While the beginning of the national organizations occurred late in the period covered by this book, the real development was in the nineteen forties and the early fifties. So that there be a proper record of the accomplishments and frustrations of the early architects of what eventually became Canada Mink Breeders, we will stray beyond the time we set earlier. Up until 1934, the mink organizations represented people concerned with the sale of live animals. After that time, the sale of live animals diminished and the sale of mink pelts became, increasingly, the main concern. The fur trade was generally unimpressed with ranch mink pelts for several understandable reasons. The principal one was lack of uniform, useable numbers of pelts. Wild-caught pelts were much preferred by the trade because they could buy uniform coat lots to be made up with little waste.
The system of handling wild-caught mink fur evolved over hundreds of years and was based on the needs of the trade. Trappers caught fur and sold it to the local storekeepers or fur post operators for cash, food, clothing and other necessities. The Hudson's Bay Company Fur Posts accumulated large quantities of fur that eventually found its way to headquarters. The storekeepers did their buying for private individuals like H. L. Guilbert of Varennes, Quebec who would advance them substantial sums of money so they could buy fur for cash.
The net result was that Canada's wild fur crop ended up being owned by very few people. This enabled them to do a good sorting and matching job that produced useful lots that the trade could buy by private treaty or bid in at the auctions. The usual ranch mink offering ran between twenty and forty skins of varied colours and condition depending principally upon the ranch's sanitation and the rancher's pelting ability. The trade tended to discount such pelts heavily and it was many years before average ranch mink brought as much money as average wild.
Frequently, fur dealers, particularly in the West, would plant their poorer ranch purchases on unsuspecting post managers, in the days when back-door sales by ranchers were common and the species was not as well known as it is today. The following unidentified instruction to post managers is interesting "Except, in rare instances where district managers authorize it specifically, posts do not buy standard or dark ranch mink. However, buyers should be able to recognise them so that they will not mistake them for wild mink which are normally far more valuable than the ranch types offered. Standard ranch mink pelts can be distinguished from wild by one, or all of the following characteristics: the distinctive urine-like smell; the unnaturally dark and reddish colour with often little contrast between the guard and underfur; the colour of the belly fur is often more reddish than that on the back; mink pelted by ranchers are usually cleanly scraped and have a thinner, whiter leather than the wild types."
The necessity of promoting ranch mink to the trade and the consuming public became more evident as the thirties rolled along. The first mention of pelt marketing was found in the Prince Edward Island Mink Breeders report in the August 1931 issue of the Fur Trade Journal, "Mr L. M. MacNeil addressed the meeting and expressed the opinion that there were great possibilities in the collective marketing of pelts, as had been demonstrated by the fox industry. Buyers are not interested unless there is a sufficient quantity to be marketed. Careful organization and how they are marketed is the chief factor in getting the best results."
In February 1932 issue of the Fur Trade Journal, Ernest E. Curson a fur farmer from Coleville, Saskatchewan in a letter to the Editor, says "(we need) a few articles in your paper that are describing the different kinds of mink, along the lines of colour, fur, sizes alive and when taken off the pelting board and an honest to goodness outlet for disposing of pelts."
R. G. Hodgson wrote an editorial on marketing mink pelts in May, 1934, issue of the Fur Trade Journal which we quote in part, "during the season just passed we have been making some interesting investigations as to prices being paid for ranch-raised mink pelts and while we have found some ranches who have obtained prices that corresponded with current prices at wild centres, in the majority of cases, we found that they had difficulty in selling their pelts and when they did sell them they received prices much too low. The average local fur buyer for some years has taken advantage of the current trade talk to belittle the value of ranch-raised mink pelts. In many cases, the small rancher has not been in the position to refuse such prices. Such trade tactics are injurious to the fur farming industry.
"During the past month we had a visit from Mr Forbes of the London Fur Sales Limited and he has given us some substantial data which bears out our belief of a necessity of establishing a Canadian Association for the marketing benefit of the Canadian mink raiser. Mr Forbes showed the writer a report which he had just received from London. One paragraph of which read: Ranch mink pelts are being received in small quantities and consequently are of little interest to the trade. Buyers will not consider small parcels of twenty to thirty skins. It would be an advantage for breeders to form a marketing association so that suitable assortments of similar skins are available."
Mink ranchers were becoming convinced that a national pelt marketing method was a necessity. The successful Canadian National Silver Fox Breeders' Association, with their registration plan and their co-operative pelt marketing organization, was a living and profitable example of what the mink people wanted. But it wasn't to be that simple. The fox association income came from registration fees in connection with the Canadian Livestock Records organization. Foxes could be registered because they could be identified with a tattoo mark on the inside of their ear. A mink's ear was unsuitable and no other method of identification could be devised. So the simple way of deriving an income from registering mink in the Canadian National Livestock Records and collecting a fee was not to be. It should be mentioned here that the directorate of the Canadian National Silver Fox Breeders' Association was heavily weighted in favour of the Maritimes and this irritated Western fox breeders especially. This resentment was to have a hampering effect on early national attempts to organize the mink breeders.
The catalyst that converted all these stirring and yearnings into action was a report on the editorial page of the February 1938 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox and Fur under the heading; A Levy For Mink Advertising, and it said the following: "We learn from the American Fur Breeder that the Mink Breeders' Association of the United States has secured co-operation from some of the auction companies in building a fund for advertising American Mink furs to the consumers. Following a letter sent out by the Association on November 1st, replies are given in the above-named publication from four auction houses. Here are extracts from three letters. 1) We will be pleased to pay a rebate of 1% direct to the Association. We will likewise discontinue buy-back and withdrawal charges for the members. 2) Set aside one-fifth of our commission charge for a national advertising program of Federal Natural American mink. 3) Refund to the Mink Breeders' Association of the United States, 1% of the sales proceeds of pelts marketed through us by members of the association. The letter from which the third extract is taken was signed by two companies."
