These groups, with one exception, were located in Ontario. At the time they started to appear we had over eight-hundred mink ranches in the province. Having a Short Course at Guelph once a year and at best one local meeting in more distant areas didn't satisfy the need for instruction. The mink ranchers wanted educational meetings close at hand and happening more often than once a year. This chapter is the story of the social and educational involvement that was to weld the Ontario mink ranchers into a strong, resolute organization. But first we must tell the story of the one group outside Ontario that got together for a commendable but different reason.
In the August 1930 issue of the Fur Trade Journal of Canada, we find the following news item. "On Saturday, July 26th there was formed at Knowlton, Quebec, an organization of mink ranchers which is to be known as the Eastern Townships Pure Quebec Mink Breeders' Association. There are at present some fourteen members whose ranches are all situated in a radius of about fifty miles.
"The main objectives of the Association have to do with maintaining the purity of the breeding of Quebec minks exclusively, and so far as is humanly possible to assure the buying public that mink sold by members of the Eastern Townships Pure Quebec Mink Breeders' Association are strictly as represented. All member ranches are to be inspected periodic-ally. The registrar will, when necessary, help members to keep their ranch records in shape. A system of recording pedigrees will be followed and the members will do their utmost to select and breed towards an ever increasingly superior type of Quebec mink.
"The Association has no quarrel with other like associations, but proposes to mind its own local business. Quality and integrity are what it wants to be known by. The executive is composed as follows: Frank Safford, president; directors, Alfred Taylor, Dr. J. H. O. Armstrong, W. S. Ewens, Carl C. McClay, Roderick C. Morrison, Ira E. Huxtable, Major L. D. McClintock, secretary-treasurer and registrar."
In the same issue there was an advertisement listing the fourteen ranches and the following month a fifteenth, J. L. Thomas, was added. The fifteen ranches and their addresses are:
Brome Lake Minkery (A. Taylor) Knowlton
Carl C. McClay Knowlton
J. T. Patterson Knowlton
Laurence Norton Knowlton
Dr. J. H. O. Armstrong Knowlton
Robert Taylor Knowlton
L. D. McClintock Knowlton
Silver Lake Fur Farm (W. S. Ewens) Eastman
William Evans Eastman
Minkrop Ranch ( I. E. Huxtable) Granby
Clayton Inglis Foster
Normanique Ranch (R. C. Morrison) Cowansville
A. C. Jenks Coaticook
Frank Safford Sutton
J. L. Thomas Brigham
In the February 1939 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox and Fur, two local Associations that started in January were announced. The earlier date belongs to the Fort William group and for present day understanding we point out that the adjoining cities of Fort William and Port Arthur were later amalgamated into the City of Thunder Bay. The general area in those days was usually called the Lakehead. "On January 11th, about thirty fur farmers and trappers in the Thunder Bay district met at Fort William in an all day conference and formed the North Western Ontario Fur Breeders and Trappers Association and elected Mr. E. E. Johnon of the Model Mink Farm, President and Mr. J. E. Crawford of Thunder Bay Fox Farm, Vice-President. David E. Schoales was appointed Secretary-Treasurer. The membership fee was set at $2. per year and more than $100. was collected from those present. In addition to the officers, the following men were appointed to the executive of the new association: A. E. Swaim, Larson; Karl Miller, Kakabeka Falls; Anton Swanson, Hogarth; Dan McAvay, Fort William; Barry Robillard, Fort William; Capt. A. E. Fader, Fort William; R. H. Beattie, Fort William; Hans Viola, Dog Lake; John Broom, Pass Lake; C. S. Parsons, Sapawe; Swen Hanson, English River; John T. Anderson, Shebandowan.
"Major questions engaging the attention of the breeders and trappers at the meeting were the possibilities of establishing in the Thunder Bay district a grading station; location by the government of an experimental clinic and research branch to study diseases of fur bearing animals, feeding and breeding problems; the holding of an annual live animal and pelt exhibition at the Lakehead and eventual establishment of an auction market at Fort William.
"Both trappers and breeders were well represented at the organization meeting and plans will be formulated to include all identified with the industry from White River to the Manitoba boundary. It was estimated that there were more than thirty breeders in the area contiguous to the Lakehead with probably twice that many in the whole of the northwest."
Actually there were about one hundred and twenty-five ranches in this district and this association was to be of great service to them. Educational meetings, field days and excellent live animal shows were promoted for many years. The area provided some of the top national association executives in later times. They didn't get their grading station, research laboratory or fur auction but they got what they needed which was stout, far seeing leadership from their own ranks.
