The early mink ranchers of British Columbia, and there were a lot of them, have become a "lost civilization". All we know about them is what they chose to put in their breeding stock advertisements, their show winnings and occasional editorial comment in the Fur Trade Journal. Few of these ranchers lasted till 1940 and none have survived to the present day. The British Columbia mink ranchers of today are mostly migrants from the prairies in the forties. Their memories go back to their origins and they know little or nothing about the early British Columbia people. In the June 1930 issue of the Fur Trade Journal of Canada, J. L. Barker of Streatham advertised that he had "The oldest fox and mink ranch in British Columbia". We are inclined to take his word for it. The first Dominion Bureau of Statistics list of mink ranchers in B.C. was issued in 1924 and he and his then partner Leslie Acrea were among the fifteen ranches recorded. J. A. Hird and Son were also in this list and in July 1925, began to advertise a variety of furbearers under the name of the Tumbo Island Fur Farm, Vancouver.
W. Crompton of Quilchena had an advertisement in the May 1925 issue of the Fur Trade Journal, offering to buy live wild mink, marten and fisher. It was his only advertisement. We presume he was unsuccessful as his name does not appear in later D.B.S. lists. Ransford's Fur Farm of Steveston, first advertised in July 1925, offering a box trap for catching wild mink and rabbits for $5. The next year, they began advertising mink, marten and muskrats. A mink article by J. A. Ransford appeared in the May 1928 issue of the Northern Fur Trade, as well as an advertisement offering "Darkest Northern Quebec, Ontario and Nova Scotia Mink."
E. P. Heywood was first mentioned in the 1926 D.B.S. list. In June 1928, he started a column entitled "About Mink" in the Fur Trade Journal and in later advertisements offered to assist in ranch problems. We think he was in the mink business earlier than these dates indicate but can find no facts to support this assumption. His ranch at Victoria was named Heywood's Cadboro Point Mink Ranch and the last breeding stock advertisement we could find was in June 1937.
Mons Valley Fur Farm of Alta Lake, began advertising in the Fur Trade Journal in June 1926, though we know its owner, P. Lineham, was in the 1924 D.B.S. list. D. H. Cameron of Galena advertised mink for sale in the December 1926 issue of the Fur Trade Journal but didn't show up in the D.B.S. list until 1927. These lists have been invaluable in identifying the early ranchers but you must realize that the first date they are mentioned is not likely the date they started mink raising. In most instances, they were in the mink business at least a year earlier and sometimes much more.
James and Son Fur Ranch of New Westminster, advertised in 1929 and 1937, James Fur Farm at the same address, offered a choice from 1,000 mink and 15 fisher kittens "Our pelts brought $40.50 at Montreal auction". Sometime later, we attended a Montreal sale that had three male bundles of extra dark, extra-large James mink that brought an average of $38. and were by far the highest-priced mink in that sale.
There are always puzzles in any history. In October 1928, there was a Dudley Harrow Spill of Macheree mentioned. In August 1929, we find a Dudley Harrow of Galena advertising "Mink - young, pen-raised from fine selected pen-raised interior northern British Columbia stock." Are they the same?
Another mildly confusing advertisement was by the Chilco Fur Farm "Mink - large, dark, interior Alaskan or Quebec young". We will accept the description only if it applies to the Alaskan mink. Quebec mink in those days tended to be small and brown.
Pallen Fur Farm of New Westminster, appears for the first time in the show winnings at the first B.C. show in November 1930. The owner D. S. Pallen, is the one rancher to emerge as large as life in the early B.C. scene. We know he was born in Chatham, New Brunswick in 1897 and started mink ranching in 1925 in B.C. This information appeared in his obituary, in the November 1945 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox and Fur. After decisive winnings in the first two B.C. shows, he joined advertising forces with two American ranchers, Davis & Gadsden, to sell Davis-Gadsden-Pallen mink. We think that this was just a partnership in name and that each partner sold livestock individually.
But Doug made sure that his partners did not go unnoticed. In a letter to the editor of the Fur Trade Journal published January 1932, he said "Referring to your report of the International Mink Show, recently held at Sherbrooke, Quebec, appearing on Page 11 of the December issue of the Journal. After reading this over carefully, I am at a loss to know whether it was supposed to be an unbiased editorial report or a joint advertising scheme under the guise of an editorial.
"As your name appears in very prominent type directly beneath the title, one would naturally accept the article as an editorial. Such being the case, may I respectfully submit that it certainly does not convey an international spirit. No mention was made of any exhibitors from the United States, even though their stock won numerous awards, and was just as worthy of comment as that of any other exhibitor. Furthermore, the distance from which these mink were sent, and the trouble and expense incurred by the owners would purely justify some comment. Your action is not mentioning the show supporters from the United States is not very conducive to their future patronage.
"It is now common knowledge that Messrs. J. J. Davis of St. Johnsbury, Vermont and C. T. Gadsden of Utica, Montana, together with the Wixona Fur Farm of Denton, Montana, won 35 per cent of the prizes and 20 per cent of the certificates of merit. Yet, the article referred to, would convey the impression that the breeders in Quebec and Ontario won all. This can hardly be called playing the game.