The call to arms came in the next month's Fox & Fur in an article entitled, Why Must We Wait, by O. K. Thomassen which said in part "in previous articles I have stressed the crying need for a vigorous, direct to consumer, advertising campaign, as well as a carefully planned and executed merchandising plan in connection with the marketing of our silver fox pelts. As far back as 1928, a few of us broached the marketing question, suggesting that some steps be taken to secure the widest possible market for Canadian silver fox pelts. Ranchers then receiving high prices for pelts and livestock did not realize that the day would come when a merchandising plan and direct to consumer advertising would become necessary.
"In an editorial of the February issue of Fur of Canada, Mr. C. D. Lang also an early and ardent advocate of planned merchandising and direct to consumer advertising, directed a stirring appeal to Canadian breeders exhorting them to wake up and pointing to the activities of the recently formed Mink Breeders' Association of the United States in connection with a direct to consumer advertising campaign.
"Our first move is to organize all fox and mink breeders into action. Mr Lang in his editorial suggests that mink breeders should get together in a national conference to formulate a merchandising plan and all that this implies. I heartily endorse this suggestion and would add that silver fox breeders should do likewise."
The misconception that was to plague this group to its final demise was with it from the very beginning. They failed to recognize that the mink ranchers were tired of being 'little brother' to the strong and prestigious fox industry which at times displayed the historic attitude of the Texas cattle baron towards the sheepherder in its dealing with the mink breeders. They wanted a national organization of their own and were willing to finance it. It is only fair to pause here and point out that there were no villains in this story; just well-intentioned people who misread the signs and portents.
It might be well to explain why the fox industry at this juncture wasn't in the mood to support this scheme. The method of marketing fox pelts had gravitated to the pool system. There were fox pools in several provinces to which individual ranchers sent their pelts. The pelts were drummed, cleaned and matched with similar pelts into pools of about one thousand or more. The pool operators valued the pelts and if you wished they would advance you a percentage of your portion of the pool to tide you over until all the pool was sold when final payments were made.
For this service you paid about 1 - 2% more than the auction would charge you if you shipped to it. This gave you the advantage of selling in matched large lots and the returns were better. As well, you had the privilege of advances at reasonable interest rates. On the other side of the coin, the pool got a much better deal from the auctions in the way of rebates. International fur buyers found they could rely on the pools' system of matching quantities of pelts and they bought direct. So between these methods of selling, the pools made money and the fox people got better prices and some services.
The direct consumer advertising campaign was to be financed by rebates from the auctions and a similar percentage deducted from the rancher's cheque. The fox auctions had already given away that percentage and more to the pools and the pools could not refund it and survive. The pools also took a dim view of deducting from their client's cheques as they figured agreement among all the pools was unlikely. In the end, apart from some individual contributions, the fox ranchers sat on their hands and watched the parade go by.
We are getting ahead of our story so let's get back to things that are history. In the June 1938 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox and Fur under the heading of, A Call to Mink Ranchers "The realization has come to many mink breeders that provincial and dominion wide organization is necessary if the raising and marketing of mink furs are to prosper. Given the great increase in the number of ranch-raised mink, the matter of sustaining an increasing interest in this fur must be faced by the producers themselves. They must decide how to, and accept the responsibility for, publicizing mink fur.
"To discuss the pro's and con's of a provincial organization and a link up with a dominion wide council, Mink ranchers are asked to attend the meeting to be held at 5:00 p.m. daylight saving time June 16th, at the Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph.
"June 16th is the 2nd day of the Ontario Fur Farmers' Conference. Mink ranchers from other provinces than Ontario have been asked to attend - especially those who have been working along organization lines. Everyone interested in prosperous mink ranching is invited - yes, urged - to attend this meeting, whether you are from Ontario or elsewhere be counted present June 16th if at all possible."
The July issue had a report on this special mink meeting couched in 115 restrained terms for such a heated discussion "as announced in the June issue of Canadian Silver Fox & Fur, a number of mink breeders got together to discuss feasible plans, for the formation of provincial mink breeders associations and subsequent arrangement for a dominion council.
"Representatives from other provinces were present including C. D. Lang and J. C. Donald, Manitoba, K. W. Taylor, Nova Scotia, Lt. Col. Wm. A. Lowry, Dr John McCombe, Dr R. G. Law, Mr A. N. Schoch, Dr J. P. E. Rheault and Lionel Beaudil, Quebec; Mr Robert W. Fraser, New York. Among the Ontarians were H. F. Morren, Calvin Martin, E. R. Olsen, D. R. Stevens, J. U. Nichols, J. L. Smith, G. E. Hamilton, E. V. Bettridge, James Nicol, Frank Taylor, P. V. Noble, Milton Gateman, R. G. Hodgson and A. R. Duval.
" Mr Morren was in the chair and spoke of the plans for organizing. Dr McCombe outlined the recently formed Quebec Association and stated that practically every mink breeder of that province would become a member of the Quebec organization.
"C. D. Lang advanced the thought that a national fur association that is, one embracing all branches of fur farming, was needed rather than individual mink associations. The opinion of those present was that for the present at least, efforts should be centred on organizing only the mink ranchers.
"K. W. Taylor stated that there were 200 mink ranchers in the Maritime provinces and Dr Law discussed the scope of the proposed organization. Col. Lowry opined that each type of fur rancher needed to work out his problems and in this, Mr Schoch agreed. Mr R. W. Fraser of Lampson, Fraser & Huth, outlined a method of marketing mink pelts and spoke of the advantages to be gained by the consigning of pelts by an association. Quantity discount on the selling commission was one of these.
"Another meeting of a larger group to be held during the Royal Winter Fair is proposed.
