I’ve loved fur clothing since I was a little girl, as well as animals. I was very lucky because my parents… Read More
I’ve loved fur clothing since I was a little girl, as well as animals. I was very lucky because my parents indulged me in this. Growing up, I lived in towns or cities, but was allowed to nurse baby birds in my bedroom and bring home tadpoles to mature into frogs.
They also bought me a real fur hat, collar and muff for Christmas when I was six! These fur pieces were white with little black “tail” trim, but I’m quite sure they were rabbit, dressed up to look like ermine. They wouldn’t have been able to afford ermine, even if it had been available.
By the time I was a teenager, I’d graduated to raccoon. I had a red wool coat with a raccoon collar! When I grew out of that coat, I took off the collar, and with my mother’s help, turned it into a bonnet-type hat that I wore for a few more years. My mother had a mink boa and my grandmother a neckpiece made from three martens, complete with heads and tails, both of which I still cherish. (I’ve been known to wear the mink boa, but not the marten piece.)
I wish more kids today had these same opportunities! There are still some rabbit-lined kids’ hats around but mostly there is fake fur, or no fur. However, Canadian kids often do have rabbit-trimmed moccasin slippers at least, and many young women wear rabbit-trimmed mukluks. But how easy is it for them to “graduate” to raccoon or beaver or coyote? Thanks to the wide availability of parkas, a hood with a natural coyote ruff can be purchased in most Canadian cities today. But sadly most ruffs are fake fur, which doesn’t hold up well, and isn’t providing the warmth of a natural fur ruff.
The availability of other clothing trimmed with natural fur has been minimal for several years, outside of some large Canadian cities that still have wonderful fur salons. But in the last five to ten years the fashion industry has begun to show fur accessories more. A few designers have models wearing trapper-type hats, made entirely of coyote fur. Natural fur has also shown up on purses and even shoes (not just boots). More local artisans have begun to make fur trapper hats and large mitts or gauntlets that are popular with the snowmobile crowd.
Other Canadian artisans have been making fur ruffs, collars, hats, etc. using wild fur for some time. For the past six years, I’ve been one of those artisans, but making fur-trimmed accessories, rather than full fur apparel. I wanted the items I create to have a modern look and to be interesting, but also to be affordable.
Wearing fur accessories is possible for many more people than wearing a fur coat, warm and beautiful as they are. Availability and affordability to more Canadians may mean that wearing fur becomes more popular again. I think this is especially true for young kids and teens. Even having a toy with natural fur can make a child want more natural fur items later, I think. So I make a few toys too!
Learning As Much As Possible
When I embarked on what was meant to become my retirement hobby, I decided it was important that I learn as much about fur as possible, from trapping through to garment making. The Saskatchewan Trappers Association holds many courses for new trappers and I was fortunate to take one given by association president Wrangler Hamm in November 2014. He covered the basics about humane trapping, and there were demos on skinning and boarding a coyote and muskrat as well as the preparation of a beaver. But he also included a bit about sending pelts for tanning and having hats or mittens made from them as an additional way to add value to trapping. I hope that’s a part of all the trapper courses.
My love of animals led me to a professional career studying them. It also helped me bond with my husband who is a wildlife biologist. Although my own career has primarily dealt with the genetics of domestic animals, such as cattle and dogs, in the later years my research has included some dog ancestors – wolves and coyotes. That allowed me the chance to get “behind the scenes” at a fur auction. Trapper and trader friends and acquaintances had been supplying my samples of coyotes and wolves for several years, but I reached a point in my research where I needed many wolf samples in a variety of coat colors. Dave Bewick, long-time manager of the Winnipeg office of North American Fur Auctions, invited me to a sale in Toronto in February 2014 to make that possible. I could not believe how many beautiful pelts were there, when I arrived on the first day of the sale. I think I decided that day that I had to be able to “work with” such pelts more, but just how that could happen took several more months of planning.
I ordered some tanned fur online and purchased a few pelts from booths at local trade shows, initially. Although now I try to make an annual trip to Winnipeg, to source my year’s garment-tanned wild fur supply. During my first visit, Matthew Stepien of the family-run International Fur Dressers and Dyers, gave me a lesson in wild fur buying that was fantastic, and has continued to help me find the quality furs I’m looking for.
I also ordered a used fur sewing machine from Montreal. The salesperson kept asking me who was going to teach me how to operate it. All the furriers in Saskatchewan had passed away. Having sewn most of my own clothes, including coats, since I was a teenager, I didn’t see this as a problem. Boy was I wrong! A fur sewing machine operates entirely differently than a normal sewing machine used to sew cloth, or even a heavier leather sewing machine. A fur sewing machine needle is horizontal and comes toward you as you sew. The fur is fed from beneath the working surface. But I persisted and read what I could and watched YouTube videos, and gradually I was able to sew most of the fur I had purchased, except the beaver. I still sew beaver by hand, as do many other artisans.
Lighting Up Faces
Sewing with natural fur has become something I truly enjoy. And I’ve been very lucky because there seems to be a group of people that enjoy wearing what I make! I’ve had booths at several juried craft shows around Saskatoon in the past five years, before Covid hit.
One of the bonuses of being at a craft fair is the joy of watching so many people’s faces light up when they try on a fur-trimmed hat, even if they don’t buy it. A fellow artisan told me that mine was the “happy booth”. She said she often looked across the aisle and people were smiling, laughing, taking selfies, etc. as they chose a fur hat to try on.
Another plus for being at a craft fair is the instant feedback you get from people about what they like and what fits and what doesn’t. For a person who is a “new” artisan, this is very valuable. The younger the person, the more unusual the item they seem to choose! I was so glad to see teenagers and university students buying fur-trimmed items.
I’ve chosen Wear Our Heritage as my brand name because I want people to wear fur clothing and be proud of our Canadian fur heritage!
I try to give young kids a small item with fur, when they visit my booth with their Mom or Grandad. Or I invite them to try on and play with the hand puppets.
The local “fair” or Exhibition in Saskatoon doesn’t have booths with baked goods or jams any more, but it does have the Saskatchewan Art Showcase that includes photography, painting, and crafts divisions. I try to submit the allowed three items each year, as another way to get natural fur in the public eye.
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Pierre-Yves Daoust is a professor emeritus and adjunct professor of pathology and microbiology at the University of Prince Edward Island,… Read More
Pierre-Yves Daoust is a professor emeritus and adjunct professor of pathology and microbiology at the University of Prince Edward Island, who lists among his research interests "Animal welfare aspects of trapping and sealing". This article first appeared in the March/April 2021 issue of The Canadian Trapper.
While I was reading the last issue of The Canadian Trapper, I thought about writing a short article. I always like browsing through this magazine, and I just wanted to tell other readers why someone in my position enjoys this.
You see, I am not a trapper or a hunter. I do not even fish. But I am a wildlife veterinarian with a deep love for wild animals, and I have dealt with sealers, trappers, hunters, conservation officers and park wardens much of my professional life.
Having worked for a few decades at the Atlantic Veterinary College at the University of PEI, I feel very comfortable among two seemingly different groups of people: the very dedicated animal lovers (starting with our veterinary students) and the users of wildlife resources (sealers, trappers, and the like). But frankly, these two groups are not mutually exclusive.
For one thing, I am often pleased by the interest of our students to learn about sealing and trapping. Some, but not all of them, may continue to dislike the idea of these kinds of wildlife use, but with a willingness to be more informed comes a better understanding, and with it more respect. For myself, I realized a long time ago that the good sealers, trappers and hunters know far more than me about wildlife and that I stand to learn a whole lot from them.
This is why I like reading through The Canadian Trapper. I have my favourites. I always read Jim Gibb’s column about the fur market. Not that I have any personal interest in the economics of the fur trade, but he always comes up with some interesting tidbits of information and I feel that I should know at least a bit about where the market is going (which I know has been on a steep downhill for a while).
Of course, I also always read from top to bottom the report from the PEI Trappers Association. Lately, I have enjoyed reading the series of articles by Danielle Levesque, based on her oral presentations. I find it very refreshing to get the perspective of a young woman about trapping.
Celebrating the Seal Hunt
In early March 2020, I attended the “Rendez-vous Loup-marin” on the Magdalen Islands, Québec, an annual celebration of all the positive things that the seal hunt has brought to that community. That time, it was women’s turn to contribute to the industry – including cuisine, clothing, arts, marketing and more to be celebrated. It was impressive to see all that women have done for the industry over many years.
It is my work with the sealing industry and with Inuit hunters in Nunavut that has cemented my appreciation and respect for responsible users of wildlife resources.
No Hardware Store Nearby
Some years ago, I had the privilege and pleasure to be on a sealing vessel for a week with skipper Eldred Woodford from Herring Neck, Newfoundland and Labrador.
One day, when we were far offshore, an oil pump of some sort broke down. Don’t ask me for more details; I know nothing about mechanics. This meant that Eldred had to reconnect a bunch of things from the steering wheel in the wheelhouse to another steering wheel on the top deck outside.
This is when I realized, who on earth am I with my few university degrees to brag about anything, when this man not only has to know how to navigate on the open sea and how to steer among ice floes during the seal hunt to avoid getting stuck, but also has to be a mechanic and an electrician all at once. As Eldred said at the time, there is no hardware store nearby to help you out when you are roughly 60 nautical miles offshore or when you are far out in the bush, for that matter.
I hope this gives you an idea of why sealers, trappers and hunters can have allies in some unexpected places and why someone like me, in his ivory tower that is a university, always enjoys the company of people who spend so much time on the land. I respect animals, I respect the environment, and I also respect all people. This has served me well over the years.
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Gene Walters was born in South Dakota in 1927, but his family moved to the untamed forests of northern Alberta… Read More
Gene Walters was born in South Dakota in 1927, but his family moved to the untamed forests of northern Alberta when he was about a year old. By age nine, he was helping his older brother, Andy, on the trapline, and that's where he stayed until he passed away in 2011. To say he was a trapper would be an understatement. In every sense, he was a part of the wilderness in which he spent his entire life.
Now his story is available for all to share. Child of the Wilderness, published in 2005 but deserving of a far wider audience than it has so far found, is a labour of love compiled over several years by Gene and his family and friends. And it will appeal to trappers and non-trappers alike.
Trappers – and survivalists, for that matter – will enjoy Gene's bottomless well of tips about their shared craft, and the lessons he learned, often the hard way, just to stay alive. All readers, meanwhile, will enjoy Child of the Wilderness on at least two levels.
Firstly, it is an intimate diary of a man who learned to live in an unforgiving landscape at a very early age, and kept at it for the rest of his life. And it is told in an effortless manner that trappers seem to excel at. The language is plain, never flowery, and the stories are a perfect blend of matter-of-fact lessons and dry humour. We are tutored while also being entertained.
Gene also stays squarely focused on the subject matter: living off nature, and the myriad family members, friends and animals that shared his journey. One suspects he never had the kind of extraordinary experiences most autobiographers love to share, like having an affair with a princess or rubbing shoulders with celebrities, but what may have been mundane experiences for him – like getting charged by a giant grizzly – will seem extraordinary enough for most of us!
