July 11th, 2004

alice lost in labyrinth

The Canadian Beaver ...and Alice in Wonderland (?)

"Superior Canadian Beaver Fur
All beaver fur makes excellent felt, mainly because the fur is of a very fine quality. Canadian beaver pelts were better suited for felt-making than beaver from anywhere else. Two steps in felting had been completed before many of these furs reached European traders. The Native Peoples traded pelts they had worn for at least a year. By the time the fur traders traded these pelts, the long outer hairs had already been rubbed off. The inner hairs had also been thoroughly soaked in human sweat, which is very acidic. The furs did not need to be treated with mercury salts and nitric acid. This is why the Canadian beaver was so highly prized by the European felt-hat makers.

In time, the Canadian fur traders began to charge too much for the furs. This had a rather strange result. It is best illustrated by paying a visit to the world of Alice in Wonderland and the Mad Hatter. By the time this children's book was written, it was generally accepted that all hatters were mad. When Canadian beaver became too expensive, the European hat makers had to use local furs. They came from such animals as rabbit and hare. These pelts first had to be treated with the special solution. Then they could be made into felt. The constant inhaling of mercury poisoning. This made them shake and shiver and appear mad! So the Mad Hatter's tea party was a by-product of the Canadian fur trade. It was a party, complete with the two animals that had displaced the Canadian beaver. They were the March Hare and the White Rabbit.


Further Research
Find a copy of Alice in Wonderland and read the parts dealing with the Mad Hatter. Does knowing the origin of the Hatters change your view of the story?"

from: Origins A History of Canada
a textbook published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside, Ltd.