"Mr E. R. Olsen kindly agreed to act as Secretary in the meantime, so that plans for uniform provincial organizations and the ideas of the ranchers could be cleared through a central point. Colonel Lowry suggested that, as the Quebec organization was already formed, it be given the duty of preparing the proposed constitution and a brief, outlining the objects of organizing. Provincial provisional representatives were appointed to act as key men in their provinces, they are E. R. Olsen, General Secretary, Col. Wm. A. Lowry, Quebec, K. W. Taylor, Maritime provinces, C. D. Lang, Western provinces, and H. F. Morren, Ontario."
We sat in on the meeting and listened to C. D. Lang, who was the original proposer of a national mink breeders organization, tell the group he was now convinced that it should be enlarged to include foxes and any other furbearer that might be raised in captivity. There was almost complete opposition to anything other than a mink association and if it hadn't been for the skilful chairmanship of Harry Morren the meeting wouldn't have lasted very long. He succeeded in getting the matters on the agenda discussed and persuaded the group to adjourn the meeting without a decision until the Royal Winter Fair in November when it was hoped that a larger and more representative group could be convened.
In the August issue, the editor, H. B. Donovan Jr. commented on the western and eastern efforts that were showing signs of divergence. The west wanted a national fur organization immediately and the east was pursuing a grass-roots approach to organize the mink ranchers in each province to ultimately support a national mink council.
First editorial comment was entitled - To Discuss Advertising - "A brief prepared by S. Klintberg, O. K. Thomassen and C. D. Lang of Western Canada Fur Breeders Association has received wide distribution. It is headed 'A Need for a National Canadian Ranch Pelt Marketing Policy' and is in the main, the same as the material prepared by this Association and published in the May issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur. Reports reaching us show that this suggested plan is receiving support in the western provinces though we have not heard much about it in Ontario. The Western Canada Fur Breeders Association are taking the next step and are calling a general meeting to be held in Winnipeg on Friday, September 9th. A good representation from western associations is assured, and ranchers and others interested from Ontario and the east are cordially invited to attend and participate in the discussion.
"Details of the meeting, other than those we give here, have not reached us, but the committee which has this matter in hand, had done a good deal of work on it and the September meeting should hold a keen interest for both silver fox and mink ranchers."
The second editorial was entitled - Mink Breeders Organize "In the July issue of Canadian Silver Fox & Fur we told of the meeting of mink breeders held during the Ontario Fur Farmers' Conference. At that meeting Mr E. R. Olsen of Toronto agreed to act as Secretary pro tem, and the delegates from the Province of Quebec undertook to prepare a constitution for their provincial organization; this constitution to be distributed to the other provinces and to serve as a nucleus for some standard form to be used by the various provincial organizations.
"The constitution as prepared in Quebec, has now been distributed to all provinces where an organization or group is available to receive and discuss the proposed clauses.
"We take it that the next procedure is for the mink breeders to study the constitution as submitted and forward to Mr Olsen their suggestions about it. It might be well to keep in mind that the constitution as finally adopted should be such that associations of a more or less uniform character may be set up in the provinces with the thought that the formation of a dominion council will automatically follow. If the constitution for the provincial organizations is uniform across the dominion, it would likely avoid conflict or changes when a dominion council or other parent body was brought into being.
"The constitution, of course, would have to be flexible enough to take care of local conditions or these might be covered in a set of By-laws purely provincial in character.
"Harry F. Morren has asked us to announce that the Ontario Mink Breeders will get together at the Ontario Fur Farmers' Field Day to be held at St. Marys on September 1st, to consider constitutional and other matters in connection with the formation of an Ontario body."
In the 1938 September issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur, came the unexpected announcement of the formation of the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders "We received the following summary of the Winnipeg Conference by wire from our western correspondent Mr O. K. Thomassen.
"The Conference was most successful with delegates from Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. The brief as prepared by the committee of the Western Canada Fur Breeders Association was unanimously approved. This brief appeared in the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur and copies of it have been widely distributed. Besides representatives from the above-mentioned provinces, others present were J. Walter Jones on behalf of the Dominion Government and representatives from several auction houses.
"The meeting resolved to form a national organization to be known as the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders, the temporary directorate for this embryo organization will consist of all provincial delegates at-tending the meeting other than those from Manitoba. A sufficient number will be appointed from this latter province. Mr A. M. Doyle will act as chairman pro tem, Mr Chris Lang, vice chairman and organizer and O. K. Thomassen secretary-treasurer. A tentative constitution was adopted and the complete organization of a Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders will be consummated after the delegates who were present have submitted plans to the respective bodies they represented. The next meeting will likely be held at the Royal Winter Fair, Toronto.
"Resolution was passed petitioning the Dominion Government to appoint a Commissioner of Fur Commerce with headquarters in London, England. Charter memberships were provided for so that there may be money available for initial expenses such as postage etc. These memberships provided nearly $200.00 at the meeting and more was promised.
"Several fur breeders signed pledges endorsing the principles of the Council and promising to become members. These breeders produce approximately 7500 fox pelts and 12,000 mink pelts. All delegates agreed to take the pledges to their organizations for further signatures.
"The object of a Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders is to carry out the recommendations given in the brief mentioned above and the breeders are quite aware that this will cost them money. Fur farming history was likely made at the Winnipeg Conference on September 8th and 9th."
To understand the editorial in the November issue, you should realize that the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur came out on the 11th and the meeting was scheduled for the 16th. Many ranchers wouldn't have received the magazine before that date. "We give prominence in this issue to the notice from Mr O. K. Thomassen that meetings of the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders will be held during the Royal Winter Fair. Unfortunately, a longer notice of these important gatherings was not given to the fur ranchers, especially those of Ontario, which province should supply most of those in attendance.
"Apparently the first meeting will be that of the Council's officers and the representatives to the forming body appointed by the provinces. This meeting will be followed by others of a more general nature. We would suggest that ranchers watch for more definite news in the showroom at the Royal Winter Fair, or get in touch with some official of the Council at the King Edward Hotel.