On a second level, Child of the Wilderness will appeal to any fan of recent history, and in particular that of Canada's fur trade. Spanning as it does no less than 73 years on the trapline, it provides a record of a period in the country's history in which – sad to say – man's connection to the land began to fade. Historians so often have to work with primary sources that are snapshots of limited time periods, perhaps even just special events, that they must then piece together to form a larger picture. Child of the Wilderness renders unnecessary much of the contextual guesswork by providing a detailed background of daily life in one place, over many decades.
So without further ado, let's provide some of that context, in Gene's own words.
ON BUILDING TRAPLINES: "I’ll explain what we did regarding traplines. We started out with four townships; that’s two townships apiece. The trapline now is about 10 townships or better. I did a lot of skydiving and whatnot to get this line. Well, let’s face it – I didn’t really jump out of a plane! I suppose you could say I had good friends in the Forestry service, because all these lines were put in by the Forestry except the last line I got. This line that we have now was actually five traplines."
YOUNG, ALONE, AND ARMED! "We’d been in the bush about three weeks when my brother [Andy] had to go home to bring in more supplies, and he said, 'Look, young fellow, why don’t you stay here until I come back? If I take you along, it’s going to take me longer than if I go by myself.'
"I was only nine years old. I had a .22 but still was a little bit leery of staying alone. He talked me into it. I finally said to him, 'The only way I’ll stay is if you leave me the rifle (a .300 Savage), and I can go kill a moose.'"
The next day, a very young Gene did indeed bag his first moose!
FAT AND PROTEIN: "When I went to the bush with my brother we not only saved bear grease but we dried moose meat and smoked it. Also, we’d catch fish. We were at a lake called Meekwap, at the south end of where we trapped. We caught fish with a net and those were hung up, dried and smoked. As far as camping out in cold weather goes, don’t ever believe that you shouldn’t eat fat food. If you didn’t eat fat foods with lots of protein back in those days, you wouldn’t have survived. People’s lifestyles should designate what they eat."
RAFTING LESSON LEARNED: "In the spring of 1944, I took the dogs with me to fill a beaver permit. When I got to the river there was an ice jam. It wasn’t safe to cross on the ice jam so I went up the river a-ways. I chopped logs with an axe to make a raft before dark.
"I made it small, tied my stuff in the middle and kept my rifle on my back. When I was pushing the raft out, I made the mistake of yelling 'Let’s go, fellows!' to the dogs. The whole cockeyed works lit on one end of the raft and it started sinking. The front came up and the only thing that kept me on was clamping my knees on the stuff I had tied to the raft. I finally got all the dogs off the raft, except one. Rover wouldn’t get off because he was chickenshit.
"I saw the ice jam coming up. I paddled with a small pole and barely made it across before I hit the ice jam. It was the last time in my life I ever said 'Let’s go, fellows!'”
DON'T PACK YOUR DOGS HARD: "I’ll tell you about the dogs we had over the years. Andy had Rusty, Smoky, Schmeling and Tunney. Schmeling and Tunney were named after heavyweight boxers Max Schmeling and Gene Tunney. We had another one by the name of Cruiser.
"One day we were by Mile 20, and Cruiser took about two lunges and fell dead of a heart attack or an aneurysm. He wasn’t being overworked, because if I remember right, he wasn’t packing hard at all. We never packed our dogs hard. We’d pack more dogs if that’s what it took, because you didn’t want to wear your dogs out."
DAD WAS NO TRAPPER: "During all those hard times, fur was worth more money than anything else. You almost couldn’t give grain away, but at the same time you could sell a coyote for up to 10 dollars for a real good one. Red fox brought 12, 15, or 20 dollars, depending on how good it was. Cross fox sold for up to 40 or 50 dollars, and silver fox were worth up to a hundred and more. You can see why a person would have gone trapping. ...
"My dad went out on the trapline with my brother a time or two, but my dad himself was not a trapper. He had come from the prairies. If you took him three or four miles out in the bush and turned him around twice, he was lost and wouldn’t have found his way back."
CATCHING MINK FEED: "In later years, when we still had the mink in the ’60s, we fished tullibee, for the mink feed. The fish in Slave Lake were small. It took about three of them to make a pound. We used small mesh nets, about two-and-three-quarters; the depth was 80 to 100 mesh nets. If we wanted deeper nets, we overlapped the 80 mesh nets. ... Sometimes you’d bring in a 100-yard net and have two tons of fish. ...
"If you got caught with four or five nets out, with that many fish, it was a nightmare. You took the fish home, sold them to everybody you could, and filled every freezer you had. The odd time you’d lose some. The mink would eat a half to one pound a day. You’d grind the fish up with minerals and feed it to the mink."
GOOSE RIVER AND AN AMAZING HORSE: "The Indian [who sold Gene a horse] told me that when I got to a river or anything, not to force the horse to cross. He said to cross first and then call for him and he’d come by himself. Well, I couldn’t believe that. I have seen some well-trained horses in my life, and I thought that was a little far-fetched.
"When we got to Goose River it was pretty high, so we built a raft. I told Andy I would take everything across and he could stay and hold the horse. The mistake I made was, when I was told the horse would come straight over to me, he wasn’t just whistling Dixie. Instead of going down the river from the horse, I went straight across from the horse and that horse tried to swim straight over to me – he was going to come where I was. I thought I had better run down the river a bit, so I did and the horse came to right where I was. It was the most amazing thing you ever saw in your life. When you came to a mud hole or a bad place, you’d just turn him loose and go across it so he would come to you. He would cross on his own and never get stuck. He was an amazing animal and I only paid 15 dollars for him."
STINKY BAIT: "There’s no special secret with meat for coyote and wolf bait. We simply skin the beaver out and use the carcasses. We cut them up and put them in plastic pails, which we get from the fast-food outlets and grocery stores. They’re five-gallon pails with lids. You fill them a third full. You also get fish that they’re going to throw out at the fish plant. You throw about a half-dozen fish in the pail and let it rot all summer. It stinks like hell. The older the bait, the better. We’ve got some that’s four or five years old."
DON'T POISON THE FAMILY! "In the ’60s when Alice and Brian and I were at the lake, I used to get up and make breakfast. One morning I got the fire going, and of course it was a log shack and there were mice in it. I went to put oatmeal in the water and I could see these seeds in it. I couldn’t figure out what they were. We had this mouse-seed poison that looked like flax seed; anyway the mice had packed this seed into the oatmeal. We threw it all out. God knows what would have happened if we had eaten it."
SEVEN MILES WITH A GRIZZLY: "Back in the ’80s I was out with one of the dogs on the power line across Goose River. It was the middle of the day and we were having a rest. The dog, Winnie, got excited and I looked down the line and couldn’t see anything. She got more excited so I looked up again, and out onto the power line came this huge grizzly bear. I had a licence but I didn’t want to kill a bear that far from nowhere. The only way I could get the hide out was to carry it. I decided I’d leave him alone. But he started coming towards us and when he was about 50 yards away I yelled at him. He wouldn’t stop, he just kept coming. I picked a point where I would have to shoot him. He reached that point and he was dead. Boy, then I had a job. I skinned him, carried the hide out that day and went back the next day with a pack sack to carry the head out. I had to carry that huge hide about seven miles, draped around my neck. I knew I’d had a workout by the time I got to the truck."
And that's just a taster. Maybe the day will never come when you have to pack a dog, smoke moose meat, build a raft, or face a charging grizzly, but wouldn't it be great to know how?
“Take a kid trapping” was first published in the March/April 2021 issue of Canadian Trapper magazine, telling your stories for… Read More
"Take a kid trapping" was first published in the March/April 2021 issue of Canadian Trapper magazine, telling your stories for the last 34 years.For subscription information, visit us on Facebook or email [email protected].
Our council president asked for some help to write this issue's article as they were swamped with work. I have to admit I was stumped on what to write about. The Timmins Fur Council is normally very active with no shortage of things to talk about, but Covid-19 has put a real damper on our usual activities.
Our executive has done its best to improvise, adapt and overcome – with outdoor socially-distanced meetings when allowed and party-line telephone meetings – but our usual activities like the trap boil, annual general meeting, kids fishing derby, kids fun shoot (introduction to firearms), garbage clean up and our world class wildlife dinner have all had to be placed on the back-burner. I thought, “What am I going to write about when we haven’t been able to do anything as a council in months?"
Then the thought came into my head about the way many of our presidents have ended their address for years. “Take a kid trapping, you will both be better for the experience.”
This is something I could talk about as I have learned a great deal about it over the last few months. It really changes things and I thought I could share a few tips about the whole experience.
You see, when the pandemic started and child care shut down we were forced to take over that role, and it became clear that if I was going to run a line this season, my three-year-old, Liam, would be running it with me. It has been a great year of wonderful memories and a few hard lessons for both of us. I would like to share a little bit of this year with you all.
Off-Season / Nuisance Work / Bugs
The trapper’s job is never done with the closing of the trapping season. Trails must be maintained, nuisance beaver removed, scouting of the line is ongoing to make up a plan for the next season. Here in northern Ontario, this off season brings warm weather, and bugs – blackflies, mosquitoes, horse flies and deer flies. My poor son inherited his mother’s genetics when it comes to bug bites. In the early spring they both look like the "Elephant Man" until they build up some immunity to the biting insects. This can make a day in the field miserable for a young one (and his dad).
The first tip I can share is to get your young one a bug suit, pants and jacket. This is a game changer and allowed me to complete my nuisance jobs and trail cutting. When it is not in use, store it in a Ziploc bag with a shot or two of Muskol. Also, when cutting trail, I switched from the dangerous chainsaw / brush saw to a set of loppers. I could safely cut with a toddler around and he would help pick up the branches.
I am the type of trapper that likes to have a year-round presence on his line – always paying attention to the ebbs and flows of the furbearers and trying to make a game plan for the upcoming harvesting season to hold these animals just below their carrying capacity. This means spending a lot of time travelling on the trapline. A young child generally lacks the patience for a full day of exploring.
The next tip I want to share with you all is how to easily hold a child's attention. Snacks! Lots of them, and different kinds. Young children have the magical ability to love one type of food today, and hate that same food the next, so bring a good variety.
Get Them Involved
Giving a child an age-appropriate task makes them feel like part of the team and helps hold their interest. While I would not expect my three-year-old to be setting 330s on his own, carrying the trap setters or some similar, safer task helps to boost self-esteem and encourage the idea of helping where you can.
All summer long Liam helped his mother with the vegetable garden. The pride on his face was visible when it came time to harvest the food (usually before it was ready), and the same can be said out on the trapline. When he would help retrieve a grouse or help grind up some beaver meat for a chili supper, he learned where his food came from and was very proud to be a part of its preparation.
Putting Up Fur
A big time commitment to the trapper is putting up their catch for auction. The young children will not take kindly to sitting on a chair in your stinky garage for 10 hours while you process your catch, but involving them in the fur put up can help hold their attention and allow you to get your job done. While knife work is off the table for the young one, my son loved helping brush the fur and hammering the nails that Dad had started.