"On the other hand, if the article referred to was a joint advertising scheme, then I submit it should have been published as such, and also that the `Fur Trade Journal of Canada' would have been acting in the best interests of the mink raising business generally by giving its subscribers a complete report on the show from an international rather than an upper Canada viewpoint.
"Trusting you will publish this letter in the January issue of the Journal in fairness to the supporters of the show."
The editor claimed that he didn't know the gun was loaded. This seems to be a mild case of the pot calling the kettle black. However, enmities and irritations didn't last long in those days. On the next page in the same issue the editor notes -
"D. S. Pallen of B.C. writes suggesting an International Mink Show in a central State or Province. However, it was resolved at Sherbrooke that the next show would be held in Quebec City. Certainly, people from any part of the world, who have never visited this city, will find it worthwhile to attend the show there." Mr Pallen's letter follows:
"How about starting the ball rolling for an International Mink Show for 1932, to be held in one of the central states or provinces? This would give all breeders an equal chance to exhibit without entailing any great transportation expenses. Should this appeal to you, may I suggest publishing a questionnaire i.e., number of entries, etc. To get the feeling of the breeders and ask the breeders to do likewise."
(Author's Note: This show was a victim of the depression. It did not occur.)
Doug Pallen foresaw the mink rancher migration to British Columbia and did his bit to discourage the impending invasion. In March 1936, issue of the Fur Trade Journal of Canada, under the heading of `Mink in B.C.' he said - "The contention has been advanced that the sea air of the Pacific coast is especially conducive to the production of fine mink fur. Others claim the iodine in the air is responsible. Having lived on this coast most of the time during the past 25 years, and visited mink ranches right across the continent, I certainly cannot agree with the above statements.
"Dealing with the first:- The native mink on this coast and vicinity are of the poorest quality and coarsest to be found in Canada. Type for type, and under similar housing and feeding conditions, the ranch mink in B.C. is no better than in any other province, northern or central state.
"Regarding the second point:- The iodine content of the air (if any) and water is decidedly lacking. Except for kelp, aquatic vegetation such as dulce, usually rich in iodine, are practically unknown. Compare this with the Atlantic coast.
"According to medical authorities, goitre, which is due to lack of iodine is more prevalent here than elsewhere in Canada. This even though most vegetables consumed by the people are produced on reclaimed tide-flats, the iodine content of which should be much higher than ordinary agricultural soil. "Mr Gadsden's ranch in Montana is approximately 1,000 miles from the coast, and at an altitude of 5,300 feet above sea level. Sea air containing iodine is nil, yet pelts from both our ranches will interest into garment lots.
"Given the facts, I can only conclude that the solution (of the) mystery lies under the skin of the animals - not in the atmosphere.
"It has long been my contention that, assuming the desirable characteristics are in the mink to start with, they can be brought into the pelt, under any moderate climate conditions. On the other hand, no one can put a good pelt on a mink of naturally poor quality, even if he ranched in the shadow of the north pole.
"Having received letters from several ranchers who are contemplating moving their stock to the coast, thinking they could produce better fur here than elsewhere, and believing there are others with the same mistaken idea, I would suggest they thoroughly investigate the facts before making such a move."
Pallen's reasoned article didn't stop the invasion. They came anyway. What Doug didn't seem to realize or admit, the attraction of B.C. was the plentiful supply of cheap feed and the prospect of mild winters. Both of these advantages were not available on the Prairies.
This failure didn't subdue his spunky combative attitude as evidenced by an advertisement he ran in the September 1938 issue of the Fur Trade Journal, "In view of the number of claims being made by mink ranchers in their advertisements relative to the merits of their stock, with particular references to their lists of show awards and prices received for their pelts, I am prepared to pay the sum of $100 to the owner, or owners, of any herd of mink in the world, on presentation of proof that his, her or their mink have been awarded as many prizes equal to and covering as wide a competitive field as have Gadsden-Pallen mink and their direct progeny; plus proof that the pelts of mink produced and sold by the challenger, or challengers, have over the period of the past four years commanded as high an average price per pelt as did the pelts of Gadsden-Pallen mink during that period.
"This offer stands until December 31, 1938. Challenges, stated as such, must be made through the advertising columns of this publication."
Doug Pallen plagued by recurring illness in his final years still found the energy to serve as President of the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association, Vice President of the Dominion Council of Fur Breeders and Secretary-Treasurer of the British Columbia Fur Breeders Association.
The Yerbury Brothers, Camp Lister, appear in a letter to the editor of the Fur Trade Journal in January 1932. They raised pine marten and mink. They reported a dark mink that had a silvery back. This freakish condition was not uncommon in later years and never led to a mutation.
L. L. Brown of Abbotsford was, we believe, the last survivor of the early British Columbia mink raisers. We visited him at a much later time in company with Keith Murray and marvelled at the efficient ranch construction that protected the mink from rain and weather. Mr Brown was quite old then but still smart in the head. It was a learning experience for Keith and me.
We don't know if Bert Andrews of Victoria was the first migrant, but we do know that as late as September 1939, his address was Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan: Bert served his adopted province well. The name Andrews became synonymous with top quality mink.