"The formation of the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders is a move in the right direction - co-operation. We hope that the Council will not try to move too quickly and to undertake endeavours before the very necessary groundwork and preparation have been done for them. There are definite duties ahead for those who are guiding the organization, they should make sure that the Council is well-formed on a sound foundation and this is by no means a simple task, especially with an organization of a national character.
"First things should come first, even though they appear at the moment to be accomplishments of a minor nature. If they are taken in their proper sequence they'll lead to the solving of the larger problems.
"We are happily in accord with the movement to form the Council because, through such an organization, a great deal of good can be done to improve the position of the fur ranchers. We bespeak the support of everyone in the fur industry of Canada."
In the December 1938 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur, we have O. K. Thomassen's report on the delegates and their meetings at the Royal Winter Fair. "the result of a number of conferences at Toronto during the Royal Winter Fair between delegates appointed by the various provincial fur breeders associations, the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders is now an accomplished fact and a truly national organization. While much work is yet to be done, steps are being taken to complete organization details as rapidly as possible.
"The western provinces were represented by their accredited delegates as well as several fur farmers. C. B. McKay, Saskatoon; C. C. Holman, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan; J. E. Dand, Swift Current, Saskatchewan; P. D. McNeil, Edmonton, Alberta; F. Vansickle, Viking, Alberta; J. A. Couture, St. Pierre, Manitoba; M. B. Pirt, A. M. Doyle, C. D. Lang, H .0. Black and O. K. Thomassen from Winnipeg. Ontario was represented by Lt. Col. G. B. Cousens, H. F. Morren and northwestern Ontario by J. E. Crawford of Fort William. The Quebec delegates, Dr John McCombe and Dr R. G. Law were later joined by Dr J. E. Laforest. The Maritimes were represented by K. W. Taylor, who unfortunately through illness, was prevented attending the conferences, while J. Walter Jones represented P.E.I.
"The first Toronto meeting was held Wednesday afternoon November 16th at the King Edward Hotel. Mr A. M. Doyle was in the chair. In his opening remarks, Mr Doyle pointed out this meeting had been called mainly to give the various delegates and visit breeders an opportunity to get acquainted and to secure the various viewpoints of those present in connection with the Dominion Council. He requested that Mr Lang give a short review of what had taken place since the formation of the Council last September in Winnipeg. Mr Lang briefly and concisely reviewed the steps that had been taken at the Winnipeg Conference and what had taken place since that Conference. The provisional secretary O. K. Thomassen reported on the support financial and moral, given to the Council since its formation.
"Mr H. F. Morren, Barrie, Ontario and one of Ontario's representatives to the Winnipeg meeting referred to the work accomplished on behalf of the Council in Ontario by Lt. Col. Cousens and himself. He felt that a considerable amount of educational work would be necessary to acquaint all the fur farmers in Canada of the aims and functions of the Council, and suggested that some explanatory literature should be issued and circulated by the Council to all Canadian fur farmers. Mr Lang stated that the suggestion would be followed and that the Executive already had plans to that effect.
"The principal meeting of the Conference took place Thursday evening at the King Edward Hotel. The meeting was open to all breeders and representatives of allied industries. Following a brief outline of the purpose of the Council by Mr C. D. Lang, the Provisional Secretary O. K. Thomassen cited the tentative constitution and dedication of purpose. Mr P. D. McNeil seconded by Mr H. F. Morren moved the adoption of the Constitution. The meeting was then opened for general discussion and practically everyone present expressed his or her views and asked a great many questions. In a stirring appeal, Mr C. C. Holman, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan emphasized the need of the industry for such an organization as the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders. He stressed that something had to be done along the lines proposed by the Council in order that the industry might be assured a profitable future 'Let us for our protection adopt a national plan' said Mr Holman `if you here in the east have a better plan - we'll stand aside and give you our wholehearted co-operation. If you have not, let us get behind the Council'. Mr Holman's remarks were met with applause and the meeting unanimously adopted the Constitution as read. Before the close of the meeting, the provisional officers were given the mandate to carry on the work of the organization until permanent officers could be appointed."
The first day's meeting was limited to the delegates; the second day was open to all fur farmers and drew forty people of which half were delegates. This problem was to dog the Dominion Council throughout its existence - the chiefs tended to outnumber the Indians.
It wasn't until April 17th and 18th, 1939 in Ottawa, that the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders was finally and legally formed with J. E. Crawford of Fort William, Ontario as Chairman and J. R. Gregoire of St. Hyacinthe, Quebec as Vice Chairman. Both these men were fox ranchers.
While history is principally a recital of facts we feel it is only fair, to the well-intentioned people who put their time, money and faith into an organization that failed to survive, to discuss its problems. The main problem was easy to identify - that wrecker of most enterprises - the lack of money. The grassroots support that would have provided an annual cash flow required long time organization and cultivation. There were plenty of people who recognized this fact, but the impatient few didn't wait. The delegates to the Royal Winter Fair organizational meeting in November 1938 were mostly fox ranchers and non-ranchers associated with the fur business. They paid their expenses as did the provincial representatives and officers in succeeding years as the treasury usually was inadequate.
Thus what started to be a national mink organization ended up as a second national fox organization in its early years and only took on mink aspects later when the fox industry was winding down.
Three years later in the March 1941 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur, the editor, H. B. Donovan Jr. observed "The Dominion Council of the Canadian Fur Breeders has slowed up, indeed practically come to a stop, for lack of funds to carry on. The work it has done is appreciated and it was an ambitious undertaking to which its Chairman, Mr J. E. Crawford, has given more time, effort and thought than should have been asked of a Chairman or any other officer. The stumbling block seems to be the absence of an avenue where funds can be tapped to finance the organization and its endeavours.
"Would it be a wise move, following the organizing of the provinces, to turn the Council into a national mink association? We know this suggestion will not meet with approval in some quarters, but it is worthy of thought.
