Author Frances Backhouse researched her book for six years while getting her master’s degree in creative writing. (Contributed)

Sidney Literary Festival welcomes Frances Backhouse

Author reading event to help raise money for the next Festival

When Europeans began arriving in what would later be called North America, they saw a land teeming with beavers — somewhere between 50 and 400 million. They craved fashionable, waterproof hats, so much so that they basically wiped out their own European beavers to do so. By 1900, their North American relatives had suffered the same fate. The Castor canadensis had dwindled to somewhere in the low hundred thousands — one per cent of their former levels.

This intersection of history and biology fascinated author and freelance journalist Frances Backhouse, who will be reading from her 2015 book, Once They Were Hats: In Search of the Mighty Beaver, at the SHOAL Centre in Sidney on Oct. 20 along with fellow author Ian Gibbs, a guide for Victoria’s Ghostly Walks tours and writer of Victoria’s Most Haunted: Ghost Stories from B.C.’s Historic Capital City.

Backhouse, a former biologist herself, began researching her book in 2009, and a portion of the book served as the thesis of her master’s degree in creative writing at UVic. She did fieldwork in the summers, hiking into remote areas in the summer, while writing in the winter.

“I thought of them as a Canadian animal but they were practically everywhere in North America where there was wood and water,” said Backhouse.

It took six years, but she said that “If I hadn’t had deadlines I could have just kept gathering research.”

Beavers not only had an economic role for a fledgling colony, but an ecological role as well. When beavers build dams and hold back rivers, the water table rises, which affects vegetation.

When there is heavy rainfall of fast snow melt, a river dammed by beavers does not run as violently so there is less erosion and cleaner water.

The topic of the fur trade, particularly in modern times, can provoke strong reactions from people, but Backhouse said she tried to keep an open mind. She was interested in hearing the perspective of trappers, particularly in northern Saskatchewan, where trapping is still very much tied to First Nations culture. Her research took her to places like a trading post in La Range, in northern Saskatchewan, where she spoke to a second-generation trapper.

“I went into it wanting to hear both sides of the story and to present both sides of the story to readers so they could make their decisions, not go in with the judgment on the fur trade,” said Backhouse, though she “probably came down more on the side of letting beavers live” herself.

Backhouse is looking forward to reading aloud and meeting people who may have read the book before.

“It’s really great to be able to hear and see people react to my words, instead of just sending them out in a book and not having that interactivity with the reader.”

The reading, which starts at 7 p.m., is a fundraiser for the 2019 Sidney and Peninsula Literary Festival. Tickets are $10 and are available at www.sidneyliteraryfestival.ca/our-other-events/

Just Posted

Give fish in Millstream Creek a step up

Groups hope to build fish ladder on Atkins Road culvert

Amazing Race Canada kicks off at Hatley Castle

Popular reality TV show will premiere later this year

UPDATE: Missing Sooke man found safe

The man who was thought to be missing in Sooke has been… Continue reading

Celebrate Mother’s Day at the HSBC Women’s Rugby Series

A one-day promo code will be offered for ticket purchase

New Student Ranger Program to start this summer

Goldstream Provincial Park is one of the sites the program will take place

UPDATED: 9 killed, 16 injured after van hits pedestrians in Toronto

Toronto police say nine people have died and 16 are injured

Judith Guichon steps down as Lieutenant Governor of B.C.

Election decision didn’t make her best moments from the past six years

Vancouver to rake in $30 million in empty homes tax in first year

The tax is the first of its kind in Canada, and was intended to address the city’s near-zero vacancy rate

B.C.’s snowpack continues to increase, melting delayed

River Forecast Centre official says sudden melting further into the season could cause flooding

Another B.C. First Nation voices support for Kinder Morgan pipeline

Simpcw First Nation claims people living on one-third of pipeline route support the project

Scooter crash leaves Island man with critical injuries

RCMP said a truck was making a left-hand turn when it collided with the scooter travelling through the intersection

Prankster broadcasts fake nuclear threat in Winnipeg

The audio recording on Sunday warned of a nuclear attack against Canada and the United States

ICBC reform aims to slow rising car insurance costs

‘Pain and suffering’ payouts to be capped, major injury limit to double

Saskatchewan introduces law to allow control of oil, gas exports

The Prairie province has already said it is supporting Alberta in a dispute with B.C. over the Trans Mountain pipeline

Most Read