students, alumni and retirees produce an incredible amount of intellectual content reflecting their breadth and diversity of research, teaching, personal and professional interests.

Once They Were Once They were HatsHats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver is the newest publication from Frances Backhouse, a University of Victoria alum and a member of UVic’s Writing Dept. Frances Backhouse recently appeared as a panelist at the Spring 2016 UVic Author Celebration event and discussed the process of writing this truly Canadian text.

About the Book

Beavers, those icons of industriousness, have been gnawing down trees, building dams, shaping the land, and creating critical habitat in North America for at least a million years. Once one of the continent’s most ubiquitous mammals, they ranged from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Rio Grande to the edge of the northern tundra. Wherever there was wood and water, there were beavers — 60 million (or more) — and wherever there were beavers, there were intricate natural communities that depended on their activities. Then the European fur traders arrived. In Once They Were Hats, Frances Backhouse examines humanity’s 15,000-year relationship with Castor canadensis, and the beaver’s even older relationship with North American landscapes and ecosystems.

In Once They Were Hats, Frances Backhouse examines humanity’s 15,000-year relationship with Castor canadensis, and the beaver’s even older relationship with North American landscapes and ecosystems. From the waterlogged environs of the Beaver Capital of Canada to the wilderness cabin that controversial conservationist Grey Owl shared with pet beavers; from a bustling workshop where craftsmen make beaver-felt cowboy h0317165087ats using century-old tools to a tidal marsh where an almost-lost link between beavers and salmon was recently found, Backhouse goes on a journey of discovery to find out what happened after we nearly wiped this essential animal off the map, and how we can learn to live with beavers now that they’re returning.

About the Author 

Frances Backhouse is the author of five books, including Children of the Klondike, winner of the 2010 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize. She is also a veteran freelance magazine writer and teaches creative nonfiction at the University of Victoria. 

Praise for the Book

“Frances Backhouse has written a wise and wily book, effortlessly blending history, natural history, science and sense, she tells us much that we didn’t know about our national totem, and about the persistence of nature caught in the spotlight of civilization.” — Wayne Grady, author of The Natural History of the Great Lakes

“Backhouse’s history of the web-footed mammals that have a historic tie to Canadian identity makes for unexpectedly delightful reading — there is much to learn from the buck-toothed rodents of yore.” — National Post

“Fascinating and smartly written.” — Globe and Mail

“Backhouse is a skilled and personable narrator who guides us on a tour of the long, fond and sometimes lethal relationship we have entertained with this pudgy little rodent.” — Literary Review of Canada