Agate Fossil Beds National Monument, Nebraska

A hike on the Daemonelix Trail in Agate Fossil Beds National Monument leads to the Lakota’s Ca’pa el ti, strange spiral burrows of a long-extinct beaver. The New Territory, Issue 03.

“It’s only the middle of June and already it’s hot as hell out here in the far northwestern corner of Nebraska, where the Niobrara River cuts through the prairie’s tough hide like an old, half-healed knife wound. A wiry pelt of vegetation swaths the undulating slopes, but in the steepest places, the crumbling, pale gray flesh of the earth shows through. The afternoon sun bounces off the bare bluffs, throwing heat and light back at me as I scan their flanks, and sweat trickles down my spine. Perfect weather for checking out what the homesteaders who settled these parts in the 1800s called the Devil’s Corkscrews.”

Read the online preview >>


High praise from High Country News

Rob Rich knows beavers well — he’s been observing and writing about them for several years in Whatcom County, Washington — so his enthusiastic response to Once They Were Hats is all the more welcome. In a recent review, published in the High Country News, Rich writes: “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.” He also notes that the book offers “a wide assortment of reasons to value the beaver’s utterly unique lifestyle, while helping us understand how it has shaped — and still shapes — our own.”

You can read Rob Rich’s own writings about beavers in his blog, the Whatcom Field Journal.

A conversation with “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller

In January 2016, I sat down with Dave Miller, the host of Oregon Public Broadcasting’s daily talk show “Think Out Loud” to think, and talk, about beavers. Dave and his executive producer, Sage Van Wing, are an interviewee’s dream team: smart, thoughtful, witty and, best of all, prepared. They read my book in advance and we had a wonderful, wide-ranging 20-minute conversation about beavers in general and Once They Were Hats in particular. Click below to listen.

Second time around on the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize list

I’m not sure whether I was more surprised when I won the City of Victoria Butler Book Prize for Children of the Klondike in 2010 or when I found myself on the shortlist again in 2016. Although Once They Were Hats didn’t carry the day this time (so far, no one has won this prize twice), I was honoured to be among the finalists and appreciative of the jurors’ citation, which says: “Backhouse not only restores the dignity and grandeur of Canada’s national symbol, but along the way—through exhaustive research, fine writing, an eye for the telling anecdote—she tells a story as informative as it is entertaining.” As always, the gala was a wonderful celebration of writers and writing and a reminder of Victoria’s vibrant literary scene.

Reading at the 2016 Victoria Book Prize gala.

Eden Mills Writers’ Festival Reading – Sept. 18, 2016

Eden Mills banner

I’m looking forward to appearing at the 28th annual Eden Mills Writers’ Festival on Sunday, September 18. This outdoor literary event is held on the banks of the Eramosa River in the village of Eden Mills, Ontario, 80 kilometres west of Toronto. It features more than 40 adult, YA and children’s authors.

Helen Humphreys, Katherine Govier and I will appear together on a panel entitled The River of Time, which runs from 2:30 to 3:30 p.m. I’ll be reading from Once They Were Hats. Check the festival website for the full schedule and list of authors.

Festival attendees are advised by the organizers to bring a folding lawn chair, blanket or waterproof ground cover, a hat, an umbrella (just in case!), a water bottle and an inquisitive mind. It sounds like my kind of event!

“Once They Were Hats” Shortlisted for the Lane Anderson Award

I’m delighted and honoured to announce that Once They Were Hats has been shortlisted for the Lane Anderson Award. This award celebrates the best Canadian science book of the year in two categories: Adult and Young Reader. The winners will be announced on September 30, 2016.

Tweet the title of your favourite finalist with the hashtag #laneandersonaward for a chance to win all four finalists in either the Adult or Young Readers category. Feel free to tag me – @franbwrites – when you tweet. The contest closes on Sept. 29, 2016.

The Lane Anderson Award was created by the Fitzhenry Family Foundation, a private charitable foundation devoted to the promotion of human rights and education, animal welfare, culture, and the protection of the earth and its resources from overzealous development.

Beavers in the ‘hood at Vancouver’s Olympic Park

Beavers have moved into Vancouver’s Hinge Park, right in the heart of the trendy Olympic Village neighbourhood, and are attracting international attention. In June, a reporter from PRI’s “The World” travelled to B.C. to meet these urban celebrities and invited me to join her for a chat on the walkway overlooking their lodge. Read and listen to Andrea Crossan’s PRI story >>

In exciting recent news, three kits have been born to the pioneering beaver pair and can be seen swimming about in their home stream with their parents. To keep up-to-date with the family, follow OlympicVillageBeaver (@VancouverBeaver) on Twitter.

Hinge Park beaver lodge (© Frances Backhouse).

Hinge Park beaver lodge (© Frances Backhouse).



The Calgary Stampede Hat Tradition

It’s Stampede time in Calgary and cowboy hats are everywhere. To celebrate this annual tradition, “Calgary Through the Eyes of Writers” turns to the hat-making chapter in Once They Were Hats, with this blog post. While you’re there, check out lit-blogger Shaun Hunter’s complete Calgary Reading List: a wagon-load of nonfiction, fiction and poetry works that bring Calgary to life on page from a multitude of perspectives.

The Smithbilt Hats factory, Calgary, Alberta (© Frances Backhouse)

The Smithbilt Hats factory, Calgary, Alberta (© Frances Backhouse)

When I visited Smithbilt Hats in 2011, while researching my book, I watched master hatter Brian Hanson craft a beaver-fur felt hat using vintage equipment (some of the machines and hat blocks are more than 100 years old) and skills that have almost died out. The day before, he had put the finishing touches on a pair of white cowboy hats, made of rabbit-fur felt, to be presented that week to Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge.

A beaver hat in the jam blocker at Smithbilt Hats (© Frances Backhouse).

A beaver hat in the jam blocker at Smithbilt Hats (© Frances Backhouse).

Charlotte Gray Trains Her Binoculars on Beavers

Historian Charlotte Gray reviews Once They Were Hats in the June-July 2016 issue of Canada’s History magazine. Like many Canadians, she has beavers as neighbours at her cottage, but she’s looking at them differently now: “thanks to Backhouse’s thoughtful, fascinating exploration of beaver know-how, I will not complain about the neighbours next summer” she writes. “Instead, I’ll have my binoculars trained on them.” Maybe she’ll spot the beaver dude who graces the cover of this issue and looks like he’d be right at home in cottage country.

Read the review >>

Once They Were Hats: “a must-have book to take to the lake”

Ottawa Magazine has declared Once They Were Hats to be one of the four books everyone should take to the lake this summer. Their round-up story on essential cottage reading says: “Frances Backhouse’s much-praised book will tell you more than you ever imagined about beavers, from their prehistoric past as two-metre-long rodents to their popularity as hat material, their elevation as national symbol, and their huge influence in reshaping the Canadian landscape. Every true-blue cottager should study, if not memorize, Backhouse’s writings. Amaze your neighbours with beaver trivia. Surely you don’t want to discuss just septic tanks and rotting deck boards.”

OTWH beach chair