With over 2,400 lakes and 1,200 kilometres of streams, Ontario’s Algonquin Park has become an oasis of nature away from the hustle and bustle of urban life.
And as the weather begins to change from arctic cold and snow to spring warmth, many campers, canoeists, and backpackers are beginning to plan for their trip to the massive 7,650 square kilometres of natural beauty that straddles the border between Southern and Northern Ontario.
The park supports a host of uncommon diversity when it comes to plant life, heritage buildings, vistas and, of course, animal life.
And for the first time since Liberal MPP Oliver Mowat founded the park in the provincial legislature in May of 1893, one of the park’s most well-kept animal secrets has been revealed for the safety and benefit of park patrons.
Wolves, badgers, moose and bears are common sites inside the park as campers and canoeists travel through the mixed coniferous and deciduous forests. But one animal, previously unknown in its present form, has eluded description for the past 100 years and has never been photographed – the Canoe-Headed Beaver.
Park rangers have begun posting signs on trails and portages warning campers of the possible presence of the Canoe-Headed Beaver – a distantly related species to the common, primarily nocturnal, large, semi-aquatic rodent most Canadians are familiar with as the animal on the five cent coin.
The warnings are warranted. The Canoe-Headed Beaver is a dangerous animal according to park ranger and park church Pastor Denis Castor. “It’s a sad thing but we can attribute many deaths in the park to the Canoe-Headed Beaver previously thought of as tragic accidents,” said Castor. “We’ve determined the animal is a threat to the public and the public needs to be notified.”
The park map now includes a section on the Canoe-Headed Beaver and its attributes and some safety tips to avoid the animal.
The park map quotes:
“Among the most predatory of wild animals in the park is the rarely-seen yet extremely dangerous Canoe-Headed Beaver. Make no mistake: this animal is to be feared and must be given a wide berth if campers expect to survive their camping experience.
The Canoe-Headed Beaver can be distinguished from regular, docile beavers and other park patrons by its unusually furry red and black checkered sweater, its pronounced overbite, and its obsessive desire to change any conversational topics to the plight of the softwood forest wetlands.
Don’t be fooled by the Canoe-Headed Beaver’s pleasant demeanor and stunning dental work. It is an extremely cunning animal and will try to lead you away from your group or campsite and into the woods – usually with a good size branch of tastey birch.
The Canoe-Headed Beaver is deadly. Front teeth like sabre toothed lions and claws a few inches long will do damage with little effort. A large tail to speed through water and longer-than-usual legs can propel the CHB on land at speeds up to 15 km/h.
Of the 115 recorded encounters between the animal and park patrons, only one camper has survived. Here are a few tell-tale signs you have encountered the Canoe-Header Beaver:
1. Strange gnawing marks on your lower limbs. 2. Overbearing need to stop any and all running water with mud and sticks. 3. Changes in the way you pronounce an ‘S’. For example, “Shay,
would you like to shtay at my houshe and share shum shcrumptious shalisbury shteak and shum shauteed mushrooms?
Of Particular Note: Do not approach any overturned canoes floating silently on the water. This is most likely a ploy by the Canoe-Headed Beaver to lure you into thinking a park patron has ‘Kayaked’ and is in distress. The ‘overturned canoe’ is actually the top of the CHB’s head and the floating camping gear are well-known tactics to get you into range for attack.”
According to statistics obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, there have been 155 fatalities in the park attributed to the Canoe-Headed Beaver. Only one person – Ottawa native Mark Simpson – has encountered the animal and has lived to tell the tale.
“I’m not sure I feel fortunate for having survived my brush with the CHB in Algonquin back in 1965,” said Simpson. “My life has been a tumultuous pit of daily fear and paranoia since then. Ever since they got rid of the penny, I’ve been having a hell of a time making change – I haven’t been able to keep any nickels on me for the last 50 years.”
An artist’s rendering of Simpson’s attack and stern warnings for camper safety are now on the back of the park map for all to take heed.
Despite the dangers of the Canoe-Headed Beaver, park ranger Castor believes campers can still enjoy the park this summer.
“We’re handing out special stickers for canoeists to apply to their canoes so everyone can have a good time at Algonquin without being worried about surprise CHB attacks,” he said. “I hope we can get through the season before this cunning animal begins to replicate the stickers. It’s really the chameleon of the rodent world.”