I’ve been painting abstract marshes as an homage to our natural wetlands and great Canadian watersheds for over 20 years.
My new series of beaver lodges are simple in shape and construction and I like to gouge out the beeswax to discover colours underneath, sometimes exposing the raw plywood. They give me joy to produce because I believe beavers should be celebrated, and also because the lodge is a universal symbol of shelter and home.
Shelter is a timely subject matter as more and more people are struggling to afford a home of their own, and as a result the numbers of unhoused people keeps rising in our communities. This is the outcome of decades of poor policy decisions made by successive Ontario governments.
I would like to pose the question: Should the beaver be displaced at the expense of our housing crisis? Bulldozing, filling and paving over marshes is not a viable solution. We must be creative and willing to further intensify our existing urban spaces, building social and affordable housing without continuing to destroy our natural world for the short term profit of a few.
Beavers initiate and support vast biological communities. They are the ultimate keystone species. Beaver ponds top up our water tables, replenish aquifers, reform and bolster rivers and keep streams perennial. Beaver dams cause water to spread across landscapes giving time for absorption which prevents erosion and runoff flooding. Saturated water tables will stop forest fires in their tracks.
The beaver has been stigmatized for centuries as a destructive pest and they were very nearly eradicated due to the settler fur trade from the early 17th to mid 19th century. Historical notions that beavers are infestations and need to be controlled like rats must change. We need to encourage beaver reintroduction into arid and depleted landscapes and learn to coexist together in more honourable ways. Celebrating and supporting beavers and their habitats will help solve our most major problem of the 21st century: climate change.