"There is now and will be in the future, ample scope for a national body to deal with mink matters. Such an organization could be doing a great deal now to meet imminent moves of major concern. A national body could readily spend several days of each session exploring and planning for the future of the 'mink industry.
"While fox ranching and mink ranching interests are interrelated and should work together on matters of mutual aspect, they are both large fields and more progress could be made with each dealing with those problems which specifically affect it, and then the two joining on matters which pertain to both."
To the surprise of no one, the Dominion Fur Council indignantly re-fused Donovan's advice and made some pointed suggestions of their own. The mink ranchers, very well organized in Ontario, lacked similar organization in the other provinces. They were not ready for a national association. One of our problems was of our making. Some of our leaders and most of the rest of us believed in the fairy godmother method of funding our association. Why anyone engaged in private enterprise in wartime, whose end product was not under price control, would expect the government or some other sugar daddy to finance it, is hard to understand. Sufficient to say it was some time before we realized that the fairy godmother was us.
The formation of the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association was announced in the May 1944 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur, "Ranchers in the Thunder Bay district played host to some forty interested mink men who journeyed to Fort William last April 14th and 15th, to discuss and form a mutation mink breeders organization. The meeting was called by the mink committee of the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders under the Chairmanship of H. C. Brown.
"J. E. Crawford President of the Dominion Council, was on hand to welcome the delegates when this representative group gathered in the council chambers of the City Hall on Friday morning. They came from as far west as British Columbia and New Brunswick in the east. In a few brief remarks, Mr. Crawford welcomed the ranchers to Fort William, saying that the idea for the formation of a mutation mink association had been under discussion by mink breeders of the Dominion Council for some time, and that he hoped the groundwork would be completed at this meeting so that such an association could be formed and plans laid for future activities. He then called upon Mr Brown to act as temporary chairman.
"Mr Brown asked Mr Herman Bock partner of the Bock & Mohr ranch and an officer in the American Mutation Mink Breeders Association, to explain their setup. Mr Bock both at this point and all through the meeting, contributed greatly to the discussion, outlining the history and workings of the American group. He told of the sale of silver blu pelts held earlier in the year, and what had been done by the American breeders beforehand to help put this across in such a big way. He had brought copies of the Constitution and By-laws of his Association for the study by Canadian breeders and these were of immeasurable help.
"Following Mr Bock's remarks, a discussion was held on just what form the Canadian group should take, and whether or not it should be allied with the Dominion Council. Mr Brown outlined several alternatives. It was finally decided the group would affiliate with the Dominion Council, and a Board of Directors was elected and officers named. These are President D. S. Pallen, New Westminster, B.C.; Vice President, H. C. Brown, Toronto, Ontario; Secretary-Treasurer C. D. Lang, Winnipeg, Manitoba. Directors - P. V. Noble, Shallow Lake, Ontario; J. E. Connolly, Bathurst, New Brunswick; Dr J. E. Laforest, Quebec City, Quebec; J. K. Aylwin, North Kildonan, Manitoba; H. J. Montgomery, Edmonton, Alberta and F. C. Armstrong, Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.
"Funds to carry on the business of the newly formed group were necessary immediately, so a subscription was taken from those present which realized the total of $810. The name chosen is Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association."
The Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association was geared to one principal - the selling of the Canadian mutation pelt crop. The educational aspect was limited to speakers at their Annual Meeting. The report of the 1946 meeting published in the June issue of the Canadian Silver Fox and Fur revealed many of the details of their operation "The Annual Meeting of the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association got underway at the Ontario Veterinary College, Guelph on Friday morning, May 31st. Acting President J. Calvin Martin was Chairman filling the position caused by the passing of Douglas S. Pallen. At the opening meeting, the assembled members and guests stood in a minute's silence in respect to the memory of Mr Pallen. There were close to 100 ranchers present at the meeting.
"The president's report was brief and Mr Martin touched upon a few points which he felt should be discussed later in the meeting. In referring to the Constitution, dealing with the aims of the Association, he pointed out that perhaps the most important feature was to see that all Canadian mutation mink pelts are marketed properly, so that the greatest returns may be secured. He mentioned a breakdown of advertising and promotion costs of selling the 1945 crop of mutation skins - silver blu was 7.9%, blu frost 12.8%, Royal Kohinoor 10% and Pastels 11%. The variation in costs was due mainly to some of the types offered to be in small numbers. The figures given include the 5% charge levied by the auction houses. Some 5,000 mutation skins from Canada last year were sold for an average of $80 apiece.
"Following some other minor business, such as the Secretary's report, in which Mr Jim Neely informed the gathering that the 1945/46 membership figure stood at two hundred and eighty-four, the delegates from the various provinces presented their reports. The effort to secure greater membership was a keynote of each delegate's remarks - Manitoba had led the field with a total of sixty-two members. Every provincial delegate felt that a drive for more members should be instituted in each province.
"Secretary presented the Financial Report. It showed a balance on hand of $2,281.43 as of May 1st, 1946.
"The Annual Meeting approved that the Directorate be enlarged from nine to sixteen members and the Directors nominated and elected from the provinces for 1946/47 were as follows: P.E.I., Bovyer (Bus) Jones; N.S., Dr. Leo Stone; N.B., J. E. Connolly; Quebec, Carl McClay and Arnold Schoch; Ontario, J. Calvin Martin, E. C. Schoales and P. V. Noble; Manitoba, Jim Neely and S. M. Allman; Saskatchewan, Dr. E. J. Clarke and Archie Campbell; Alberta, H. J. Montgomery and Amos Joyce; B.C., Bert Andrews and Hal James.
"At the Directors meeting which followed, J. Calvin Martin was elected President for the ensuing year, while H. J. Montgomery and S. M. Allman were elected Vice Presidents and Jim Neely Secretary-Treasurer. The Marketing Board will consist of Jim Neely, Percy V. Noble, S. M. Allman, Morley Pirt and C. D. Lang. This board will also act as a membership committee."