Keep Them Motivated
Most kids have a very short attention span, especially boys. It can be frustrating when you are trying to get your daily chores done and your young one just wants to drag their feet and make snow angels.
My next tip I will share is one that helps to keep my son motivated to get our work done. You see, he loves my camp. I made sure that the camp was a fun place for him. It has a warm wood stove, treats and candy, and toys he does not normally get to play with. When he starts to dilly-dally on the line, I just need to remind him that if we get our work done soon we will be able to go to the cabin and play with toys, but if we dilly-dally we will run out of daylight and have to go home without seeing your fun toys. This always grabs his attention and puts him back on track.
Cold Weather Trapping
Unlike the 9 to 5 worker that watches the clock hoping for the day to pass so they can go home, the trapper is more achievement-driven, giving thanks for the day in the morning and hoping they will have the time to complete all the work they want to accomplish before the sun goes down and they are forced back to their cabin or truck. The winter months here mean the sun is down as early as 4:30 in the afternoon. The temperatures are cold and everything gets a little harder to do. Taking a youngster out in the woods is no exception.
There are all kinds of quality clothes for a trapper to buy or make that will keep them warm on the line in all kinds of weather, but kids’ clothes are not made for long durations in these cold temperatures. Some of the snowsuits are decent, but the boots and mitts available for a child are not warm enough for a full day in extreme temperatures. If you can sew, or know a local crafter, why not have some of your harvest tanned and made into garments for your family. There is nothing warmer.
My next tip is a big one. Change your plans when bringing children. I look back at the crazy things I have done, and the absolute jackpot scenarios my stupidity has brought me to. Being 30 kilometres (18.6 miles) from a road at -40 degrees Celsius (-33.8 degrees Fahrenheit), crossing questionable creeks on the Ski-Doo hoping I could skip across the thin ice, et cetera.
These are not things one can do with a child. A mechanical breakdown, or sinking a sled, or falling through thin ice at a beaver house are risks an adult trapper takes. It is part of the excitement and adventure. But when you are responsible for someone else, that risk versus reward adventurous spirit gets toned down a notch or two.
That is a big part of trapping with kids. Play it safe. Do not expect you will be able to accomplish the things you used to be able to do alone. Make a plan that keeps you close to the camp or the truck and, if you are remote, plan on having a few campfire warm-up breaks. Once you learn to slow down and not expect too much, the experience will become a lot more fun for both of you.
Plan Your Season
Knowing I would have my son with me for most of the year, I started out with the “hard to get to” spots when I was alone, and saved the easy spots for when we were together. Mid-season I shut down the west part of my line which I would not normally do, and just concentrated on the east part of my line around the cabin.
I saved a new beaver colony which set up just across the bay from my camp for winter. It was ideal. We could walk across and check traps, and if anything went wrong or someone got wet, the warm cabin was less than a kilometer away.
They Say the Darnedest Things
We had taken Liam out fishing the summer before. He was the judge on whether a fish was kept or released. Now with trapping season underway we came across one of the biggest, nicest looking wolves I have ever caught on my line. With Liam on my shoulders, a rifle and gear on my back, and this 95-pound (43-kilogram) wolf in tow, my son said to me, “I think we should let him go.”
Ha, ha, I did not quite know what to say. I explained that this was not a “catch and release” kind of thing as the wolf was now dead, and I wondered how he would react.
He said, “That’s ok Dad, you did a good job with the snares. He didn’t even move.” I was floored. It is amazing what they pick up on.
So that was my learning experience this season with a young helper on the line. I had to make some changes for sure. I did not cover as much ground as I usually do in a season and my fur cheque will probably be a little smaller than I am used to, but I have found richness in experience and memories made with my son that could not be bought with all the money in the bank. We are both better off for it.
So I will also sign off with, "Take a kid trapping, you will both be better for the experience!"
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
I have been employed in this business from the fur auction end since the early 1980s and as a trapper… Read More
I have been employed in this business from the fur auction end since the early 1980s and as a trapper earlier yet. The first real crisis I personally witnessed in this business happened in the mid-1980s when the Ontario Trappers Association (OTA) went through a major shift in new directors being voted in at the annual trappers convention. Out of that the new board hired Price Waterhouse to develop a new management platform for the OTA fur sales service. When the dust settled, it saw Alex Shieff resign after 20 years at the helm as captain of a real success story, OTA, which he played a major role in building.
A multi-tiered management team was put in place with people being hired with no history in the trade. It was during this time of great unrest and turmoil that the Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) formed Trappers International Marketing Service (TIMS) and set up a warehouse directly across the road from where Fur Harvesters Auction (FHA) remains today.
TIMS hired away many senior graders, managers and agents from OTA which made our situation even tougher. As well, at the time we were in a depressed market with prices and clearances at unhealthy levels. The end game of the subsidiary company TIMS was to put OTA out of business. As reported in the Ottawa Citizen, Feb. 11, 1986, when TIMS's newly appointed GM, Ron Lancour, was asked by a reporter, “Why not set up the subsidiary in Toronto and leave North Bay the Association?" he replied, “If you’re going to be in competition, what better place is there to locate than next door?”
Goodbye TIMS and HBC
Well, that was 35 years ago and TIMS was a flash in the pan and was dead and gone in a few short years. Actually FHA bought most of their warehouse equipment as well, and I recall many of us here rolling carts and bins of equipment down the road from their warehouse to ours prior to TIMS closing down forever. Shortly after this, for the first time since HBC was incorporated in 1670, its name ceased to be associated with wholesale fur trading. While the Toronto location of the auction house remained the same, the name was changed to North American Fur Auctions (NAFA).
In the 1960s there were eight fur auctions in Canada: HBC, Dominion Fur Co., Soudack Fur Auctions, Edmonton Fur Auction Sales, Western Canadian Raw Fur Auction Sales, Canadian Fur Auction, Saskatchewan Fur Marketing Board and the OTA. Some were forced out of business but many were simply swallowed up by the HBC to become a subsidiary or affiliate forwarding agency for that corporation with all furs being auctioned in Toronto.
During the 1980s and up to 2005, Canada was home to three remaining auction houses. In 2005 the late great Ted Pappas, owner of Western Canadian Raw Fur Auction Sales, decided to hand his business over to FHA leaving only two companies standing.
During the past 35 years we have seen markets rise and fall and troubles come and go. As of last year, FHA is the last remaining fur auction company, not only in Canada, but in all of North America.
Why is that, how can it be possible? I leave this to each and every trapper to ponder but the thousands loyal to FHA have their opinion on the matter.
Great Fur Auction
Now here we are today running this great fur auction company during a global pandemic, which we have never before witnessed. All international travel is restricted and most countries remain locked down.
FHA's business model has been standing since 1947 – to sell fur into the international markets through competitive bidding in our auction room. We are not fur buyers and this wild fur auction house was founded by men decades ago that were tired of the take-it-or-leave-it option. Without an international auction, there will never be a true basis as to what your hard-acquired catch of fur is worth.
This past two years we have witnessed a surge in travelling fur buyers set up to take advantage of our inability to host international buyers at auction. I understand the power and leverage of cash in hand, but I understand more importantly that was all we had for hundreds of years until trappers got fed up and started an auction in North Bay in 1947.
April Auction Going Ahead
Our next auction is set for mid-April and we are going to have it. There is a chance that only Canadians can attend as our federal government seems intent on keeping us locked down a bit longer. All indications are that many articles are in greater demand now and we are intent on holding to stronger valuations at this auction. Once the final hammer falls, all unsold goods will move onto our online platform where the same valuations will be held to.
We are receiving many calls daily from all over the world asking for coyotes, muskrats, sables, beaver, lynx, bobcats and raccoon. Oil prices in Russia are up and this has Russia back in the game and their cold winter has helped further. The Feb. 8-12 sable auction at Sojuzpushnina in Russia saw prices advance strongly and this reflects most positively for our upcoming sale. China has been extremely successful in the past several months as online garment sales are extremely strong. This has led to many good orders coming in from this important market.
We are much more optimistic going into this year compared to this time last season. This pandemic is nearing its end and when it happens our shippers will be greatly rewarded for their loyalty and commitment to this great company, Fur Harvesters Auction Inc.
Remember, you own the place.
Stay well and GOD BLESS.
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
The following statement from the four signatories below was released to the media on Jan. 24, 2021. “Harvesting and trading… Read More
The following statement from the four signatories below was released to the media on Jan. 24, 2021.
"Harvesting and trading fur and other gifts of nature is our inherent right since ancient times, not a privilege to be bartered or revoked!" says Chief Brian Wadhams, trapper, of the 'Namgis First Nations.
As Indigenous trappers and traditional trapline holders, we
can no longer remain silent about self-appointed “animal rights” activists who
think they have a right to spread lies about the fur trade and call on
politicians to ban the production or sale of fur products.
The latest example of this vicious and misleading campaigning is a recent call by animal activists for the Canadian Government to ban mink farming, after mink on two BC farms tested positive for COVID-19. While mink farming is not a tradition in our culture, we oppose this attack on small family-run farms and on rural communities where the majority of Indigenous harvesters live. And we are not naïve: we understand that this attack on mink farming is just the latest weapon in an orchestrated plan to turn the public against any use of fur – a campaign that directly attacks our culture and inherent rights as Indigenous peoples of Canada. We call this for what it is: Cultural Genocide.
The fur trade played a central role in Canada’s history, and it's an important part of our Cultural Identity; our people were harvesting and trading furs long before Europeans ever set foot on our eastern shores. The harvesting and sale of fur still provides income for many First Nations communities throughout Canada. Beavers, muskrats, and other furbearing animals also provide nutritious food for many hunters and their families. The respectful harvesting of fur and food from abundant wildlife populations is central to our relationship with the land – a relationship that the federal and provincial governments are legally mandated to protect.
Let us be crystal clear: the goal of animal activists – including those now calling for a ban on mink farming – is to destroy all markets for fur, to further their own ideological agenda. In doing so, they are directly attacking our right to responsibly harvest and trade nature’s gifts, which is our inherent right, a right recognized by the Supreme Court of Canada and by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP).
It is doubly unfortunate that animal activists seek to mislead the public and the government about fur at a time when Canadians seek to live in better harmony with nature. Furs are a sustainably produced, long-lasting, and biodegradable natural clothing material. It is the Honest Fabric. By contrast, the fake furs and other synthetics promoted by animal activists are generally made from petroleum, a non-renewable, non-biodegradable, and polluting resource.
Indigenous people have respected and protected the survival of the animal populations upon which we depend since time immemorial. Our message today to self-appointed “animal rights” extremists and their celebrity cheerleaders is this: Your misguided attacks on the fur trade are not “progressive”; they are attacks on Indigenous people. Your uninformed and misguided lies must stop NOW!
