“This is a ‘journal of progress’ in every sense.” — Clifton Thomas, founding editor of The Beaver, October 1920.
The cover of this issue depicts a scene from Nanook of the North — considered the world's first feature-length documentary film. The image shows Nanook — played by a Canadian Inuit man named Allakariallak — with his arm cocked and ready to hurl a harpoon at his prey.
Shot by American moviemaker Robert J. Flaherty, the film captivated audiences around the world after it debuted in 1922. Released two years after the founding of The Beaver in 1920, Nanook, like The Beaver, offered a window on a world most Canadians would never witness first-hand.
Viewers obviously connected with Nanook's realistic vision of life in the Canadian North, just as they yearned for the stories found in The Beaver.
Launched as an internal newsletter of the Hudson's Bay Company, The Beaver: A Journal of Progress soon outgrew its modest aspirations. By the 1930s, it had a large following among many non-HBC employees and was relaunched as The Beaver: A Magazine of the North.
Over the next few decades, The Beaver carried a fascinating mélange of travelogues, photo essays, book reviews, and news from the North. It featured history stories, too, but for much of its existence The Beaver was not a history magazine. It was, as the founding editor stated in the inaugural issue, a “journal of progress,” with eyes clearly focused on both the present and the future.
Over time, our vision of, and fascination with, the North, changed.
With the Arctic no longer inaccessible, old ways of life fell to the wayside. Spears were replaced by rifles, dogsleds by snowmobiles. As the nation moved forward, we increasingly looked backwards, reminiscing about the stories and people who came before us. The magazine was no different. And so we redefined ourselves again, this time as The Beaver: Canada's History Magazine.
This issue will be our last as The Beaver. Beginning in April, we will begin a new journey as Canada's History. It is more than just a name change — it's a reaffirmation of who we are and what we do. While born of the fur trade, the magazine's mission today is to tell the stories of all Canadians.
As we take this bold next step, I think back to the words of Clifton Thomas and the well-thumbed copy of that first issue of The Beaver that sits on my desk. Under the title “We Make Our Bow,” Thomas promised readers he would endeavour to make The Beaver a worthy journal of the HBC.
“Whether it measures up to this lusty ambition is not for The Beaver to say, but for you, the readers to judge,” Thomas wrote. “Thumbs up or down, The Beaver craves your indulgence — to remember that it has not yet found its legs, the first issue being largely an introduction.”
Like Thomas, we also crave your indulgence as we embark on our new journey as Canada's History. We will endeavour to make the magazine vibrant, intelligent, and relevant, while never forgetting where we came from. At Canada's History, we will hold true to the legacy of The Beaver and continue to be a “journal of progress.”