In October of 1981, Gerard Makuch, published an article in Denosa magazine entitled, 'Mink Ranching Mostly a Thing of the Past'. The article gave a historical outline of the mink ranching industry in Saskatchewan, particularly in Dore Lake. Sections of Gerard Makuch's article appear in this chapter, as well as other information gathered about mink ranching in Dore Lake.
When Robert G. Hodgson, an authority on mink ranching, wrote "The Mink Book" in 1958, he was extremely optimistic about the future of the industry. "Today mink ranching belongs to the world: it is a sound branch of livestock raising as cattle, horse and hog raising, being carried out in every province in Canada, in many of the United States, in Great Britain and Europe."
Today, at least in Saskatchewan, Hodgson's quote seems rather out of place. Where mink ranchers once prospered, along the Churchill River system between Buffalo Narrows and Ile-a-la-Crosse, only the quiet remains of their ranches dot the shoreline. Now, overgrown in grass and alders, they serve as a reminder of what was once a thriving industry in northwestern Saskatchewan.
The history of mink ranching in northern Saskatchewan follows a simple pattern. Ranchers prospered when the fur prices were high and they suffered when the prices were low. Eventually, the unpredictability of the market would drive the majority of them out of business.
Many factors led to the demise of fur farming as a profitable industry. One of the most notable was the greed of the European fur farmers, who produced vast quantities of mink and flooded the North American markets with cheap pelts in the late 1960s. Since much of the allure of owning a mink, or fur coat of any kind, was due to its scarcity, such over-production and other factors soon caused fur prices to drop, resulting in unprofitable operations.
The advent of lunatic fringe groups such as ALF, PETA, Greenpeace and other such organizations bent on destroying the fur industry, or any other industry not to their liking, hastened the decline even more. Unfortunately, the general public and many government officials unfamiliar with fur farming, or the trapping industry, soon developed the 'Bambi complex', accepting wholesale the lies and misinformation spread by these groups.
It is a sad commentary on our society today, that a once-proud fur industry, primarily responsible for the settlement of North America has been so maligned and misrepresented. If you want to read some thought-provoking articles on the abuses of the animal rights groups, Click on the following link:
In Canada and the United States, the first serious attempts to raise mink began in the early 1920s. More specifically in northern Saskatchewan, Halvor Ausland was the first resident of the area to raise mink on his ranch at Deep River near Buffalo Narrows. He started up with three ranch bred mink. Not wild mink as some have suggested.
In the Buffalo Narrows region, mink ranching developed quickly. By 1956, it is estimated that there were over 21,000 mink being raised on thirteen ranches in the area. By 1965, as many as fifty mink ranches were prospering from the pelts they sold. Yet, what had quickly become a thriving industry died just as fast. It was a serious blow to the economy and the lives of many in the area. In 1968, there was an overproduction of mink, causing prices to drop.
Even though mink ranching is no longer a prosperous business, there is still a cluster of five operating ranches at Dore Lake. These ranchers stubbornly continue to raise mink, but now, more as a supplemental to their yearly income rather than as a business in itself.
Mink ranching first began in 1940, at Dore Lake. The man to pioneer this industry was Verner Johnson. He established his mink ranch at Michel Point.
The following is a list of the mink ranchers, the year they
established, and the location of their ranch on the Lake.
1940 - Harry Husak - South Bay
1940's - Harold Eldridge - North Shore
1947 - Erick Viden - Murray's Point
1948 - Harold Viden - Murray's Point
1948 - Harry Edquist - Willow's Point, then later, Murray's Point
1940's - Geir Thorden - Camp Four Island (Geir's Island)
1950 Carl Johnson - Joseph's Point
1952 - Robert Snell - Murray's Point
1953 - Ted Johnson - Murray's Point
1957 - Alis Edquist - Willow's Point, later South End
1961 Bernard Johnson - Johnson's Point
1963 - Ted Viden - Bought Eldridge's ranch
1966 Tim Moore - Bought Alis Edquist's ranch
In the early 1960s, Harold Viden, Robert Snell, Carl Johnson, and Ted Johnson moved their mink ranches to the south end of Dore Lake, where they reside today. The other ranches eventually ceased operating, except for Bernard Johnson's, whose ranch is still located at Johnson's Point.
The mink ranching industry assisted in establishing permanent residents on the Lake, provided a form of stabilized income and gave considerable economic stability to the community.
Ted Johnson has approximately five hundred mink on his ranch. This year, he kept ninety-four females as breeders. Kit production was good averaging about four kits per litter. While Ted has raised as many as twelve kits in one litter, 3.5 is considered a good average. Ted primarily raises pastels, which are light brown in colour. Other ranchers in the area raise mostly sapphires and blacks.
On his ranch, the daily routine starts early in the morning, when Ted goes out commercial fishing. His catch primarily consists of the "rough" fish species, including suckers and turbot, but a small number of other species are used as well. Fur farm fishing has been considered a method of utilizing the large number of species found in Dore Lake. Suckers, if fed regularly and uncooked, give rise to a thiamin deficiency in mink, causing chastik paralysis. Therefore, any suckers fed to the mink must be cooked first.
The fish is ground, mixed with mink meal and fed to the mink at about 11:00 A.M The mink meal, which Ted purchases in Big River, provides the necessary vitamins and protein missing from a steady diet of fish. Mink are nibblers and will take a whole day to eat the fish they are given. Depending on the time of year, they will eat between one half to three-quarters pounds a day.
The kits are born in May. When separated from their mother, they are raised in individual pens until pelting time in early November. Only mink selected for next year's breeding stock will be kept. When the mink are pelted, they are sent out for fleshing and processing and then forwarded to fur auctions in Vancouver or Winnipeg. "We won't know what we will get for this year's mink until they are sold," said Johnson.
Even though pelt prices were back up to about thirty dollars last year, Johnson says he isn't getting rich. "I don't owe anybody anything, which is more than some people than some people these days," he said. "I get by."
Johnson wouldn't advise anyone to get into the business these days. He says the price of mink would have to rise to well over fifty dollars to make it profitable and even then the cost of establishing a ranch would make it very difficult to make a profit. Even if someone did want to start mink ranching, he wouldn't be able to obtain a fur farm licence simply because they are no longer issued.
In 1958, a report compiled by the Department of Fisheries, stated that fur farming was only to be approved on lakes of an isolated nature, and where conflict with sports fishing was minimal. Dore Lake is no longer an isolated lake and tourism and recreational facilities have developed to become some of the best in the province.
Recreation and tourism have replaced fur farming as a major form of economic development in the area. Fur farm fishing is seen as taking away fish that could be caught by the sportsman. However, the mink ranchers offer arguments, that are difficult to ignore. Fur farming is their livelihood, and only the rough species of fish are used for mink feed. Unfortunately, the government intends to eventually phase out mink ranching, by no longer issuing licences, and therefore allowing tourism to develop to its fullest potential on Dore Lake.
Subsequently, it appears that mink ranching in Saskatchewan is destined for an early grave. The industry had its moments, but those days are now long gone. When the ranchers at Dore Lake retire or should they decide to pelt out, it isn't likely there will be anyone to take their place.
Bernard Johnson feeding mink.
Viden and Johnson mink sheds and freezer, May, 1979.
Carl Vickland and Ferdie Edquist watering the mink at
Edquist's mink ranch behind Geir's Island.
Harold Viden's mink ranch at Murray's Point.
Waite's plant in the background.
Spring 1962. Ted Johnson hauling 3 sleigh loads of mink pens.
Moving from Murray's Point to South Bay.
Halvor Ausland's mink ranch on Deep River.