We take this opportunity to remind the Government of Canada,
and their provincial and municipal counterparts, that fur trapping, trading,
displaying and selling fur is our Inherent Right, not a privilege to be
bartered or trifled with. You are responsible for protecting these rights!
Furthermore, governments cannot make any changes in policy or legislation concerning the responsible harvesting, production, displaying, selling or bartering of fur products without full consultation and consent from Indigenous people, as the Supreme Court of Canada has ruled.
We will no longer remain silent while self-appointed urban activists attack our cultural traditions and livelihoods. It is time you showed some honesty, decency, and respect for Indigenous fur harvesters and our fur trade partners.
It's time to take a stand. We call on all Canadians to say “No!” to the lies and cultural intolerance promoted by anti-fur groups. We ask you to support Indigenous harvesters, to support the responsible and sustainable use of nature's gifts -- and to buy and proudly wear Canadian Fur.
A fresh opportunity is coming soon for future designers to receive a holistic education on working with fur, against a… Read More
A fresh opportunity is coming soon for future designers to receive a holistic education on working with fur, against a backdrop of its cultural and historical importance to British Columbia's Indigenous First Nations.
The Learning Hub of Education and Design School will be held in Alert Bay on the 'Namgis Indigenous First Nations Traditional Territory of Vancouver Island. It’s a product of a partnership among BC's First Nations, Pacific Balance Marine Management Inc., and Nanaimo-based FurCanada. The ultimate aim of this partnership is to re-establish sealing and the fur trade as an important player in the economy of BC, where commercial sealing ended in the early 1970s. The Learning Hub executive would like to thank the 'Namgis First Nations for sponsoring this program.
Pacific Balance Marine Management Inc. is a First Nations group pushing for a license to sell pinniped products, including furs, human and pet food, and seal oil. FurCanada, which will organise the Learning Hub, is a fur manufacturing company in Nanaimo specialising in luxurious home décor, including blankets, pillows, floor coverings, garments, furniture and accessories. It is also known for its museum-quality taxidermy mounts.
FurCanada CEO and president Calvin Kania had hoped to welcome the inaugural batch of students this March, but Covid-19 has pushed the launch back to at least November. Once the green light is given to proceed, 25 students will engage in 10 days of intensive study, with all materials, tools, machinery, accommodation, meals, transportation, field trips and instructors covered by a nominal fee of $500 per head. Prior experience will not be a factor in the selection process, but prospective participants must demonstrate a genuine interest in learning about fur, including its history. For full details and updates about applying, see FurCanada's website.
Instruction will be provided by two experts with extensive
Heading the program will be Prof. Vasilis Kardasis, who is
currently FurCanada's Innovation and Design Director responsible for the
company's Seal Fur Workshops. He is a visiting professor at the Royal College
of Art in London, England, and has done stints at Dior, Givenchy, Balenciaga,
Saga Furs, and Studio NAFA.
Assisting him will be Panagiotis "Panos"
Panagiotidis, currently Master Furrier and Production Manager at FurCanada.
Like Prof. Kardasis, Panagiotidis has years of experience working with European
fur companies, and the two previously cooperated in organising the Summer Fur
School in Kastoria, Greece.
Under their tutelage, students will work with a range of furs, including seal, beaver, mink, sable, fox and coyote. They will practice stretching and nailing (“blocking”) skins, and proper handling of a fur knife when cutting pelts to fit a pattern. They will also be taught how to sew furs and leathers – including smoked-tanned moose, elk or deer – by machine and by hand. And they'll work with textiles ranging from traditional hemp to modern, high-tech fabrics. Plus they'll spend half a day covering the basics of one of FurCanada's specialties, taxidermy.
To broaden their understanding of the fur trade still further, students will take field trips to a mink farm (Covid permitting), a trapline, and a fur retailer, and they'll take part in a First Nations seal harvest where they will learn proper retrieval and how to remove hides, blubber and meat.
Special Advisors, Guest Speakers
In devising the Learning Hub program, FurCanada wanted to
reflect the strong roots Canada's modern fur trade has in the 4,000-year-old
culture and heritage of the First Nations. For this, it was imperative to bring
the right advisors on board.
This role has been filled by three British Columbians, who will also serve as guest speakers: Chief Roy S. Jones Jr. of the Haida Gwaii First Nations; Tom Sewid, artist and commercial fisherman, of the Kwakwaka’wakw First Nations; and Chief Brian Wadhams of the 'Namgis First Nations.
Other guest speakers will represent fur retailing, trapping,
fur farming, fur manufacturing, taxidermy, auction houses, tanning, and
industry associations. There will also be government officials on hand to
explain the importance of environmental protection and animal welfare in this most
regulated of industries.
Last but not least, two special slots have been reserved for
media representatives to join the program, so they too will learn about the fur
trade and be able to tell our story. "We want the world to know First
Nations fur trappers and the Canadian fur trade are here to stay, to revive, to
flourish and to succeed," says Kania.
Why Teaching Matters
While the Learning Hub program is new, it's not FurCanada's
first foray into the world of teaching: last March it launched a series of Seal
Fur Workshops. So what drives Kania and his team to educate others?
"Perseverance and passion for the trade, passion for fur trappers, passion for Canada’s cultural heritage and our country’s history. There wouldn’t be a Canada today if it were not for the fur trade," says Kania. "And above all, passion for the animals that were sustainably harvested with the world's top state-of-the-art traps – which happen to be the most humane trapping devices available anywhere.
"I come from a fur trapping family, so it was very important to me that this element of the trade takes a leading role in this program. Fur schools have come and gone over the years, but none that I can recall enveloped the entire trade in one program. No other country has all the elements as Canada does – wild fur, farm-raised fur, trappers, fur auction houses, furriers, manufacturers, designers, tanners, and fur traders.
"And of course there's my passion for Indigenous First Nations people and their struggle within Canada. Among many issues facing the fur industry, the trade itself will have to come to terms at some point in acknowledging Indigenous reconciliation. Now, more than ever, is the right time to change the channel on how our trade functions. It’s time we think outside the box and make some radical changes if we wish to see it survive another 400 years. It starts with educating young people, one person at a time."
So is this how the Learning Hub fits into Kania's vision?
"Yes. In general terms, we want to ensure the preservation and continuation of the fur trade in Canada and also worldwide," he says. "And for the Canadian industry to survive and succeed in the 21st century, we must reach out to our most important benefactor, ally and the original producers of fur – the First Nations. The fur trade existed and flourished among First Nations long before white settlers arrived on our shores."
More specifically, the Learning Hub curriculum is designed
to give students a combination of practical skills and the knowledge they will
need to go out into the world and represent the fur trade accurately.
"For the fur designers and furriers of tomorrow to prosper, they should acquire as much knowledge as possible, not just about working with fur, but also where it comes from and its history," says Kania. "Learning Hub students will be the future of the trade, and we must give them the necessary tools to carry us forward."
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
Let me tell you first that a life of trapping in the Yukon was never something I’d intended. In fact,… Read More
Let me tell you first that a life of trapping in the Yukon was never something I'd intended. In fact, when my future mother-in-law wagged her finger at me, scolding me for my lack of skinning skills, I assured her that they wouldn’t be needed as I had no intention of becoming a trapper. Famous last words.
It all started out with me trying to be a supportive and interested girlfriend. At first, I would join George on weeknights in the skinning garage. We’d both put on matching blue gloves, and I’d help a little by clipping lynx claws and keeping body parts stable while he carefully skinned out whichever fur needed processing. Turns out it’s much faster to process a fur when you have four hands! After three years of working together on those cold, dark, late winter evenings in the garage, we’ve established a fairly efficient method of skinning together - and we’ve learned a lot about each other too.
In 2018, I opened a store in Whitehorse to sell the jewelry, accessories, and home decor items that I make with the furs from George’s trapline. After receiving questions about the trapline location and methods, I realized that I needed to be able to speak from first-hand experience, especially when it came to my customers' objections or just curiosity.
It’s magical out there, especially on the nights when the moon is full and the sky is clear.
So the same winter that I opened the store, I took my first trip out on the trapline, and I quickly discovered that I’d be put to work and not just watching. Before long, I had managed to inadvertently become George’s trapping assistant. I think this was his plan all along.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t dislike being out on the land in the winter, but I didn’t wake up one morning and think to myself, “I want to be a trapper!” Also, I hate driving a snowmobile. I’m little. I’m 5’ 4” and 140 lbs. Me vs. the Skandic 600ACE usually goes one way. We get stuck. I get mad. George has to rescue us.
Despite knowing this, I go out with him almost every weekend after the Christmas shopping season wraps up. In January and February, I’m the caboose to our two-sled convoy through often-drifted-in mountain passes in the dark. My anxiety can be a little high if we have to break trail, or if he gets so far ahead of me that I can’t see his tail light, but I will admit, it’s magical out there, especially on the nights when the moon is full and the sky is clear. Shooting stars are so frequent they almost stop being exciting.
Reading Tracks, Stolen Bait, and Roasted Smokies
Trapping is some of the most physically challenging work I’ve ever done, but I can’t overstate how much value I get from it as an artist, a resident of this incredible place, as a spouse, and as a business person. My personal and professional ethics are cemented in this work, specifically in the context of sustainability, renewability, and traceability.
Living in the North is an absolute gift, and seeing it in the winter, when you’re the only humans around for miles upon miles, is humbling and awe-inspiring. For my relationship with George, well, let’s just say we got engaged at the trapping cabin because of how much that place means to us.
In the three winters that I’ve joined my now-husband on the trapline, I have learned so much about reading tracks, solving the puzzle of stolen bait, what makes a good lynx or marten site, and so much more. I learned that if you snare a lynx but collect the dead animal before it freezes, the air in its lungs may be squeezed out with an alarming groan when you lift it. I scream every time!
I give George many reasons to laugh, though I don't always know whether he's laughing with me or at me. I’ve learned that smokies (sausage-like wieners) roasted over a fire make the best trail lunches, and how to consistently build quick lunch fires with the available tinder. Also, my ability to find the perfect stick to roast my smokie on is pretty fantastic. So is my ability to whittle that stick to an impressive point, ideal for impaling smokies. I’ve learned that handle bar warmers on snowmobiles give me life, and I wish that I had something similar in my seat. I’ve learned that when I do get my sled stuck and I’m super mad about it, I’m a very strong and powerful shoveler.
Design and Innovation Award
In February of this year, I attended the five-day trapper training course organised by the Yukon Department of Environment. This was a great experience for me - except maybe for the practical trap-setting bit that took place at -40°, but I digress.
In the skinning portion of the course, I was able to process my own lynx from our trapline. Additionally, I was able to lead a portion of the course by contributing insights into the business of selling furs and fur goods.
This upcoming October 2020 marks the second anniversary of our store in Whitehorse. In May, I was awarded the Design and Innovation award from the Craft Council of BC for three of my designs. I was competing against 60 other earring designers and nearly 200 styles. My earrings were the only ones using fur.
This news came at a great time considering the challenges and uncertainty of the current economic impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic. The award has created numerous opportunities in both print media and on social media for us to speak about the ethical and sustainable use of wild furs.
