Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver

Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver

by Frances Backhouse
  • from-british-columbia
  • history-politics-current-affairs
  • science
  • wilderness-outdoors-nature

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. 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 hats 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.


Frances Backhouse, author

Frances Backhouse (www.backhouse.ca) is a biologist and MFA grad, a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists and the Canadian Science Writers' Association. The author of award-winning books and articles, Frances Backhouse has a strong media skills and has written for Audubon, New Scientist, Canadian Geographic and numerous other magazines. Her training and experience as a biologist inform her environmental writing, including her books about owls and woodpeckers. Her other three books reflect her ongoing fascination with Klondike gold rush history.


  • Backhouse gives the little buck-toothed rodent the credit it deserves in an intelligent and interesting look at Castor canadensis. - Chicago Tribune Link to review
  • 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 Link to review
  • A thorough account of the tirelessly industrious beaver’s past, present and possible future […]. The pages brim with information and interesting tidbits. - The Globe & Mail Link to review
  • Backhouse is a perceptive observer and listener, ever alert to the subtle ways the beaver’s story entwines with individual people. She has the knack of a documentary filmmaker. - Rob Rich, High Country News Link to review


  • Shorlisted, 2016 Lane Anderson Award for best Canadian science book
  • Shortlisted, 2016 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize

Rights Holder

Rights Holder: ECW Press

email: carolyn@swayzeagency.com

website: http://www.swayzeagency.com/

rights available: World, excl. Canada

Additional Information

number of pages: 272

publication date: 08/01/2015

Original language of pub: English

Materials Available: finished book