The Toronto and York Association, was the most unusual and successful mink group to be formed. We will take a little time and space to tell its story and outline the progressive things it did. But first let us read the report of its first meeting. "The inaugural meeting of the newly formed Toronto and York Mink Breeders' Association was held on January 27th, 1939. The breeders in the Toronto vicinity felt that Toronto was becoming a fur farming centre and that the formation of a club in this district would be advantageous both for a business and social standpoint.
"Dr. C. W. Henders of Mount Pleasant Road, Toronto, kindly permitted the use of his home for the initial meeting. The following breeders were present: R. G. Hodgson, C. M. Ferguson, George Mollard, M. Samarelli, Mac Crush, J. Main, Lew Taylor, Frank Taylor, Ivor Ellis, C. O. Ashwell, J. Wilson, Bill Dawes, Hal C. Brown, Mr. Wauchope, J. P. Motten, R. Sammons, Drs. N. L. MacPherson, E. R. Bowness and C. W. Henders.
"Frank Taylor was elected Chairman pro tem and R. G. Hodgson, Secretary of the meeting. When the name given above was officially adopted the objects of the association were explained, they are: To bring together the mink breeders of the district periodically to discuss the problems and ways and means of developing the industry; for the dissemination among members of information dealing with all problems of mink raising. Intention is to provide speakers for each meeting to cover subjects assigned to them and to hold field days during the summer months. Any mink breeder within a radius of twenty miles of Toronto is eligible for membership and all members of the Ontario Fur Farmers Association will be welcome at the meetings. Affiliation with the latter body will be applied for.
"Meetings will be held the third Friday of each month and it was decided to make the regular monthly meeting a social as well as business event. The members will meet for dinner at 7:45 p.m. sharp. Latecomers will be fined ten cents. The first regular meeting is scheduled for February 17th at the Bay-Bloor Hotel. Ladies night will be held occasionally.
"On the suggestion of Dr. N. L. MacPherson, it was decided that at each meeting a committee of three would be appointed, that is two members with the Chairman ex-officio, to take care of the program for the next meeting. Dr. MacPherson and Jim Wilson were appointed to act for the February meeting. Frank Taylor was elected President of the Association for the ensuing year. R. G. Hodgson consented to act as Secretary pro tem. In an endeavour to help the members, questions and answers forums would be held at each meeting, the question will be written but not signed."
The original 19 members were a cross section of the business and professional life of the city. They were a group of "Young Turks" not only interested in selling breeding stock, but keenly aware of the need to know more about mink and their management. When outside speakers were available, they were warmly welcomed; but due to their scarcity and the fact we were meeting on a monthly basis much of the educational program came from within the membership.
Our basic procedure was to select three members to be a panel at the next meeting to discuss upcoming ranch problems. In the interval before each meeting, my job was to draft a set of specific questions that would limit the panel to things that were timely and to problems we were seeking to solve. In a vigorous discussion, it was interesting to note how much unsuspected expertise came from quiet and retiring people. The success of these meetings was reflected in the attendance which rose to sixty-five to seventy and stayed at that level for years.
The Toronto and York members believed that the foundation stones of a national mink association would be local associations like their own in all mink centres across Canada.
Their motto was `To believe is to act.' An editorial in the April 1940 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox and Fur under the heading of Asks Mink Breeders to Organize, outlines the plan, "that live and progressive organization the Toronto and York Mink Breeders Association recently distributed through its Secretary, Dr. Rendle Bowness, a letter suggesting to mink breeders of Canada that they become organized.
"Following the preamble, which tells of the success attained by the foregoing organization and of the advantages to be had from closer co-ordination within the industry, the letter sent out makes the following suggestion; That mink breeders associations be formed in those communities where there is a concentration of mink ranches. That these local mink associations hold from two to six meetings a year. That these associations send in their secretaries names and addresses to the Dominion Fur Council so that body can communicate with the majority of the mink ranchers through these associations on any problems that arise.
"These associations need not have large memberships to be effective. In the matter of meetings and subject matter for such meetings, the Toronto and York Mink Breeders' Association would be pleased to submit questionnaires similar to the one included in this letter to be handled by men chosen from these associations. If acceptable we will be pleased to send out on receipt of a letter stating the date of the meeting a list of questions applicable to that time of year. Of course these questions can be altered, reduced or added to to suit the particular needs of the association receiving them."
Another `One of a kind' contribution made by this organization, was a live-pelt show. Our mink shows in those days were judged by fur buyers who were familiar with pelts but not with live mink. There was some concern that our live show winners were not necessarily the best pelt mink. Some, notably Major L. D. McClintock, had offered the suggestion of a live-pelt show but had done nothing to put it to the test. Our crowd thrived on challenges and in short order a live-pelt show was arranged for November 21st, and 22nd, 1940.