We know that we’ve got our work cut out for us in having created a product that people often feel very strongly about, but we understand our responsibility to use this polarizing issue as a springboard into meaningful conversations on a public, global stage. We often direct curious minds to the Truth About Fur website for information about furs, harvesting practices, and other ethical and moral matters. The content is a valuable part of how we educate and inform consumers.
Going forward, we have every intention of continuing to promote the use of wild furs, and to educate the public on the benefits of fur. We are especially committed to emphasizing our promise to source our furs from Indigenous trappers. We are working to build a strong fur industry in the Yukon that is self-sufficient and sustainable for future generations.
Our hope is that the work we do now, and the stories that we share, can serve to benefit the local trappers and communities, consumer behaviour, and the fur and fashion industries over the long term. We have a responsibility to work together to integrate traditional teachings into our practices, and to maintain a spirit of humility and gratitude all the while.
Having this life and generating my livelihood from the bounty of the land is a tremendous honour and privilege. As I learn more about my place in this big world, I am reminded that while I am one small individual, my role as an educator is very important, and I have a responsibility to help shift attitudes towards using wild fur, particularly in the context of supporting Indigenous trappers.
If I can change a few minds about trapping in the Yukon and even open a few more, then I think I’m doing exactly what I’ve set out to do. Judging by the occasions where laughter, tears, and hugging (pre-Covid) have been central to the interactions in my store, I’d say I'm accomplishing my goals.
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
I went North with the Hudson’s Bay Company in April of 1969, a young guy of 19 with a lot… Read More
I went North with the Hudson’s Bay Company in April of 1969, a young guy of 19 with a lot of curiosity about Inuit and the Arctic. I was also a kabloona, or white man, embarking on a journey that would shape me for the rest of my life.
My preliminary interview was at the Hudson’s Bay Company fur-buying warehouse in my home town of North Bay, Ontario. My brother had been doing some trapping while at high school and we sometimes went in to the HBC to buy a trap or two, or sell a few of his furs there. So I was familiar with the place.
I guess I passed the test, and next thing I was off to Winnipeg for more paperwork, a medical, and a bit of dental work. Then it was off to Cambridge Bay on Victoria Island, at 69° North, or about 3° above the Arctic Circle. I flew with the district manager in the company’s DC3 on skis. We got weathered in at Churchill, Manitoba for a couple days along the way.
Cambridge Bay was a larger regional centre by then, and I was mostly involved in retail sales to the Inuit, commonly called Eskimos at the time. Inuit were going through big changes then, moving in from camps to the settlement where there was a store, church, school, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. The transition from igloos to wooden houses, and from dog teams to snowmobiles, was well under way. Unfortunately there was a lot of drinking at the time, in part because of the cross-cultural shocks, and I got tired of that aspect pretty quick.
After ten months I got an opportunity to move to Gjoa Haven, a small community of a couple hundred people on King William Island, near where John Franklin’s ships were subsequently found on the ocean bottom. I liked Gjoa Haven, which was named after Roald Amundsen’s ship Gjøa, which over-wintered there early in the 20th century. Both Cambridge Bay and Gjoa Haven have Inuktitut names now - Iqaluktuuttiaq and Uqsuqtuuq - and it is considered respectful to call the people Inuit, not Eskimos.
Gjoa was where I got my real appreciation of Inuit as denizens of the frozen land and seascape. There was virtually no drinking there, and I was able to get to know some of the people there very well.
I was manager-trainee which kept me busy doing everything from retail sales to book-keeping, and buying fur and carvings. I learned to grade white fox, ring and harp seals, wolf, and polar bear skins. We had an SSB radio to communicate with Cambridge and other communities as necessary, and we had an airplane once a week, a Twin Otter on floats or skis depending on the season.
Char, Geese, and Ptarmigans
I had a tent out by the river where I would spend weekends fishing for arctic char and hunting for Canada geese. In winter I went out with Inuit on occasion to check their fox traps. I bought myself a 15 HP Olympic snowmobile and I would go out hunting ptarmigans on the flat terrain in the area.
One could get lost very easily there so I had to be careful about whiteouts that could come up quickly. But generally I would be with Inuit friends, who were always happy to take out a kabloona like me and show me their ways. The relationship between employees of HBC, or Bay Boys, and the local people had always been quite good in the area. There were some Here Before Christ and Hungry Belly Company jibes that came with HBC having no competition, but generally things were fair.
I looked forward to getting out on a caribou hunt and finally I got my chance. Three Inuit hunters and I travelled over ice and land for the first day until we stopped at a likely looking spot with good drift snow and built an igloo. It was fascinating to observe and pitch in. It was done just in time as the weather turned nasty and we were in there for 24 hours. One of the hunters had found an owl nest with eggs so he took two, leaving the rest to hatch. Those were cooked in our tea on a primus stove inside. There was a drip, drip, drip from the uppermost point as things warmed up.
I recall one incident in particular in that igloo that summed up the importance of sharing everything. My companions observed me brushing my teeth and spitting out into a little hole I'd made in our snowy floor. They asked if they could use my toothbrush to do the same. My kabloona upbringing said absolutely not, but of course I had to consent!
As the weather cleared we were on the move again. We spotted some caribou and I downed one, while the Inuit were stalking some others. One was wounded and I was instructed to finish it by inserting my knife into its brain. Well, that was a bit hard, but it won some respect from my co-hunters. Back into another igloo for the night, we gorged ourselves on boiled and fried caribou meat. I had noted that very little of each caribou went to waste. The antlers were kept for carving, the skins for clothing, and virtually all the meat, even the contents of the caribou’s stomach that had the consistency of spinach.
Our final stop on this re-provisioning quest was a stop at an isolated DEW Line station where about a dozen kabloonas were attached to their radar screens for incoming Russian bombers and missiles. There was a canteen there, and after a bit of an icy welcome (very security-conscious in those days) we were allowed to purchase some cases of pop and chocolate bars, precious cargo as supplies of these in Gjoa were gone until ship-time in August. The cases of pop were wrapped in our sleeping bags and caribou skins in an effort to get them home before freezing.
A couple of kilometres from the community, we caught up with a dog team heading back from a hunt. We were two snowmobiles pulling loaded kamotiks (sleds) travelling at five times the speed. Our mode was more efficient in terms of time, if you were lucky enough to have one of the few wage jobs in the community. But as it was pointed out to me, you can eat your dogs if you get lost on the land, but you can’t eat your snowmobile. And those dogs can alert you and fight for you if you are attacked by a polar bear that can easily stand up and knock down your igloo to get at the goodies inside.
This first caribou hunting trip with three Inuit made for some good instruction in local customs and some treasured memories to this day. One of the hunters with me, Uriash Pokenak, later became a Member of the Legislative Assembly when the “new” Nunavut Territory was created in 1999. On a more sombre note, one of my colleagues from this hunt, Frank Sheeotinoak, was lost a few years later in a boating accident when he fell out of a boat in a rough ocean.
I spent three years with the Hudson’s Bay Company and it was good to me. I lived in five Arctic communities and did relief management in two Dene communities in northern Alberta. Good training, good fellowship, and good memories. I have a lasting appreciation of the traditional ties of our indigenous peoples to the land that has sustained them for so long.
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
The American fur trade played an important role in the country’s history, and continues to provide employment for thousands of… Read More
The American fur trade played an important role in the country's history, and continues to provide employment for thousands of citizens today. In celebration of America's Independence Day this July 4, let’s meet just a few representatives of the modern fur trade!
Read on to hear from furbearer biologist Bryant White, who considers trapping a vital tool in the managing of wildlife. Next up is Bob Zimbal, whose mink farm in Wisconsin has been operating for sixty years. Then we're off to the Big Apple to talk with fur designer Maria Reich, who calls small businesses like hers "the heart of New York." And rounding out our series of July 4 interviews is another New Yorker, garment manufacturer Nick Pologeorgis, whose family history has been the American dream!
Bryant White – “Trapping Is Essential to Wildlife Management”
Bryant White is the Furbearer Research Program Manager with the Association of Fish & Wildlife Agencies (AFWA), currently based at the Arizona Game and Fish Department headquarters in Phoenix. Much of his work involves research related to Best Management Practices for the conservation of furbearing animals.
How is trapping regulated to ensure that it is done humanely
“Everything is based on research,” says Bryant. “Trapping seasons are opened only when the young of the year are autonomous and have set out to establish territories of their own. When necessary, harvest quotas protect vulnerable species. Types of trapping devices and how they may be used are also regulated, to ensure animal welfare as well as the safety of pets and the public."
And what does he think the public needs to know about
“I think we have to help the non-trapping public to
understand that trapping would be important even if no one wanted fur,” he
“Regulated trapping is now an essential element of responsible wildlife management in the USA. Many people don’t know that modern traps are used to capture animals, unharmed, to apply radio collars for research -- or to reintroduce species (wolves and river otters) into regions where they were previously eradicated."
We need to do a better job informing people of the important contributions that trappers make to our conservation efforts!
“Trapping is also essential to protect some thirty endangered species of plants and animals. Whooping cranes, for example, would almost certainly be completely extinct in the USA within two years if we didn’t aggressively trap predators like coyotes and foxes in their nesting areas. Endangered sea turtles are also protected by trapping raccoons and foxes that seek to dig up their eggs. Wolves must be managed to protect livestock, while beavers can cause millions of dollars of damage to forest habitat, water supplies, agricultural land, roads and other property by flooding. Skunks and raccoons in cities carry lethal diseases (rabies) and dangerous parasites, such as roundworm, which can migrate out of the intestines and can affect many organs and tissues, including the brain. They can be lethal."
Bryant believes that harvesting meat and fur from the wild is just as ethical as buying leather shoes, a steak dinner, or a can of chicken soup.
“What is important is that we hunt and trap in a responsible and sustainable fashion. Some people question the ethics of trapping animals for fur, but the fur trade actually helps us to protect furbearing species by giving them economic value. It’s all very good to say we care about wildlife, but when the tough decisions get made, economic value does matter. When someone comes to cut down the forest to build a new shopping mall, we can say, whoa, this forest does help the economy, it provides local income and resources from hunters and fishers and trappers – let’s leave it alone."
“Not least important, it’s hunters, fishers and trappers who
pay for the state agencies that monitor, manage and protect wildlife
populations and their habitat. They pay with their hunting, fishing and
trapping licenses. Without these revenues there would be no funding for the
wildlife agencies that manage most of the wildlife in this country!
“From our perspective, as biologists and wildlife agencies, trappers are managing wildlife and doing essential conservation work. We need these people and we should respect what they do. We have done opinion research and 80% of Americans say that it's OK to trap to protect habitat, it’s OK to trap to protect endangered species, it’s OK to manage wildlife to control disease or protect property. We need to do a better job informing people of the important contributions that trappers make to our conservation efforts!”
Raising mink is a lifestyle as much as a job, says Bob Zimbal, at his family farm in Wisconsin.
