To illustrate the beaver's engineering skill Conn recalled a case in which the government wanted to create an artificial lake where muskrats could breed. Engineers were sent out to find the best possible site for a dam. Then Conn asked if he could take over. He planted a pair of beavers at the spot. They constructed a dam, saving the government several thousand dollars and, furthermore, the canny beavers built it only seven feet from a bench mark left by the engineers. Conn's comment was, "Seven feet off! Fire the engineers."
Such acts as these endear the Canadian symbol to the people. The Gatineau beavers have become bold and often build their lodges inside boathouses on the lake. Frequently they even go over to Ottawa for a visit. This usually happens during the mating season when beaver couples do their courting in rivers. They swim down the Gatineau River into the Ottawa River, and some have even showed up in the Rideau River in the middle of the city. Last fall a pair climbed out of the Rideau and reached Ottawa's city hall.
Some visitors to Ottawa are aged beavers which have been kicked out of the family. Their teeth have become too bad to enable them to build their own dams, and they live in makeshift homes on lakes and in river banks. Last year one of them picked the steep bank of the Ottawa River right underneath the Parliament buildings. It was chased back into the river, as are most beavers that turn up in the city.
Still more determined was another beaver visitor to Parliament Hill last summer. It was a young one and was apparently lost. It managed to crawl all the way up the slope from the river and was discovered chewing placidly on a twig in the shadow of Queen Victoria's statue, unmindful of the cars whizzing by. It refused to be chased and had to be dragged back to the river by the tail.
Now temperatures have dropped to 31 below in the park and are bound to go lower. The snow is deep and the thin trickles that seeped through the beaver dams last fall have been stilled. The dams are frozen solid, great snow-covered barriers of twigs and logs and ice and frozen mud. Behind them the beaver lakes are merely dead expanses of white. Up the slopes the stumps of trees felled by beavers protrude through the snow. Now and again a deer or a wolf, the latter driven south by the winter, appears at the edge of a lake.
But more often it is a park ranger who comes by but doesn't disturb the beavers snuggling close to each other inside their lodges. The winter truce between the rangers and the beavers is on, but the rangers are making plans for the summer campaign. They examine the positions of the dams, check the amount of water in the lakes and estimate its effect should the dam break. Where the prospect looks ominous they mark the dam for gradual destruction when winter is over.
As a postscript to the struggle between man and his friend it was learned that the Canadian embassy has offered some of the Gatineau beavers to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C. When the project is completed the beavers will be installed in the zoo's reconstructed beaver valley. There will be only five or six of them at most, so it will not even make a dent in the Gatineau Park population, but a friendly warning comes from the nation to the north. The zoo people had better make sure those beavers are safely confined or else they may soon be out chewing down cherry trees you know where.