The plan was to judge the mink alive on the first day then to pelt them immediately and judge the pelts on the following day. This didn't present any real problems but the finding of a judge did. Understandably, the fur buyers wanted no part of it. Calvin Martin of St. Marys, our most experienced and knowledgeable mink rancher, accepted the challenge. His performance was simply sensational. In the eight classes, his choice of first place mink in live and later in pelt was identical. In the lower placings there were a few single reversals which resulted in a final score of eighty-five percent correct. "The live-pelt show of the Toronto and York Mink Breeders' Association is over and everyone seemed to be of the opinion that it was a great success. Calvin Martin, our judge, was complimented by the leading fur buyers for having chosen and placed the winning pelts in their proper order. Further, the day previous when the animals were alive and judged, they held the same position almost to an entry. At the banquet one of Mr. Creeds fur buyers said that in his opinion, very few judges could run so true to form."
This to my knowledge was the only live-pelt show ever held anywhere in the mink industry.
This organization which was to last many years never lost its enthusiasm or its inventiveness. There were no paid officers and every member contributed time and money to its projects.
The warm hearted generosity of the Toronto and York group was shared by other ranchers as evidenced in the following report of the final Ontario mink show under the auspices of the Toronto and York Mink Breeders' Association and held on November 24th, 1941, at the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto. "As had been reported in previous issues of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur, 11 males, donated by Ontario ranchers, were auctioned off. The prices secured ranged from forty to one hundred dollars; a twelfth male which did not arrive on time is to be auctioned at the next meeting of the Toronto and York Association. Chuck (C. 0.) Ashwell was auctioneer for the occasion and did such a good job that six hundred and ten dollars was raised during the afternoon session, which is to be turned over to the Evening Telegram British War Victims Fund.
"Following the show and auction a banquet was held in the evening at the King Edward Hotel. About ninety persons sat down to an excellent dinner following which was held a sing-song, the presentation of cups and a few short speeches by several of the officers of the Association and guests.
"A further surprise was in store for those at the banquet. Levin Fur Company, at the afternoon auction had purchased one of the males and now asked Chuck Ashwell to re-auction it, the proceeds to go to the Canadian Red Cross Society. This animal together with ten more, males and females, donated by those present were auctioned off by Mr. Ashwell, and realized a total of six hundred and fifteen dollars for the Red Cross."
The next Ontario local association to be formed was the Ottawa-Hull Mink Breeders Association. The August 1940 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur had this report, "on Wednesday evening, July 10th the mink breeders of Ottawa and Hull gathered at the home of Miss Betty Langford, Merrivale Road, City View for the purpose of fulfilling a long standing desire to form an association.
"The meeting opened with an interesting and explanatory talk by Capt. (Stan) Daley, Smiths Falls, through whose untiring effort this first step in forming the association was arranged, and who briefly and concisely outlined the principal points governing its formation and membership. Remarks were then made by Miss Langford, Mr. F. H. Ralph of Gatineau Valley Fur Farm, Mr. Norm Rothwell of Navan, Ontario, and Mr. L. B. Gallant of the Ottawa Valley Mink Farm.
"Election of Officers then ensued, which resulted as follows: President, Miss Betty Langford; Vice President, F. H. Ralph; Secretary, L. B. Gallant; Advisory Committee composed of Mrs. Rothwell and R. E. Mahoney. "It was decided to hold a meeting on the first Wednesday of each month. A question box will be one of the features of the meeting. While the purpose of the Association is to bring into operation a co-operative buying and marketing system, it will be concerned primarily with raising the standard of ranched minks to a quality second to none.
"The Association will be known as the Ottawa & Hull Mink Breeders' Association and will hold its next meeting at the Gatineau Valley Fur Farm, Kirks Ferry, Quebec on Wednesday August 7th. It is the wish of the officers and members that all ranchers be in attendance at our meetings."
The March 1944 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur devoted its lead article to a formation of the Waterloo Fur Breeders' Association and the program offered that night. We quote the part that had to do with the organizing "On Thursday evening, February 24th, forty wide awake fox and mink ranchers met at Grand River Golf Club, Bridgeport, Ontario, to discuss plans for the formation of a local association. Mr. Robert Oswald was the instigator and he was well backed by Mr. A. L. Schario both prominent ranchers of the Kitchener-Waterloo district.
"The meeting got underway about 7 o'clock, sitting down to a dinner fit for a king. Following this repast, a roll call was taken each person stood and introduced himself, stating whether he ranched foxes or minks. An idea of the interest shown in the formation of a local association can be gathered from the fact that ranchers attended from the following places, Kitchener, Waterloo, Elmira, Hespeler, Preston, Fergus, Guelph, Tavistock, Wellesley and St. Marys.
