Victoria Natural History Society – April 12, 2016

Please join me for the VNHS Natural History Night on Tuesday, April 12, 7:30-9:30 pm, in Room 159 of the Fraser Building at the University of Victoria. I’ll be reading from Once They Were Hats and talking about “The Quintessential Ecosystem Engineer: Past, Present and Future.” The event is free and open to the public. Additional information here.

beaver dam

Beaver engineering

Douglas Day at Fort Langley National Historic Site – Nov 19, 2015


Douglas Day marks the day on November 19, 1858, when James Douglas proclaimed British Columbia a Crown Colony in Fort Langley’s Big House. This year, I’ll be part of Fort Langley National Historic Site’s annual Douglas Day celebration, from 7:00 – 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, November 19th.

Enjoy wine, cheese, music and a re-enactment of the proclamation of the colony of British Columbia, plus the mainland launch of Once They Were Hats.

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Rethinking the Beaver

Has there ever been a more misunderstood national symbol? Has there ever been a more important time for the beaver to flourish? Canadian Geographic, Dec. 2012.


(© Frances Backhouse)


“At the turn of the 19th century, many people thought Canada’s national animal was a goner — a doomed species that had passed the point of no return. One notable pessimist was Horace T. Martin, a Canadian Fellow of the Zoological Society of London and author of Castorologia or the History and Traditions of the Canadian Beaver. ‘As to the ultimate destruction of the beaver, no possible question can exist,’ declared Martin in 1892, noting that ‘the evidences of approaching extermination can be seen only too plainly in the miles of territory exhibiting the decayed stump, the broken dam and deserted lodge.’ One hundred and twenty years later, on a warm June evening, I sit on the shore of a massive beaver pond in Algonquin Provincial Park, watching water bugs etch ephemeral lines on the glassy surface.”

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Italy in the Fiery Footsteps of a Medieval Countess

A walk through history on the Sentiero Matilde. Georgia Straight, Nov. 1, 2007.

“The gossip about Matilde beats anything I’ve ever seen on the cover of a celebrity magazine. They say this red-haired countess was the Pope’s lover, and a warrior who led her own army into battle; that she had her first husband murdered by an assassin who thrust a sword up the poor fellow’s backside as he squatted to relieve himself; and that when she remarried at 43 for political reasons, she refused to sleep with her 16-year-old husband, a timid youth known as ‘the penguin’. Never mind that she’s been dead for nearly 900 years. If you want to explore the Apennines  in northern Italy’s province of Reggio Emilia, you won’t find a more intriguing guide than Matilde of Canossa (1046 to 1115).”

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Ponte della Maddelena, thought to have been commissioned by Countess Matilde di Canossa.

The Ponte della Maddelena, thought to have been commissioned by Matilde of Canossa (© Frances Backhouse).