Bulldozing the river’s livelihood: the fight to save Ontario’s beavers

An Ontario municipal agency is battling Beavers by putting pipes across the river which force them from the home they’ve lived in for 35 years. Their home – that of the Brody family – is the stretch of the Niagara river known as the Ontario River restoration project, where Metrolinx is dredging the waterway in order to develop industrial sites and develop a new route for light rail. The project, which has devastated a unique place, has resulted in a three-year battle by local residents to save the valuable waterfowl habitat their beavers have relied on for the past three decades.

In an interview with Lake Ontario Flock, Barbara Brody, who spoke to me about the plight of the beavers, says she first felt threatened by them when she was walking her dog. “It’s just a sense of doom,” she says.

Between her early detection and research, her fight against the environmental organization was relentless. “I was so infuriated,” she says. “This is their place, they’ve been here for 35 years. They are absolutely sacred.”

But her husband has a deep affinity for beavers, as his beaver is named after the river, and she identifies with his scientific research. “I brought him into the house right in time to watch those beavers birth those adorable little beavers!” she laughs. It was during one of these critical moments that she realized her husband was sensing a little surprise from his beaver. “And I smiled and said, ‘He’s also been missing since we last saw him last May.’”

Barbara Brody in the Ontario River Centre where she and the Bureau of Urban Forestry’s John Bickle explore the future that will help the beavers thrive.

But it wasn’t until she participated in the much-lauded Beavers in Urban Waters at the 2010 Aquarium of Ontario that she realized her beaver was one of Ontario’s icon species. This exhibit, which featured music from the likes of Led Zeppelin, provided a safe space to understand the majestic native beaver, who for thousands of years were the mainstay of the ecosystem. “It helps explain to people how the ecological system works, how beavers are impacting the river and ultimately what happens as a result,” Barbara explains.

What has been lost since the rebirth of the Niagara river, the origins of which were speculated by Enrico Marini in the 1960s, has been a vital component in the ecology of this province. “We’ve lost this place that wasn’t caged in,” says Barbara. “The beavers have fallen victim to that.”

This past spring, the Brody family petitioned city council, calling the project a violation of “every environmental, animal welfare and human health standard” and providing a petition to Lake Ontario Flock which, at one point, garnered over 9,000 signatures from across the province. They also received a grant from Community Futures Ontario to provide public education to ensure that beavers were protected from this highly damaging project.

“I feel it’s not a clear message that’s getting to the people that are interested in this,” she explains. “The sense of despair that I had was overwhelming.”

But the beavers did survive, and Barbara and John ensured that the family’s natural habitat was conserved, as it is currently a part of this banishment project. “John is planning a fund-raising fundraiser for the Ontario beaver protection fund,” Barbara says. This fund assists with maintaining and protecting beaver habitat, resources and breeds.

Barbara Brody and John Bickle are given a tour of the Ontario River Centre.

While Barbara is currently active in lobbying against the process, she also feels a strong connection to her beloved beavers, who were brought to them by her husband. “In my heart of hearts, I feel a connection to them,” she says. “It’s a bittersweet feeling, and obviously a huge loss. But they’ve survived this so far and we’re hoping they will even go on to survive, given the kind of family tree that they have.”

I can’t resist asking

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