In this and succeeding years, the annual reports were optimistic and unintentionally unrevealing. There were problems. The Canadian mutation pelts were lotted with American goods and sold under the EMBA trademark. Thus we lost our Canadian identity. To the Canadian consumer, for many years, EMBA was the trademark of quality. That wasn't all we lost. The auction companies deducted a percentage on both American and Canadian pelts and turned it over to the EMBA people for promotion purposes. This might have been acceptable if we had had Canadian representation on the EMBA Board. But we didn't, and we not only had taxation without representation, but we had to levy extra percentages on the Canadian pelts to finance our own Association. Several years later EMBA terminated this selling arrangement. From then on, Canadian pelts were advertised and sold under the Majestic label.
In October 1946 the Dominion Council created the Canadian Farm Fur Advertising Committee. Under the chairmanship of J. E. Connolly, the Committee consisted of George McLeod, George Soudack, H. J. Montgomery, L. J. Simard, Dr W. E. Russell and C. D. Lang. The history of this committee is neatly summed up in the Chairman's report to the Annual Meeting in Winnipeg on June 4th, 1952 "As referred to previously the Canadian Farm Fur Association was brought into being as a result of a suggestion from the National Board of Fur Farmers in the United States, that Canada was not making any contribution of any kind towards the promotion or advertising of their fur products.
"At that time the pressure for restrictions and restraints was extremely strong in the United States. The outcome of the meeting of the National Board was that there should be a joint undertaking between the two countries for advertising of fox. All promotion to be carried on by a committee under the National Board. Canada would be asked to contribute according to the value of the number of fox skins sold in the United States. The first estimate for Canada was $15,000. After a survey was made it was felt that the first contribution should be $10,000. In any case, the representative of the Good Relations Committee at that meeting agreed to commit the Canadian breeders to raise this amount and make it available when required.
"On our return to Canada, all organizations related to the fur industry and all provincial organizations were circularized and a meeting was held in Ottawa. It was suggested that if we could succeed in launching this undertaking in Canada and making substantial payments it would put us in a much more favoured position with our American associates. After the meeting in Ottawa, the importance of meeting these commitments was stressed and an attempt was made to raise funds. From the circularizing of all organizations in Canada, we met a sympathetic response from almost every quarter.
"The largest amount of funds raised were from the provincial associations, auction companies, feed houses and some private individuals. The following figures I quote from memory as some of the largest contributors: Fur Breeders of Manitoba $3,500. Saskatchewan Provincial Association $1,000. George Soudack Auction Company $1,000. Toronto Elevators Ltd. $300. Western Canada Fur Pool $500. Canadian National Silver Fox Association $1,000. Hudson's Bay Company $500. Prince Edward Island Fur Pool $1,000. Canadian Fur Auction Sales, $3,800. From these donations, our commitment was practically made. When the Fall sales came we received a splendid response from the individual fur farmers of Canada.
"I have not here the statement of the first two years in operation. Suffice it to say, we met our commitments with the National Board. It was shown to us later that our commitment was equal to the commitment of the Americans. It exceeded it. On the first undertaking, we went a step further than the Americans.
"Some years ago, there had taken place a meeting at Fort William, where it appears a Gentlemen's agreement had been given to the effect that Canadian breeders would not attempt to advertise any furs as Canadian in the United States. For that reason, it was felt that the Farm Fur Advertising Committee should endeavour to advertise in Canada and other countries. In order to inject confidence with the breeders it was decided from the outset that, owing to the urgency of the situation, that those who were connected with the Canadian Farm Fur Advertising at the start would receive no travelling expenses of any kind as this would represent their contribution to meet this situation, which they accepted.
"For two years we carried on under this system without an executive secretary, without any paid officials of any kind, because I had taken the stand that our first obligation was to meet our commitments to the National Board. After two years, I found the meetings onerous and I simply could not continue, and I suggested that some steps should be taken to provide a paid official for the carrying on of this work, as it was constantly expanding. At a meeting in Ottawa, the matter was brought up for discussion, and after surveying the Canadian situation to find an individual who was available and capable, the name of B. Graham Rogers of Charlottetown, P.E.I. was submitted who would be the most likely and best qualified for this position. He was available and would accept a nominal salary. After giving the matter much consideration and as an experiment, it was decided to engage Mr Rogers at $200. per month, plus the salary of a secretary which was not to exceed $75. a month and office space at $25. a month, and so, as a result, has been brought into the organization, an executive secretary.
"Things went along for several months. I was in the hospital, and I got a call stating that Mr Rogers was offered a much better position in the P.E.I. Government and that he was obliged to tender his resignation. In the meantime, we were engaged in a fashion show to be held in Basle, Switzerland. Being in the hospital, I asked Don Stewart to carry on in the capacity of executive secretary under the same conditions, which was done. At our subsequent meetings, Mr Stewart was elected for each succeeding year, until last year at the adjourned meeting.
"I tender this in the absence of more complete records, as my record of the Canadian Farm Fur Advertising Committee from its inception until an executive secretary was engaged and I believe the same to be correct."
In the November 1947 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur, is the report of the Halton & Wentworth Mink Breeders meeting which helps us understand not only the mink situation but also documents the failing fox industry. Interesting to note, for the first time, the dark mink ranchers are raising money for advertising purposes, "On Tuesday evening, November 4th the Halton & Wentworth Fur Breeders Association held their regular monthly meeting in Bronte. President Don Gibson occupied the Chair. Guest speakers were J. Calvin Martin and Dr W. E. Russell. Some sixty-five ranchers and their wives were present to hear the speakers and enjoy a luncheon of sandwiches, cake and coffee.
