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The cutest animals of gone-by eras
The world is in constant flux, and nothing stays the same, except of course cute animals—they will always pull our heart strings.
Before the age of cats with social media accounts, Vancouver Island was home to notable animals of varying cuteness. Animals’ lives are too short, but their love continues in our memories.
The woolly dogs
On today’s Southern Vancouver Island, Salish Sea, and Puget Sound, Coast Salish Peoples once bred little white canines prized for their fur and sheared like sheep. The fur’s thickness and softness made it perfect for weaving ceremonial blankets and other regalia.
The dogs lived in packs of about two dozen strong. Caretakers kept them separate from other breeds and fed them a coat-lustring diet of oily anchovy, herring, and salmon.
When Spanish explorers met the pups in 1792, they noted how the dogs did not bark, but instead had a creepy howl. As European settlers arrived, they brought sheep wool with them which replaced the dog wool. The breed eventually became extinct as other dog breeds were introduced and interbred.
Emily Carr’s monkey
While downtown Victoria in 1923, Emily Carr passed the window of the Bird and Pet Shop on Government Street where an infant Javanese macaque was being bullied by other monkeys.
The shop owner’s price for the little monkey was $35 (a substantial sum then) and the trade of one of Carr’s Brussels Griffon dogs, but the cost didn’t matter—Carr had to save her.
They lived together for 14 years, and Carr famously pushed Woo around town in an old pram. Woo wore clothes, “read” books and magazines, painted pictures, and mimicked Carr in everything thing she did, a sign of love. The love went both ways as Carr featured Woo in her paintings and sketches.
Before Woo, Carr had feared primates. She had grown up with monkeys in her James Bay neighbourhood. They belonged to a neighbour and roamed free, chasing and biting children. Woo helped her overcome this fear.
Author Grant Hayter-Menzies outlines their relationship in his 2019 book, Woo the Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr: A Biography. He believes Woo help Carr overcome many of her other fears as well—fears that had previously paralyzed her as an artist.
Carr had to give up Woo when she became too ill to take care of the monkey. Woo lived her final year of life on display at the Stanley Park Zoo. Woo was the last word mentioned on Carr’s deathbed.
Goats on the Roof
The goats on the roof are perhaps the best-known touristy thing on the Island and by far the Island’s most famous animal (neck and neck with sasquatch); bumper stickers with a goat shitting off a roof adorn folks’ cars up and down the Island.
The origin story of the goats on the roof is tied to the Old Country Market. The original owners and builders of the market in Coombs moved there in 1950 from the Norwegian community of Lillehammer where sod on the roof of buildings was common. They built the market in this tradition, but one weekend before the Coombs Fall Fair, they had a problem.
The unkept grass looked like a bad haircut. So, after a few drinks they got to thinking—maybe goats could trim it. They borrowed a couple goats, and the ruminants got to work.
Cars screeched to a halt. Children leaned out windows, pointing. Tourist snapped photos. The people loved it, and the goats became permanent fixtures.
The James Bay Camels
Not the cutest animal on the list but definitely the lankiest, these two-hump ships of the desert roamed Beacon Hill Park and their eerie calls lurked in the mists.
In 1862, entrepreneurs imported 22 Bactrian camels from Central Asia, and their first call to port in Canada was Victoria. Their final destination? The Cariboo gold fields where, it was hoped, the camels would transport larger loads than finicky mules.
But the camel’s soft feet proved unfit for the rocky terrain, and they refused to work. Disgruntled pack train drivers sold what they could for meat. When it didn’t pass the taste buds of even hungry miners, some were sold to become roadside attractions. The rest were set free to roam the Interior—eight of which were found dead and frozen stiff near 100 Mile House after a blizzard.
But what about the camels in Beacon Hill Park? On their passage through Victoria, one camel had just given birth and wasn’t yet strong enough for the journey. Nobody knew what to do with the mother and colt, so they let them free to roam the grasslands and Garry oak forests of the park.
The camels gallivanted around Victoria for months and one commentator said, “The appearance of a camel in the early morning hours had a sobering effect on at least a few worthy Victorians.”
Their ghosts are said to haunt the park to this day. Some reported hearing sounds of soft padded feet thwapping against the road.
Muggins the Fundraising Dog
During the First World War, this purebred Spitz collected over $250,000 for the Red Cross and other charities. Muggins would wander downtown Victoria with two change donation boxes tied to his back.
Muggins appeared in photos with the Prince of Wales and famous Canadian general Sir Arthur Currie. When ferries and freightliners called to port at Victoria, he would scamper along the decks.
For his efforts raising funds in Seattle, Muggins was made a honorary first lieutenant by the United States military.
Grant Hayter-Menzies, the author of Woo the Monkey Who Inspired Emily Carr: A Biography also wrote Muggins the Life and Afterlife of a Canadian Canine War Hero where he explores “the difficult question of human use of animals in war, at home and on the battlefield.”
Grant Hayter-Menzies is a biographer and historian specializing in the lives of extraordinary and unsung heroes of the past, notably the role of animals in times of war. For more about Grant Hayter-Menzies’s work click here.
Do you know of other cute animals of history we missed? Comment and let us know!
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