The following statement from the four signatories below was released to the media on Jan. 24, 2021. “Harvesting and trading…
The following statement from the four signatories below was released to the media on Jan. 24, 2021. “Harvesting and trading…
A fresh opportunity is coming soon for future designers to receive a holistic education on working with fur, against a…
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 international résumés.
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.
SEE ALSO: Trapline Tales: Greasy Bill Creek, my father's final resting place. By Calvin Kania for Truth About Fur.
"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.
If you are looking for a designer who incarnates the Canadian fur trade’s rich cultural mosaic, D’Arcy Moses is an…
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, D'Arcy was raised by a non-native farming family in Camrose, Alberta. “They were really good, hard-working people who adopted five children after raising four of their own!” he recalls. Then after he left home, he set out to connect with his aboriginal roots.
While his mixed 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 complex heritage to creating innovative clothing designs came when he was offered a place in the Toronto Fashion Incubator. The fashion world took notice: in 1991, he was selected as one of ten emerging young designers featured at the Toronto Festival of Fashion. Then he was invited to Montreal by the Fur Council of Canada, where he began working with one of the country’s most important luxury apparel manufacturers, Natural Furs.
The unique, aboriginally-inspired collections D’Arcy developed while working with Natural Furs were sold to Holt Renfrew in Toronto, Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue in New York, as well as to many independent high-end retailers across Europe, Russia, and Asia. His work is also owned by private collectors in many countries, and a retrospective collection of his work was recently purchased by the Government of the Northwest Territories for its permanent collection of regional Indigenous arts and crafts.
Going Home at Last
The big-time fashion world recognition was encouraging, but in 1996, D’Arcy received a call from the Pehdzeh Ki First Nation, in Wrigley, NWT. People there had seen a CBC documentary about him and recognized his name; Moses is a common family name in this northern First Nations community, and they had been looking for him.
After several visits, D’Arcy left the glamour, hectic pace, and controversy of international fur fashion to settle in the home he had never known.
His business experience landed him a job as a senior government official, helping his community to navigate the intricacies of bureaucracy and to secure funding for important economic and social development projects. But sewing and designing were never far from his mind.
His Own Workshop
Twelve years with the government provided the nest egg D’Arcy needed to finance his latest project: a workshop in Enterprise, NWT, a community even smaller and more remote than Wrigley, about 100 kilometres north of the Alberta border. “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 the Arts & Creativity, producing a new collection, 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.
D’Arcy's designs – including fur-trimmed pieces – are also featured in a two-year exhibition at the Buffalo Luxton Museum, in Banff.
He also runs workshops in Yellowknife, sponsored by the NWT Government, for traditional harvesters and craftspeople, where they use fur and leather to make everything from trappers’ hats to iPad cases. “Some of the hand-stitched leather these men and women can do is seen only in the top fashion houses of Europe - no one else can do this beautiful work, it’s a great privilege to work with them,” D’Arcy says.
Committed to Natural Materials
In his studio in Enterprise, where we reached him by phone, D’Arcy is now also experimenting with digitally-controlled bead work, which would allow Dene First Nations designs to be produced at more affordable prices. But above all, D’Arcy remains committed to using natural materials, including fur.
“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. That $20 synthetic blouse or jeans may seem cheap, but 10 grams of micro-plastics are leached into our waterways every time they are washed," explains D'Arcy.
“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 – including 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.”
SEE ALSO: D'arcy Moses' big bet. Up Here, October 2015.
To learn more about donating to Truth About Fur, click here.
HAPPY CANADA DAY 2020! On the first day of July each year, we celebrate the uniting of three British colonies – the…
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.
SEE ALSO: The country that fur built: Canada’s fur trade history. Truth About Fur.
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.
But the fur trade is not just our history – it’s very much a part of modern Canada. More than 50,000 Canadians participate today in the many aspects of our industry, so let's take this occasion to meet a few of today's Fur Trappers, Farmers, First Nations, Manufacturers, Designers, and Retail Furriers.
Dan Kahnert – The Industry’s Link with Consumers
(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!
And how has the business changed over the years?
“There’s no way around it, aggressive animal rights campaigning has hurt us. Most people still love fur, but the activists have made them feel nervous about wearing it. Some of these intimidation campaigns are really a form of violence against women, which is very sad,” says Dan.