"Cal Martin as President of the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association said he was present to try and answer all questions regarding the handling of mutation pelts. He invited ranchers to present their problems and kicks, which they did. The main grievances aired were the amounts deducted for advertising, dressing charges, express; delay in advising shippers of receipts of pelts; a small number of Canadian pelts offered in early sales; lack of publicity given to the Canadian Association in the Trade Fairs.
"Calvin pointed out that if ranchers shipped to the Hudson's Bay Company, Montreal, no brokerage fees would be charged in re-shipping the skins to Lampson, Fraser & Huth Inc., in New York. The same would apply to skins shipped to Canadian Fur Auction Sales Company (Quebec) Ltd., for skins which were to be sold by the New York Auction Company Inc., ranchers may ship to the office of the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association if they wish and designate which auction company is to sell the pelts.
"While the past season advertising and sales charges were as follows: silver bus 9.3%, blu frost 9.9%, royal Kohinoor 10%, misc. 9%, pastels 15%, whites 6.1% plus $1 per skin. In all cases, dressing charges were extra, together with any shipping charges etc. Of those percentages, in each case, the Canadian Association was refunded 1% as its share for financing purposes. Calvin explained that the reason the pastel percentage was so high was that so few had been offered for sale and thus the advertising cost per skin was proportionately higher than for other types.
"In the past season, Canadian shippers marketed approximately 12 - 13,000 mutant skins which were something under 10% of the total sold. Cal stated that Canadian and United States Associations were working very closely together, was cognizant of the troubles and grievances, and were endeavouring to overcome them.
" Dr W. E. Russell told the assembled ranchers about the recent annual meeting of the Canadian Farm Fur Advertising Committee and the urgency for fur farmers everywhere to back the committee in its endeavours. 'Advertising of ranch pelts is here to stay' said Dr Russell. 'If the fur farmers are to stay in business. A few years ago ranchers used to laugh at the idea, but now they realize they must co-operate and push the consumer advertising of their skins.'
" Dr Russell stated that if the fox breeding industry should not come back fox ranchers would turn to mink ranching. He pictured this on a worldwide scale and suggested that mink ranchers should start advertising their products to help keep prices at a profitable level.
" Dr Russell stated that the Canadian Farm Fur Advertising Committee and the National Board of Fur Farm Organizations were working very closely together in fact, advertising appearing currently is over the signature of the Fur Farmers of North America. Canadian delegates had attended the Annual Meeting at Milwaukee and received a very favourable reception. Both groups are in full accord.
"He mentioned that all money raised from mink ranchers was being held aside for the advertising of mink fur and garments in Canada. Already about $4,000 have been raised and it is planned to broaden the advertising to include other world markets when conditions and finances warrant. As a starter, Dr Russell mentioned that standard mink pelts and garments would be exhibited at the Industrial Trade Fair in Toronto in May 1948 and that an exhibit is also planned for a similar fair at Basle, Switzerland."
In the September 1949 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox & Fur, the following excerpt from a longer report, "President J. E. Connolly of the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders, has the following message for the fur breeders of Canada; for the information of Canadian breeders who were represented through the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders at the International Conference held at Oslo, Norway, July 20 - 24. 1949 I wish to make a brief report.
"Shortly after the annual meeting of the Council I was advised that each country would be entitled to have three delegates attend the conference. After studying the tentative agenda, the full significance of this conference began to impress itself on me. I felt it most important that Canada should have a third delegate, and that he should be from the West, especially since Mr D. O. Stewart, who was representing the Canadian National Silver Fox Breeders Association and myself were both from the East. Apart from that, the conference involved a great amount of work, thought and consultation on the part of the various delegates before the actual discussions on the floor of the actual conference. For these reasons, I succeeded in persuading Mr C. D. Lang to accompany me. Now that the conference is over, I am sure that Canada made a wise investment in sending a strong delegation to Oslo. The United States of America was represented by three delegates and three alternates."
The treasury of the Dominion Council being at a low ebb, J. E. Connolly financed the trip out of his pocket. This accounts for the item in the unification meeting minutes "moved by R. Gregory, seconded by A. R. Oliver that the secretary writes Mr J. E. Connolly offering to settle his outstanding account."
J. E. Connolly gave not only of his time but a considerable amount of money to the operation of the Dominion Council. Much of the latter was never returned to him. His generosity and enthusiasm made him a warmly regarded person but it doesn't say too much for the rest of us.
By 1952, the fox industry had all but disappeared. The mink business was healthy but uncoordinated. We had three national organizations which had become unwieldy and not what the mink ranchers needed. It was time for a change.
In April 1952, a two-day meeting attended by representatives of Manitoba, Quebec and Ontario, was held in the Master Feeds (Toronto Elevators Ltd.) offices. There were eleven people involved. Russ Gregory and Art Oliver from Manitoba; Arnold Schoch from Quebec; and J. Calvin Martin, Clifton Brown, Norman W. Shields, J. R. Griffiths, A. E. Welch and E. R. Bowness from Ontario; Walter Murray of the Canadian Fur Auction Sales Co. Ltd. and Alf Clevin of Hudson's Bay Company sat in as advisors.
There was complete agreement on the following principles. First, that there be a unification of the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders, the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association and the Canadian Fur Farm Advertising Committee into a single national mink association. Second, that for economic reasons the executive of the new national mink association be limited in numbers for the near future. Third, that an equitable funding plan involving all Canadian mink ranchers be invoked.
; The first order of business was to choose the name of the new association. It seemed to me that naming the new organization presented an opportunity to do several useful things. First to avoid the awkward, long and involved names of the previous groups. Second to have a shorter name with more impact. The third was to have a name that was significant in the world fur trade. To fur buyers 'Canada' was the magic word.
It took very little persuasion to get the group to agree on Canada Mink Breeders as the name of the new organization.
The first board of directors left to right standing Russ Gregory, Arnold Schoch, Clifton Brown,
seated Norm Shields secretary, Calvin Martin president, and Art Oliver treasurer.