“When we come out in the morning, we look forward to feeding the animals and taking care of their needs,” he says.
“Sixty years ago my grandfather and my father started Zimbal Mink. Mink had not been domesticated for so very long, so there was a learning process how to care for the animals and feed them. As I child, I always helped on the farm, and my father taught me to pay attention to the animals and look at their health and each individual mink’s needs.
“The great thing about raising mink is that we can feed them proteins not used for human consumption, the parts of food animals that people don’t eat. So we’re recycling what would otherwise be wasted. All our mink feed is processed on-site, in our own feed kitchen, so it’s as fresh as possible.
“We work with nutritionists, because throughout the year, the minks' needs are always changing. When a mink is reproducing, its requirements are different than when it’s growing or furring. So our food is sent weekly to a laboratory to have it analyzed to make sure that we’re meeting the needs of the mink."
“We have a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility. We can open
the roofs and sides and the air will flow through the building, to keep it
cooler in the summer. But also we can close it up in bad weather in the winter
to protect the animals from the environment.
“This facility is designed to make the mink comfortable, but also make it efficient for the people that are caring for the animals. So the way the bedding is put into the pens, the way they are kept clean – things like that are designed with what’s comfortable for the animal, but also what is efficient for the employees."
There’s a lot more involved in producing beautiful mink than most people understand!
“This is the heart of the fur fashion business in the US,” says Maria. “There are more than 1,500 people working in fur and affiliated businesses in New York City.”
“Our company was started by my late husband’s grandfather,
Charlie Reich, who arrived here from Poland in 1938. He fought in World War II,
and then returned to start Reich Furs. His great-granddaughter, Samantha Ortiz,
is now president of the company.
“I am a single working mom, and small businesses like ours are the heart of New York. We are a design-driven company and we directly employ 20 people, but we also work with – and provide work for – many other New York Garment District companies: designers, manufacturers, wholesalers, retailers.
Every scrap is used for something and never goes to waste. We are constantly finding new ways to use and re-use fur!
“We are a fully integrated company. We do everything here,
from developing new designs, to producing apparel and accessories, which we
offer directly to consumers.
“When it comes to fur fashion, there are plenty of
misconceptions. It is more than just a luxury product, it is also a highly
regulated and sustainable industry.
“Many of our clients come in with their great grandmother's fur coat, wanting it restyled and modernized. There are not many materials you can do this with. We also up-cycle a lot of our furs. Every scrap is used for something and never goes to waste. We are constantly finding new ways to use and re-use fur!"
Nick’s father, Stanley, started Pologeorgis Furs in 1960, after arriving in New York from Crete. He apprenticed in a fur workshop without pay and became a master fur craftsman. He was one of the first furriers to forge relationships with top international designers, collaborating with Pierre Balmain from 1970.
Nick joined the business when he finished his degree in finance at Boston University, in 1984. His sister, Joan Pologeorgis, who graduated from New York City's Fashion Institute of Technology, serves as vice-president in charge of production and is co-owner. It has been a family-owned and operated business for over 60 years.
“We love fur; we love making beautiful clothing with one of nature’s most luxurious materials,” says Nick.
The Pologeorgis story is the American dream. My dad built our company from nothing, through hard work and dedication.
Pologeorgis has made furs for a long list of celebrities, including Elizabeth Taylor, Aretha Franklin, and Rihanna. “We made a beautiful white mink for Serena Williams,” he recalls.
“The business never stops changing. Fur is now used for accessories
and for home furnishings, making it much more accessible to more people. Fur is
even used to make felt for hats, and for rugs.
“Lifestyle is very important now too. There will always be the beautiful, classic garments, but you also want to have fun, not-so-precious pieces. The biggest trend is the mixing of fur with ready-to-wear fabric. How it all goes together is important.
“The Pologeorgis story is the American dream. My dad built our company from nothing, through hard work and dedication. Hard working, industrious immigrants continue to form the backbone of the fur market today. The fur trade supports thousands of families in New York and across America.”
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HAPPY CANADA DAY 2020! On the first day of July each year, we celebrate the uniting of three British colonies – the… Read More
HAPPY CANADA DAY 2020! On the first day of July each year, we celebrate the uniting of three British colonies – the Province of Canada, Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick – into one federation, the Dominion of Canada, on July 1, 1867. It’s also a fine time to reflect on the unique role played by the fur trade in shaping our country.
Historians recall the role played by Europeans searching for fur in opening up our vast lands. But we should also remember that fur trading had been practiced here for hundreds, if not thousands of years before Europeans arrived.
When French navigator and explorer Jacques Cartier first visited the island of Montreal in 1535, he found Montagnais hunters from what is now northern Quebec already trading fur for food produced by Iroquoian farmers in the St-Lawrence valley.
Fur trading between First Nations and Europeans began when French fishermen came to exploit the vast stocks of codfish off Newfoundland and in the Gulf of St-Lawrence. When Cartier landed on the coast of northern New Brunswick, in 1534, he met Indigenous people who clearly had experience with Europeans, holding up fur pelts on sticks and eager to trade.
In the five centuries that followed, Canada’s fur trade came to reflect the country’s cultural mosaic at its best: First Nations, French, English, Scots, Jews, Greeks and many others have worked together to build this remarkable heritage industry with its dynamic tradition of competition and cooperation.
(Click here for an expanded version of this interview.)
Like so many in the industry, Dan Kahnert’s relationship with fur is a family affair.
“My great-grandfather learned the fur trade in Germany and came to Canada in the late 1800s. His son, my grandfather, moved to Toronto where he would travel around taking orders, and then cut and sew coats in his home. It was my father, Allan, who opened our first showroom on Avenue Road in 1957, where Kahnert’s is still located.
“I would help out at the store on weekends, and decided by the end of high school that I wanted to join the family business. That’s what I did in 1984, after completing my degree in economics and business at the University of Western Ontario. I arrived home with all my college furniture and everything on April 30 and began working full-time in the store the next day; it was storage season and there was no time for a break!
“We worked hard, six days a week, but I enjoyed the challenges of running a business, being our own bosses, analysing problems and implementing a plan. My older brothers, Bernie and John, were already working at the store with my father, and John and I still run the business together today. It really helped that dad was very open to letting us try new ideas, like when I brought in computers in the 1990s.”
What does Dan like best about being a retail furrier?
“In addition to working with my brother and running our own business, what I enjoy most is the opportunity to meet lots of new people. While not every customer is easy, as everyone working in retail knows, generally we meet lots of very nice people. When we say, ‘It’s been a pleasure doing business with you,’ it’s not just a cliché, it really is how we feel.”
We are on the front line with consumers, and we are proud to do our part to promote fur on behalf of all the people who make up this uniquely Canadian heritage industry!
“Unfortunately, we have difficulty getting across our messages about the real environmental advantages of wearing fur. Fur is a sustainably produced, long-lasting, recyclable and biodegradable natural material. Animal activists have created very damaging confusion about the real environmental issues. It makes no sense telling people to use petroleum-based synthetics instead of long-lasting natural and biodegradable materials. The saddest thing is that most consumers we speak with do appreciate the warmth, comfort and beauty of natural fur, but they feel intimidated.
“We have adapted, of course: we will sell our customer a shearling coat – because, ironically, shearling is not seen as fur. Or a fur-lined coat. We have also added cashmere and other cloth coats, with or without fur trim. Not because there’s anything wrong with fur, but because fur has been tangled up in a very complex societal discussion about using animals, which includes everything from medical research to circuses to eating meat. Fur, unfortunately, has become a scapegoat, because we are really a very small-scale industry; we don’t have the financial or professional clout that large corporations can muster to tell their story when they are attacked.”
And the future?
“I don’t think fur will ever really go out of style, because it is so in tune with growing environmental concerns. We have to keep working on telling that story, but ultimately it is up to the consumer to make an educated decision on the benefits of buying fur products ” says Dan.
“But, bottom line, as a retailer your success depends on satisfying your customer. We are located in a wonderful residential neighbourhood and therefore do not rely on tourist sales that might occur in downtown Toronto. We rely on community word of mouth with support from our online business. We have one of the city’s best collections of high-quality coats, and we work hard to take good care of every customer. We are on the front line with consumers, and we are proud to do our part to promote fur on behalf of all the people who make up this uniquely Canadian heritage industry!”
If you’ve never heard of Farley Chatto, then you’re probably not in tune with fashion, and couture in particular. But if you love couture and Canadian design, Farley is probably a household name. Not only is he an internationally recognized designer, he is also a stylist for celebrities. He consults with Hollywood A-list hit TV shows and movies, including Suits, Christmas Chronicles, American Gods and more. As a Toronto resident, he is proud of his Canadian roots.
Farley’s love for fur began in his childhood. In winter, his father would pick him up from school wearing a muskrat-lined Royal Canadian Mounted Police hat. He remembers touching it and loving how soft it was, and thus began his love affair with fur. As he grew up in the 1980s, the fur was a staple as a must-have luxury item on TV shows.
“In the 1980s, Dynasty was a top-rated show depicting the lives of the rich and powerful, where fur and excessive fashion were a big part of the show’s popularity,” he recalls. “Then, one day, I asked my mother if I could have a sheared beaver bomber jacket for winter. Sadly I didn’t get the coat, yet I was hooked on the tactility of fur!”
People forget that this country exists because of fur. Fur is the fabric that bundled our nation together.
Farley continues to be proud that fur is as Canadian as apple pie is to Americans. Because fur is a staple in the fashion industry, he was anxious to incorporate it into his designs when he entered the field.
“Being a Canadian designer can be challenging,” he says. “I’ve been on the scene for 32 years, and the beginning wasn’t easy. I applied and was accepted to three fashion schools here and in the US, yet I decided to remain true to my roots and stay here. People forget that this country exists because of fur. Fur is the fabric that bundled our nation together.”
When asked on advice for young designers with interest in fur, Farley’s motto is: “If you have an opportunity, take it! Sign up for courses, join workshops, learn with First Nations people, put yourself out there.”
Wherever Farley travels, whether to teach or research, he touts the sustainability of fur fashion to others. As he says, it’s #furtastic.
Shawna Ujaralaaq Dias – Traditional Fur-Trimmed Parkas with a Modern Twist
As a child, Shawna lived for several years in a tiny settlement in Wager Bay, above the Arctic Circle on the extreme northwest coast of Hudson’s Bay.
“My grandfather had run the Hudson’s Bay post that was built there in 1925; there were only 15 people when my parents were living there, all family,” she says. “They would take the dog team to visit with other families nearby.
“It was a great life. My father hunted and trapped – foxes and wolves — and we were always outdoors, active and healthy – not like the kids who sit in front of computer screens these days!
“We kids would help to clean and scrape skins, and I began sewing by the time I was seven. I was using a sewing machine soon after that.”
The family moved about 300 kilometres south to Rankin Inlet, a small town (population 2,800, in 2016), so Shawna could attend school, but returned to their camp in Wager Bay each summer to hunt, fish and reconnect with the land.