“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!”
SEE ALSO: Fur retail: The art and science of making sales. Truth About Fur.
Farley Chatto – Stylist to the Stars
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.”
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.
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.”
SEE ALSO: “Trapping is beautiful” says proud Cree Robert Grandjambe. Truth About Fur.
SEE ALSO: Letter from a Cree trapper: Nature is our refuge from Covid-19. Truth About Fur.
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.
SEE ALSO: D’arcy Moses’ big bet. Up Here, October 2015.
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.
SEE ALSO: Facts about fur farming. Truth About Fur.
Joe Williams – Continuing a Family Tradition
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!”
SEE ALSO: A year on a mink farm. Truth About Fur.
Katie Ball – Trapper, Designer and Advocate
When Katie Ball is not out on the land in Thunder Bay, Ontario, she's either designing and making fur garments at her own Silver Cedar Studio, or she's advocating for the fur trade on behalf of the Northwestern Fur Trappers Association, the Ontario Fur Managers Federation, the Northwestern Ontario Sportsmen’s Alliance, and Fur Harvesters Auction. Only a person with fur coursing through her veins could build such a résumé!
"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."
SEE ALSO: "Fur is in my blood" says Katie Ball, trapper, designer, advocate. Truth About Fur.
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."
SEE ALSO: In their own words: Fur trappers on Ontario's oldest profession. TVO.org.
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In this age of mass-produced, imported goods, textile artist and jewellery designer Vanessa Ægirsdóttir belongs to a growing band of…
In this age of mass-produced, imported goods, textile artist and jewellery designer Vanessa Ægirsdóttir belongs to a growing band of people who want more of the benefits of commerce going to producers of raw materials, and specifically in her case to Canada's First Nations trappers. While her family name reflects her Icelandic heritage, this artisan is Canadian born and bred, and currently lives in Whitehorse, Yukon. Together with her partner, Tlingit trapper George Bahm, her mission is to generate more economic returns for trappers of the Kwanlin Dün First Nation and the Ta’an Kwäch’än Council, in whose traditional territory they reside.
TruthAboutFur: Last year you opened a boutique in Whitehorse selling mainly fur jewellery. The Yukon is known for hats and mittens made by First Nations artisans. Why not do the same? Are you trying to create a new market?
Vanessa Ægirsdóttir: Our products include scarves, hair scrunchies, bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and rings. We will be growing the line to include housewares and garments in the future. When developing the line, I wasn’t so much trying to create a new market as much as I was looking to enhance an existing one. Yes, the Yukon is known for mukluks, moccasins, mittens and trapper hats, but there was room for me to add a jewellery line and other accessories.
I feel strongly that it is not my place to elbow my way into the traditional fur products market, and there are many extremely skilled makers who are far more qualified than I am to be making these products. When folks inquire with me about having these traditional items made, I forward the contact information of the makers that have opted into being on a referral list that I share. So while I am an agent, I am not a middle man, and we don't sell their goods in our boutique.
I also know that many of those makers (several of whom are Elders) rely on the income generated from sewing traditional fur and hide garments, and I have absolutely no interest in taking that away from them. It’s a matter of respect.
TAF: How do you source your furs?
Vanessa: Preference is given to First Nations trappers when buying our furs. First, I buy all the furs of my partner, George Bahm, then if we need furs that his trapline didn’t produce, we go to his cousins and uncles. If we still need furs, we extend our search to his home community of Teslin and outward from there, always giving priority to First Nations trappers.
TAF: What incentive do trappers have to sell to you, rather than sending their pelts to auction, as is the common practice?
Vanessa: We often pay the same as, if not more than, what is typically obtained through the auction houses. This is a multi-faceted decision.
We want our local trappers to have choices about where their furs go, so by offering to buy the furs instead of them having to send them out, we create an option for them. We want to put more power back into the hands of the trappers. Normally, trappers can sell at auction for an unknown (often disappointing) price, or keep the furs and make finished goods themselves -- but this is something not everyone can do due to skill, time, or interest.