The organizational meetings took place at the Master Feeds offices in Toronto in April 1952. There were eleven people involved, ten are seen in the two pictures. The eleventh, Rendle Bowness was the photographer which left him out of the scene. One of the concerns was the choice of a distinctive name. On the blackboard, back of the directors is the final choice that was made only minutes before the picture was taken.
The working group includes the directors and second from the left
Walter Murray and next to him Bert Welch. On the extreme right
Alf Cleven and second from him Russ Griffith.
J. Calvin Martin, President, Norman W. Shields, Secretary, Art Oliver, Treasurer and Directors Russ Gregory, Arnold Schoch and Clifton Brown were chosen to conduct the affairs on an interim basis and to present our suggestions to the provincial organizations.
The Ontario Fur Breeders Association expressed complete agreement to unification on May 15th, 1952. The rest of the provinces made known their agreement at the annual meetings in Winnipeg of the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association on June 2nd, 1952; the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders on June 3rd, 1952 and the Canadian Farm Fur Advertising Committee on June 4th, 1952.
To expedite unification, Arnold Schoch was re-elected President; Art Oliver Vice President and N. W. Shields Secretary-Treasurer of the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association. J. Calvin Martin was elected President and N. W. Shields Secretary-Treasurer of the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders. Russ Gregory was elected chairman; Norman Shields Secretary and Art Oliver Treasurer of the Canadian Farm Fur Advertising Committee.
In the October 1952 issue of the Fur Trade Journal was published the details of the unification meeting, "A meeting of the unification committee of the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders, the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association and the Canadian Farm Fur Advertising Committee was called in the board room of Toronto Elevators Ltd., Toronto commencing at 9:30 in the morning of the 4th of September. Officers present: J. C. Martin, Arnold Schoch, N. W. Shields, R. Gregory, A. R. Oliver, J. C. Brown; attending as Marketing advisors, A. Cleven, A. C. Prentice, W. Murray; as advertising advisors F. E. Dodman, R. G. Hodgson; as observers J. R. Griffith and A. E. Welch. These meetings continued daily until the 7th of September. Subjects coming up for discussion were unification, re-arranging of committees, advertising policies, promotional work, trade fairs, economics, public relations and breeders relations.
"Minutes of a meeting of the Dominion Council of the Canadian Fur Breeders held in the board room of Toronto Elevators Ltd., Toronto, the 5th of September 1952, Mr J. C. Martin President occupied the chair. Moved by R. Gregory, seconded by A. R. Oliver that the President be authorized to pay accounts. Moved by R. Gregory, seconded by A. R. Oliver that the Secretary write Mr J. E. Connolly offering to settle his outstanding account. Carried. Moved by J. C. Brown, seconded by R. Gregory that if and when a new organization is formed, and the charter received, that any funds remaining in the Dominion Council's bank account, be transferred to the operating account of the new organization. Moved by J. C. Brown and seconded by R. Gregory that the new organization be formed and that the Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders and the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association be dissolved and the charter for the last-named Association be surrendered, and that Messrs. Martin, Schoch, Brown, Gregory, Oliver and Shields be authorized to apply to the Government for a charter.
"Minutes of a meeting of the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association held in the board room of the Toronto Elevators Ltd., Toronto, the 5th of September, 1952, Mr Arnold Schoch President occupied the chair. Moved by J. C. Martin, seconded by A. R. Oliver that following the wishes of the directors and officers of the Annual Meeting of the Association, held in Winnipeg, the 2nd of June 1952. That the formation of an all-embracing new organization to be known as, Canada Mink Breeders, the charter of the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association be surrendered and a committee is named to the new organization to deal with matters of mutation mink.
"Minutes of the provisional meeting of the Canada Mink Breeders held in the board room of the Toronto Elevators Ltd., Toronto, commencing at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon of the 5th of September. The provisional President Mr J. C. Martin occupied the chair and the provisional secretary recorded the meeting. Provisional officers attending were Messrs. J. C. Brown, Arnold Schoch, A. R. Oliver and R. Gregory. Moved by R. Gregory, seconded by J. C. Brown, that J. C. Martin be the President of the newly organized Canada Mink Breeders. Carried. Moved by R. Gregory, seconded by J. C. Brown that two committees be formed as part of Canada Mink Breeders to be known as Mutation Mink Committee and Dark Mink Committee with a chairman and a member for each committee. Carried. Moved by R. Gregory, seconded by A. R. Oliver that Arnold Schoch be chairman and J. C. Brown member of the Mutation Mink Committee. Carried. Moved by Arnold Schoch, seconded by J. C. Brown that R. Gregory be chairman and A. R. Oliver member of the Dark Committee. Carried."
As this is as far as we intend to go in this book which is limited to the early history of mink ranching, we feel that excerpts from R. G. Hodgson's editorial in the October 1952 issue of the Fur Trade Journal of Canada, brings this chapter to a proper end: "Last month Dr Bowness played host for Master Feeds to the officers of the newly formed Canada Mink Breeders, details of which are announced elsewhere in this issue. The three-day meeting was a decided success and much was accomplished in short order that has needed doing for a long time. The unwieldy Dominion Council of Canadian Fur Breeders and the Canadian Mutation Mink Breeders Association were dissolved to be replaced by Canada Mink Breeders.
"There is much work to be done here in Canada for the mink industry if we are going to hold up our end in quality mink production and marketing. This can only be done when the Canadian organization is operating on an efficient business basis, which most breeders feel it has not been doing in the past.
"Circular letters have already been sent out to all the ranchers in Canada enclosing a membership form. There is no immediate membership fee; your authorization for the rebate of a small percentage from the sale of your pelts by auction includes your fee. It is imperative that these forms be filled in and returned immediately; the association can then begin its plans for the coming season.
"From my knowledge of mink breeders, I feel they will be in complete accord with the plans formulated for the promotion and betterment of their industry. The essential thing is to act now and so give the new organization both moral and financial support."