"Considerable discussion took place as to whether this organization should be open to residents in the Kitchener Waterloo region only, or whether ranchers from further away points should be asked to join. It was the general feeling that, as there is no other local association in western Ontario, this body should include all with a radius of fifty or so miles who wish to join. The name finally chosen is Waterloo Fur Breeders' Association. It will serve the interests of the fur breeders in Western Ontario.
"Mr. Robert Oswald was elected President, the Vice President is Albert Hilliard while the position of Secretary Treasurer will be filled by Harry Zimmerman. Other Directors were elected from the various sections surrounding the Kitchener Waterloo district.
"The interest shown in organizing such an association, the idea set forth as to how it could benefit ranchers, and the general spirit of friendship and compatability were quite noticeable at this gathering. No doubt Fox and Fur readers will be hearing from this group in the months to come."
This influential group sponsored live shows, educational meetings, picnics and field days for many years. They were a vital force in developing the desire for a national mink organization.
We do not know when the Halton and Wentworth Mink Breeders Association was first started. The first reported meeting of this group was in the November 1947 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur. At that time Don Gibson was president. Later in the August 1953 issue of the Fur Trade Journal of Canada, under the heading, Rebirth of the Halton-Wentworth Mink Association, the following: "The second meeting of the above Association was held on July 2nd in the community hall Waterdown, Ontario. Don Gibson of Elora presided. Mr. A. Coombs of the Pacific Fur Breeders Co-operative of British Columbia was the speaker. He gave an enlightening talk on future marketing.
"The question of re-organizing the Halton-Wentworth Mink Breeders Association was then brought up and this met with a ready response. Twenty-two members signed up and it was agreed that a five dollar membership fee be paid yearly. Ex-secretary Fred Boyd of Acton assumed the Chair for the meeting. It was decided to hold another meeting to elect officers. Notices of this meeting will be forthcoming. The importance of the mink industry is steadily growing and its best interests can be served by organization of those already in the business. Among those present at this meeting were Don Gibson, Fred Boyd, Don Ellis, Bill Penhall, P. G. MacDonald, Pat Keller, Arthur Wannop, Bill Wannop, and Harold Noble."
The Georgian Bay Mink Breeders Association held several educational meetings a year in Barrie, Ontario. The guiding genius of this group over the many years of its existence was Melba McWatters. Her father, E. H. English of Wyebridge, was a pioneer rancher and Melba learned the mink ranch routine at an early age. Unfortunately, they never submitted reports of their meetings to the magazines and we have no record of origin or of their early officers. I know they were very active as I attended most of their meetings but at this late date I can give you no hard facts.
The increasing activity of the mink breeders in their local organizations and the developing pressure from the provincial fur associations for a national mink body was becoming visible. H. B. Donovan Jr. in his editorial in the March 1941 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur says, "Developments in the mink ranching branch of fur farming, both in Canada and the United States, point to the necessity for a Dominion wide national organization. We do not believe that many will disagree with this view and as the many matters which could be beneficially dealt with by such an organization are obvious, we will not take this space to enumerate them here. While attempts have been made and continue to be made, to bring a national body into being,progress is slow. This may be due to a wrong approach or to a lackadaisical attitude on the part of a majority of mink ranchers, or a combination of both. We are satisfied that a national association will eventually be formed and if `eventually, why not now?' it seems to be characteristic of livestock breeders in Canada, that they do not get together and organize to look after their own interests until the spur is applied by a combination of circumstances which seriously threatens their welfare.
"Dr. E. Rendle Bowness who has been active for better organization in Ontario, deals with the desirability of a national mink association in the current issue of the house organ (The Master Rancher) put out by the firm he represents. He outlines a plan which proposes first local, then provincial, then a national body. Here in part is what he says: `the mink rancher has been and still is a rugged individualist but the need for more definite organization of the mink industry throughout Canada is being brought home to him every day.'
"The first step in organization, as in building a house, is the construction of a sound foundation. The foundation of any breed organization must be the individuals developing the livestock throughout the country. Thus the first stage is the formation of a strong local association where ever there is a concentration of mink ranchers. There are a number of such organizations throughout Canada, but as yet there are not sufficient of them to be truly representative of the mink ranchers as a whole. More local associations must be formed, and in some cases more active support given to those already in existence.
"When a sound groundwork of local associations is laid, then a national mink assocation can be formed which will have the backing of every Canadian mink rancher and thus will carry its weight in affairs."