Dr. Lionel Stevenson, addressing the Fur Conference at the Ontario Veterinary College in June 1938 said:
"It is but thirty years since Dalton, Oulton and Rayner of Prince Edward Island made their real beginning in silver black fox. With mink a beginning was made seventy years ago and then lost for fifty years. A mink herd was developed near Richmond Hill on the property of Patterson Brothers, Implement Manufacturers of a century ago. The property where this first real attempt at domesticating mink took place is now part of the establishment known as Don Head Farms, owned by Mr. J. D. Patterson, who as a boy did part of the work in caring for the one-hundred and thirty mink kept at that time. No fur bearers are now kept on this farm, but it does support the finest flock of Southdown sheep in America."We suspected that the two references we have just quoted pertained to the one mink ranch, but getting beyond mere suspicion proved to be quite a chore. J. D. Patterson and Lionel Stevenson had gone to their rewards, time had erased the memory and local history had failed to record the existence, of a mink ranch.
There was no problem in identifying the Patterson Brothers. They were larger than life. As farm machinery manufacturers they employed some sixty people in 1867 and about two hundred people in 1885. The plant was located on their Don Head Farm which was well known for its live-stock. It was important enough to have its own post office and letters were franked Patterson C. W. (Canada West). A local newspaper, the Richmond Hill Liberal, devoted much space in 1885 to the fact that they were about to lose this important business to the City of Brantford. The problem was that the finished farm machinery had to be hauled by horse and wagon several miles to the railroad for shipping. Brantford offered rail facilities, land and $35,000 which swung the deal.
By 1887 most of the plant equipment had been shifted to Brantford. The next year the firm was sold to Massey who later in that year bought Har-ris and combined them to he the beginning of the world wide Massey-Harris Corporation. In all the newspaper coverage of the loss of this valuable employer of local labor, no mention of mink or the mink ranch could be found.
Armed only with the above facts, and a stubborn persistence, Fred S. Boyd our newly retired Executive Secretary of Canada Mink Breeders, set out to clear up the mystery. As this has all the aspects of a good detective story, we'll let Fred tell it in his own words.
"Where does one start in getting information on someone as far back as 1866? No one I talked to in mink ranching circles could recall hearing of the Pattersons. First of all, I asked Bob Garbutt at the Ontario Agricultural Museum who has a store-house of knowledge on the agricultural community in Ontario. He steered me to several sources of information including an historian for Vaughan Township, Mr. Snider, who in turn gave me several other people I might contact.As a result of Fred Boyd's search several other less related facts came to light. Peter Patterson was the surviving brother that sold the firm to Massey. He had two sons Alfred and John who continued to work for the new firm for a while. Peter continued to operate Don Head farm until his death in 1904 at the age of 79. To quote the Richmond Hill Liberal "he left all his wealth to his son John, disregarding the older son, Alfred, who had fallen out of favor for some reason not recorded." John D. Patterson died in 1940 at the age of 78 and the farm was sold at that time to Willy Redelmeier the father of the present owner.
In an attempt to establish probable dates for the duration of the Patter-son Bros. mink ranch we are short on facts but do have some useful refer-ences. The article in the Grand Rapids Eagle published in February 1870 must have been written about a visit that took place in 1869. By its tone it wasn't a new venture so Dr. Stevenson's estimate of seventy years in 1938 might be a little on the low side. Without much more reason than we have offered, we accept 1866 as the probable date of origin. We have even less evidence as to when the ranch was closed. Dr. Stevenson's observations indicate the ranch lasted twenty years. This would have it closing at the time the farm machinery business was moved to Brantford. John D. Pat-terson was born in 1862 and told Dr. Stevenson that he "as a boy did part of the work in caring for the one hundred and thirty mink." This probably would be in the 1870's. While we think 1866 is fairly close as a starting date we are not at all convinced that 1887 has the same relevance as a closing date. We would be remiss if we did not express our gratitude to Lawrence Wakefield of the Michigan Fur Breeders Association who unearthed the article in the Grand Rapids Eagle and to Bruce W. Smith editor of the U.S. Fur Rancher who gave it prominence.