“I didn’t even speak English until we moved to Rankin,” says Shawna. “We spoke Inuktitut, and I was lucky to learn all the traditional ways. These are the traditions I celebrate in my sewing.”
Now married with three grown children (18, 21 and 24) and a government job, Shawna never stopped sewing, and about ten years ago started her own business.
There is so much skill and creativity in the communities, and now with the Internet we have access to the world!
“People would see my fur-trimmed parkas and ask if I could make them one. Now I show new parkas on my Facebook page, and they are usually sold within 48 hours. Even though we live in a remote community, the Internet puts us into contact with customers across Canada and even in the US or beyond!”
Shawna now has more than 6,000 Facebook followers, and in 2017 she began selling dressed fur pelts, in addition to parkas.
“A lot of the ladies in small northern communities are sewers, but they often have difficulty finding fur pelts to work with. They really appreciate being able to get dressed furs from me up here.
“I like to promote the work of other ladies too,” said Shawna. “There is so much skill and creativity in the communities, and now with the Internet we have access to the world!”
So: with a government job and a growing sewing business, does Shawna still have time to connect with the land?
“For sure, we still go out to our hunting camp most weekends, and every summer. My husband only came north about 20 years ago, but he learned many hunting and trapping skills from my dad, and he loves the life here. My boys also hunt caribou and seals. We have a good life, and I am happy to be able to share some of the beauty of our Inuit culture with my sewing.”
CANADA'S FUR MANUFACTURERS
Christina Nacos – Re-inventing Fur for the Next Generation
Some people are born into the fur industry, some people choose it. For Christina Nacos, it was both.
Her father, Tom Nacos, is a legend of the Canadian fur industry. After learning the trade in his native village of Siatista, in the mountains of northern Greece, he emigrated to Montreal in the 1950s and proceeded to build one of North America’s most important fur manufacturing and retailing empires.
Christina crossed the ocean in the opposite direction, living in England for several years, where she worked in advertising. She returned to Canada in 1998 to work with Natural Furs, one of her father’s companies, and as one of the younger people leading a major company in the industry – and one of the very few women – she quickly began exploring ways to adapt fur for young people like herself.
“I think that each generation learns from their predecessors, but then has to make the industry their own, adapting fur for their time. That’s how fur has always evolved,” she says.
Under Christina’s leadership, Natural Furs was one of the first companies to participate actively in FurWorks Canada, an innovative project coordinated by the Fur Council of Canada to modernize fur fashion, mixing fur with other materials for a sportier look that reflected more modern, active lifestyles. Natural Furs was also a strong supporter of the Fur Council’s “Beautifully Canadian” collective branding initiative.
Christina is a strong believer in the important role of industry associations, especially in a sector made up of hundreds of small family businesses; she has served as vice-president of the Fur Council for many years.
As society thinks more deeply about the challenge of shifting to a more sustainable economy, fur will make more sense than ever.
Christina’s latest project to bring fur fashion into the 21st century is a major push to promote recycled – or “upcycled” – fur, to make fur more accessible and avoid waste. Branded as FURB Upcycled, the collection is attracting younger women who may never have worn fur before.
“We noticed that many young people were attracted by the nostalgia of remodelling furs they had inherited from their parents or grandparents. It’s a way to reconnect with the past, and it’s totally in synch with current efforts to prevent waste and use sustainable materials. Often we’re using the fur inside the garment, to maximize its warmth and functionality. We’re mixing upcycled fur with other materials, and exploring a more laid back, Scandinavian aesthetic.
“My sister-in-law, Sarah Nacos, has now joined me in the company. She’s 28, and brings the sensibility of an even younger generation of women to our designs,” she says.
“Each generation brings something new to fur. Young women today love the echo of the past in an upcycled piece, and they appreciate the durability of fur, which prevents waste – all important sustainability virtues.
“As society thinks more deeply about the challenge of shifting to a more sustainable economy, fur will make more sense than ever,” she says.
So Christina Nacos is continuing a family tradition in the best possible way: by totally rethinking how fur can be adapted for the next generation.
CANADA'S FIRST NATIONS
Robert Grandjambe – Deeply Connected to the Land
Robert Grandjambe Jr. is a Woodland Cree from Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories, whose roots go back to Fort Chipewyan, Alberta, where generations of his family trapped to survive. For many southerners, and city dwellers in particular, his deep connection to the land may seem like a dream lifestyle, and sometimes even hard to understand, so it helps that he is committed to explaining it to anyone who will listen.
Trapping is a perfect example. “I think people need to better understand the importance of what trappers do, because I don’t think they get it,” he says. “We must educate people to understand that everything the trapper does contributes to a natural and sustainable way of life and the environment, and is crucial for the culture and health of our communities.”
Robert started learning trapping from his father when he was six years old, and now he’s determined to pass on everything he’s learned. Out of trapping season, when he’s not working as a contractor, he does presentations in schools about culture, craft-making, hunting and gathering, and of course trapping. Also receiving a solid grounding in what it means to live on the land is his toddler daughter.
“As a father you want to leave a legacy,” he says. “I want to give her all my knowledge and experience from the trapline, and from there she can choose her own path. So I will continue to bring her into this world, so she can understand and know it well.”
Among the lessons that Robert passes on is the importance of supporting your community at large, and for him this means providing food – as much as he can, be it moose, ducks, bison, bear, geese, or any of the other wild bounty the land provides. He views food as “the thing that brings us all together at the same table and sustains us, no matter who we are or where we come from.”
We always ask ourselves, how can we do it better when it comes to animal treatment?
As for trapping, one important aspect that is close to Robert’s heart – as it is for most trappers – is animal welfare. In part this might be because his great-great-grandfather trapped in the early 1900s alongside Frank Conibear, one of the founders of the humane trapping movement, who in turn learned much about respecting animals by working alongside Indigenous people.
Robert is adamant that concern over animal welfare is not a recent development forced on trappers by the animal rights movement. “We always ask ourselves, how can we do it better when it comes to animal treatment?” he says. “The standards have improved dramatically over the years and we still strive to keep improving. As trappers, we always focus on only taking what we need, and making sure we respect the animals and the environment.”
As for the future of wild fur, Robert has a positive outlook, despite the many challenges facing trappers. He may not have all the answers yet, but he’s confident the pieces are all there to make it happen.
“I truly believe trappers and wild fur will always have a place in this world,” he says. “We needed it once just to survive, but today it is about much more than that: It’s about social and cultural values, family values, our health and well-being, and protecting nature, ecosystems and the environment.”
D’Arcy Moses – First Nations Heritage Inspires Modern Fur Designs
(Click here for an expanded version of this interview.)
If you are looking for a designer who incarnates the Canadian fur trade’s rich cultural mosaic, D’Arcy Moses is an obvious choice. Adopted at birth and raised by a non-native farming family in Camrose, Alberta, D’Arcy set out to connect with his aboriginal roots after he left home. While his background sometimes left him feeling uncomfortable (“like an apple, red on the outside, white inside”), in Vancouver he met Leonard George, chief of the Tsleil-Waututh Nation, who assured him he could have the best of both worlds. “He told me, ‘You have the First Nations culture and you have the non-aboriginal culture. You can utilize that, because you can mix between cultures at ease.’”
D’Arcy’s chance to apply his unusual heritage to designing clothing came at the Toronto Fashion Incubator, and in 1991 his work was featured at the Toronto Festival of Fashion. Then he was invited to Montreal by the Fur Council of Canada, and began working with one of the country’s most important luxury apparel manufacturers, Natural Furs.
The unique, aboriginally inspired collections D’Arcy developed went to high-end retailers in North America, Europe and Asia, and a retrospective collection of his work was recently added by the Government of the Northwest Territories to its permanent collection of Indigenous arts and crafts.
Progressives who want to ban fur need to look at the whole ecosystem, the broader impact of industries, not just the individual animal.
Then in 1996 his life took another unusual turn. After CBC aired a documentary about him, he received a call from the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation, in Wrigley, NWT. Moses is a common family name there, and they had been looking for him. So D’Arcy left the glamour and hectic pace of international fashion to settle in the home he had never known. His business experience landed him a government job, but sewing and designing were never far from his mind.
Twelve years later he had saved the funds needed for his current project: a workshop in Enterprise, NWT, a community even smaller and more remote than Wrigley. “I needed somewhere I wouldn’t be distracted from my design work,” he says.
And the work has been abundant and diverse. In January, D’Arcy participated in a residency at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, and he will return to Banff to lead a workshop for Indigenous design students from around the world. “We will be using traditional techniques to re-purpose fur, leather and other natural materials,” he says.
“Many people in my community still hunt and trap, and their attachment to the land is very strong. But natural materials like fur are also important at a time when people are increasingly concerned about protecting our natural environment. So-called ‘fast fashion’ is killing the Earth.
“Progressives who want to ban fur need to look at the whole ecosystem, the broader impact of industries, not just the individual animal. When we look at the whole picture, from sourcing to use and maintenance, through to disposal, it is clear that we should be using responsibly and sustainably sourced natural materials – wool, leather, fur. The First Nations understood that we are part of nature and that we have an obligation to use resources with respect. I hope that my designs, marrying traditional and modern themes, can help people remember these important lessons,” says D’Arcy.
Tom McLellan – Mink Farming Maintains Proud Rural Heritage
Tom McLellan, a third-generation mink farmer from Ontario, feels tremendous pride when he speaks of his family’s history and their contribution to the early agricultural economy in Canada. “It is comforting to know that my family has been a part of what helped shape Canada into the nation that it is today,” he says.
“My father and his father before him loved working with animals and, being a part of Canada’s agricultural development just made the work even more satisfying. Now my sons are learning about fur and our connection to the birth of our great nation. It’s a wonderful feeling,” he says.
We are always studying the science behind mink farming to improve the health of our animals and make them comfortable and happy.
The early days of the fur trade focused on trapping, and the beaver pelt was the motor of the economy. By the end of the 19th century, Canadians were pioneering fur farming as the way to produce uniform, high-quality pelts without overexploiting wild populations. Over time, farmed mink became the most popular fur for consumers who appreciated the warmth and luxury.
“Improving the quality of the fur and keeping our animals healthy is what keeps us going on a daily basis,” says Tom. “We are always studying the science behind mink farming to improve the health of our animals and make them comfortable and happy.”
Canadian mink farmers are proud to produce some of the finest furs in the world, and also of their commitment to animal welfare. They follow codes of practice developed by the National Farm Animal Care Council, and their farms are certified by independent auditors. This Canadian heritage industry is proud of its past and, equally important, is well positioned to continue supporting rural communities.
What makes someone get up early each morning and put in long days on the farm?
“We are proud of the care we provide for our animals,” says Joe Williams who, with his two brothers, runs two mink farms in the lower mainland of British Columbia.
“It’s a family tradition, and fur is part of Canada’s heritage,” says Joe.
“Canadians pioneered the farm raising of furbearing animals, foxes on Prince Edward Island and mink in Ontario, and we are proud to be part of that heritage.
“My father started his first farm in 1990, and I would help him on weekends and after school,” he recalls.