We also want to help our trappers make informed decisions about which furs to target, and how to invest in capital assets for their trapline operations. Knowing the current values of furs at the outset of the trapping season gives the trappers the choice with regard to what species to target and in what quantities.
Also, in our experience, it is rewarding for the trappers to see how the furs are being used, which is not an experience many are familiar with because furs sent to auction are never seen again.
"More than Just Harvesting Fur"
TAF: So your motivation is not just to build a successful business for yourself. Tell us about your larger vision.
Vanessa: Incentivising our First Nations trappers to sell their furs to us is not my main intention. More than that, I want their trapping to be sustainable and profitable.
Having spent only part of one winter out on the trapline with my partner, I have merely glimpsed a fraction of the beauty and teachings that await on the trapline. But I know that this traditional practice, with its skill, stories and lessons, will be lost if the wild fur industry continues as it is. My hope is to protect the importance of what is out on the trail, in the quiet of a fresh snowfall, so that future generations of fur harvesters can reconnect with their ancestors and the teachings that have endured for thousands of years. Trapping is so much more than just harvesting fur.
It is from this perspective that I might play a small part in an act that builds bridges and relationships between myself, as a non-Indigenous person, and the First Nations trapping community.
Cultural Immersion Through Weaving
TAF: You have sought to immerse yourself in First Nations culture, and in particular the textiles aspect. But you are also mindful that you yourself are non-Indigenous. Tell us about your journey. Has it been easy?
Vanessa: In addition to working with fur, I am also a Ravenstail weaver. This ancient form of weaving predates the more commonly known Chilkat, and is similar to basket weaving. It originated on the Pacific West Coast with the First Nations (Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian, among others) who wove and traded Ravenstail robes long before contact. I learned this weaving method from Lily Hope whose mother, Clarissa Rizal, was a master weaver.
I have been warmly welcomed into the weaving community, which is comprised almost exclusively of First Nations weavers. Because of the teachings I’ve been given and the protocols that have been shared with me, in addition to my own skill and cultural awareness, I am allowed to do this weaving work. That’s not to say it has been without question and even upset some members of various First Nations communities. However, we try to use these interactions to inform and to dialogue with those posing questions and expressing concern, and are able to explain the special nature of the permissions given to me to be welcomed into the weaving community. This extends to my relationship with the fur and hide-maker community.
But make no mistake, I am aware that I am a non-Indigenous maker, and I don’t for a minute pretend to be First Nations. I am a guest, and it is a privilege to be welcomed into these various circles of knowledge. I treasure that deeply and take pains to preserve that.
Adding Value to Furs
TAF: So how do you see the current state of trapping in the Yukon? Presumably all is not well, or you wouldn't be striving for change.
Vanessa: There are around 300 to 400 trapping licenses currently issued by the Yukon Department of Environment, of which I guess fewer than half are held by First Nations trappers, mostly operating on traplines that have been in their families for generations.
What I see is that most trappers, regardless of their indigeneity, are limited in how to add value to their furs. We have the Yukon Trappers Association, which works with trappers of all backgrounds to get their furs to market. They make tools, traps, scent, and boards available for purchase, and also hold workshops. The YTA will batch furs from several trappers and send them out for tanning, which is not a service that is otherwise readily available in the area. Aside from individual makers (traditional or otherwise), there aren’t local manufacturing or design facilities that are taking the furs and producing Yukon-made fur garments.
Many First Nations trappers continue to produce finished goods from their furs like mitts and hats, but as is the case with most producers, the supply chain favours the final seller and not the producer of the materials or the finished goods. If these makers have an established clientele, they are positioned to make a reasonable income, but for those who rely on retail vendors to get their products in front of consumers, their work is shockingly under-valued. For example, it’s common for a maker of moccasins (smoke- and brain-tanned moose hide, beaver fur, and beadwork) to receive only $100 from a retail store owner, regardless of the innumerable hours spent in production.
While there may be a limit to what the market will bear in terms of the final retail price of such goods, it is seldom the maker who is receiving the majority of the money for the product being sold. We’re working to improve that balance.
"Fur jewellery shop works to raise awareness about Indigenous culture", Yukon News, Jan. 24, 2019.
"Yukon artist and Tlingit trapper create stunning jewelry", Broadview, Feb. 13, 2019.
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