“For sure it’s lots of hard work, but it’s rewarding. I like working for myself and being outdoors and caring for the animals. There’s a satisfaction in following the full cycle with the animals, from breeding season, to whelping and ensuring the pups are healthy, right through to the final product.
“I am also lucky to be working with my brothers,” says Joe.
What would he like people to know about mink farming?
“I would like people to understand how hard we work to keep our mink healthy and content. Every day we are adjusting their care and nutrition, depending on the time of year and their growth cycle. The proportion of proteins and fats and other elements are adjusted depending on whether the mink are being prepared for mating or whelping or growth. We are learning all the time.
“And then we are maintaining pens and barns and equipment; mixing feed; planning genetics for the next mating season, working to improve our herd.
“There’s a lot more that goes into this than most people understand. And, honestly, if you don’t care about the health and welfare of the mink, you really can’t do a good job; it will show in the quality of the fur you produce.”
Fur makes more sense than ever in our eco-conscious times!
And what would Joe say to a consumer considering the purchase of fur apparel or accessories?
“I would like consumers to know that fur is produced responsibly and sustainably. Mink are carnivores; they are fed left-overs from our food production system, the parts of chickens, pigs, fish and other animals we don’t eat and would otherwise end up in landfills.
“We basically recycle those ‘wastes’ by feeding mink to produce a warm, beautiful and long-lasting natural clothing material,” says Joe.
“At a time when we are all looking for ways to ensure that our lifestyle choices are helping to protect nature for future generations, I would like consumers to know they can wear fur with pride. Fur is an important part of our Canadian and North American heritage. And fur makes more sense than ever in our eco-conscious times!”
"The love of Canada and our national heritage is nowhere better reflected than in the fur trade," says Katie. "For me to be a part of this incredible industry is beyond humbling. Spending time out in the wilderness and being at one with Mother Nature and learning from my father is where my pride begins.
"I know that we are using the most humane methods possible, and respecting the delicate balance of nature to ensure viable populations for years to come. So I take pride in carrying on my family traditions, while playing the role as a steward of the land. There is no better way to spend one's time than with family, doing what you love."
Katie then takes this a step further, turning raw pelts into stunning fur garments.
"For me to be able to take this passion and turn it into a creative, fashionable yet functional wild fur product to be enjoyed for generations to come, is also a gift I hold dear," she says. "Nature and the fur trade itself have been major influences in my daily life that allow me to translate them into usable pieces of art and heritage. Being able to express myself through my creations has allowed me to grow as an individual."
Standing side by side with some of the most respected people in our industry that I call family and friends, is what lets me know I am where I belong.
"However, true pride shines brightest within the fur community if you ask me. The camaraderie between trappers and their families is unrivalled. The way we share our knowledge with one another, as well as the willingness to help educate newcomers, strengthens our friendships and grows our community as a whole. Trappers and their families are a closely knit community no matter where you go. There are always friendly smiles and stories to be heard."
Completing the picture, as it were, of a lady who lives and breathes fur, is Katie's involvement in advocacy.
"Finally, knowing that I have the backing from my local trappers council, as well as the Ontario trappers, is where my creativity, passion and strength come together. Helping fight for the rights of trappers, all the while educating the public about why the fur trade is so important to Canadians. Standing side by side with some of the most respected people in our industry that I call family and friends, is what lets me know I am where I belong.
"So be it on the trapline, in the studio, or at a board meeting, I know that what I do and love makes a difference. By being a part of this vast community and historical trade, with so much more to be shared and done in the near future, I cannot wait to see where we as a whole will take it.
"This is how we grow as a community, and these are just a few of the many reasons why I am proud to be a trapper."
Robin Horwath – Trappers Are "Great Stewards of the Land"
Hailing from Blind River, Ontario, Robin Horwath started helping his father on the trapline at the age of 12. In so doing, he became the next torchbearer of a family tradition that dates back to both his grandfathers.
"As we go through life, it is not always clear at the time what or who influenced us along the way," he says. "When my Grandpa Temple died at the age of 99, I saw a photo of him in an album for the first time. It was taken in 1928, and shows skunks and muskrats hanging on a shed, all skinned, boarded and ready to sell. Today, that photo is on my desk at work.
"When I was still nine or ten, I remember both him and my Grandpa Horwath telling me that they both had trapped skunks and muskrats. At the start of the Great Depression, they were paid $3 a muskrat and $5 a skunk. When I saw the picture of Grandpa Temple, it brought back all the stories they had told me as a child.
"My father was a great influence also, as he taught me to hunt, trap and fish as I grew up, and learn our family's traditions and values.
"So I am proud to have carried on my family's way of life. I have followed in the footsteps of my grandfathers and father, joined by my brother and my son. And hopefully my two young grandsons will want to do the same in the future."
Aside from the personal pride Robin has in continuing his family's heritage, he's also committed to serving others in the trade. Today he is both general manager for the Ontario Fur Managers Federation and a board member of the Fur Institute of Canada. So what path did he follow to reach this point?
"After studying in Iron Bridge under trapping instructor Walter Tonelli, I got my first trapping license in 1981 to help my father on his registered trapline, and I've held one ever since. In 1995 I became a director for the Blind River Trappers Council, and in 1996 I studied to be a trapping instructor in Thunder Bay as part of a program run by the Ontario Fur Managers Federation and the Ministry of Natural Resources. And by 2010, I was the OFMF's general manager!"
If you are a trapper, don’t be afraid to introduce someone new to what and why we trap. And if you are not a trapper, take the opportunity to ask if you can tag along.
So what motivates him to give so much of his time in the service of others?
"I am very proud to be a part of Canada’s fur trade," he explains, "and I have had great opportunities in my life to be able to help promote, educate and train people in its traditions and heritage. It is amazing when you think that the Hudson's Bay Company received its royal charter in 1670 - so 2020 is the HBC’s 350th anniversary, making it one of the longest-running corporations in the world. Trapping is what drove the exploration and development of this great land we call Canada.
"I never thought when I started trapping that I would end up representing trappers provincially and nationally on behalf of the OFMF and the Fur Institute. It's a great privilege."
So what advice does he have for others looking to get involved in promoting the fur trade?
"I dream of the day when trappers once again are recognized and valued by the general public as great stewards of the land. Trapping is a vital tool for managing furbearers to achieve healthy sustainable populations, to protect infrastructure, and control the spread of disease, which is important not just for the animals but also for humans.
"So if you are a trapper, don’t be afraid to introduce someone new to what and why we trap. And if you are not a trapper, take the opportunity to ask if you can tag along to see what it is all about for yourself, so you can make your own informed opinion on why trapping needs to continue."
The fact that several high-profile clothing companies recently stopped using fur in the name of “sustainability” — not to speak… Read More
The fact that several high-profile clothing companies recently stopped using fur in the name of "sustainability" -- not to speak of political bans on the sale of fur products in California -- highlights the public confusion about the challenge of managing our wildlife resources at acceptable ecological and societal levels. The disconnect created by misinformed activist campaigns poses a huge and persistent challenge to professional wildlife biologists everywhere.
Few areas of wildlife management in North America are as challenging as furbearer management and the traps that are so critical to this management. No subject is more contentious or misunderstood than the need to manage our wild furbearers.
While we work from an extensive platform of experience and
constantly evolving science, we know that we are but players in an emotional
theatre on the large stage of public discourse. We very much need not only
science and devotion, but also public understanding and support to conduct our
The management of furbearers is an integral and critical thread in the finely woven and complicated tapestry of environmental management in North America. Trapping is critical to these efforts.
While, at times, a ban on the harvest of certain wildlife
populations is appropriate, recently, more often than not, we have fallen
victim to our successes and are forced to manage surpluses. There is no better
role model of successful and sustainable wildlife management in North America
than that of our furbearer resource.
All wildlife populations are naturally cyclic – they rise and fall over time, triggered by a variety of factors. The downside of that cycle isn’t pretty or humane – think mange, rabies, starvation, habitat destruction and increased prey populations.
Wildlife biologists in North America work diligently to
manage all wildlife populations at ecological and socially acceptable levels.
Wild furbearers are no exception. The public have little tolerance when these
populations reach unacceptable levels. Think rabies transmitted by
overpopulated raccoons. Or property flooded by hyper-active beavers.
The real question, then, at the heart of this challenge is not whether some furbearer populations must be managed, but whether excess animals are used for public benefit or left to rot in the wild. Pest control activity or natural mortality will dispose of them if they are not used for public benefit. But pest control will be at the tax-payers' expense, while disease, starvation and predation, though natural, cannot be considered humane.
This is a zero sum game!
From Watershed Managers to Aquaculturists
The groups that rely on the stable and manageable levels of furbearers are extensive and economically impressive. Watershed managers, farmers, orchardists, park managers and the forestry industry are just a few that rely on population controls. Aquaculturists, for example, are predictably unforgiving of otter populations that consume their profits.
Certainly, no group has a more compelling need for control than biologists dealing with surplus populations that threaten their work. Plover restoration, for example, is a cogent example where numbers of predators like foxes and raccoons need to be carefully controlled at complemental levels. Even in predator research, high populations of furbearers like foxes and bobcats can become problems. Public health officials also look to biologists and traps when dealing with public health issues like rabies.
Increasingly, pet owners have become involved in this debate as well. There are towns and cities in the United States today where small dogs and cats can’t be left unattended outdoors lest they fall prey to hungry coyotes.
It is disheartening that we have been ineffective in making the wider public aware not only of our challenges, but also of the great opportunities for public benefit that wise and careful furbearer management provides. It is particularly disheartening when merchandising and fashion executives, unaware of the opportunities these resource programs offer, ditch wild fur in favor of petroleum-based synthetics (aka: plastics).
Claiming recognition for environmental vision by rejecting wild fur would be comic if it weren’t so tragic and illogical.
It’s even tougher to watch that lack of awareness exploited by animal rights activists. The exploitation of corporate ignorance is maddening and enormously disappointing to professional biologists. The history of wildlife management is littered with the unintended consequences of emotionally driven management initiatives.
One must wonder, is single species’ advocacy one of ignorance or arrogance? Is it possible to be so fanatical in pursuit of one species, one suite of species, or a critical device (traps), that advocates are blinded to the ecological niche that these animals have in the complex ecosystem?
Claiming recognition for environmental vision by banning
wild fur would be comic if it weren’t so tragic and illogical.
In Search of a Common Language
The United States and Canadian governments, in recognition of the importance of this issue, have appropriated millions of dollars to establish humane standards for these critical programs. Numerous states and the Canadian provinces and territories have invested similarly. The evolving improvement to international humane standards in foothold traps is evidence of the success of this effort. This joint Federal/State research effort, enhanced with the on-going information sharing between the US and Canada, is often cited as one of the largest wildlife research efforts ever undertaken in North America.
Perhaps someday all of us who love animals (all of us in these debates certainly do) may find a common language in this discourse and reach a level of rapprochement that will allow for mutual respect – not only for one another, but also for our wildlife resources.
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