Mink. Mink.


Quebec

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      La Compagnie Zootechnique de Labelle and its Lake Chaud mink enclosure described in the third chapter, as starting in 1911, disappeared without trace. It was not included in the Quebec list of permits issued up to April 1st, 1914. Mink permits were awarded to four individuals. Robert Martin, Armagh Sta, County Bellechasse; William Henry Wright, Cowansville; Walter Coffin and T. J. Stocks. The latter two did not have addresses recorded.
      Interesting to note is the listing of two companies with permits for "fur bearing animals". It's possible that they too had mink. They were the Cascapedia Black Fox Company of Cascapedia and La Compagnie Zoologique Nationale of Montreal.
      The only ranch to survive World War I was the Stanstead Fur Farm operated by George E. Bullis, which started in 1913. A date claimed by Stanstead in later breeding stock advertisements and substantiated by Nelson Waldron who said that he had sold them stock in that year. C. A. Bisbee recalling his early dealings with Nelson Waldron. says "Mr. Waldron also said the express records would show (that) he sold breeding stock to the Stanstead ranch operated by a Mr. Bullis in 1914."
      This second date by Waldron seems more reasonable. Stephen Poliquin says "The animals these pioneers started with had been trapped in different Quebec regions, particularly in the north, by Indians and trappers." It is reasonable to assume that the Stanstead Fur Farm was started with wild caught Quebec mink in 1913 and the next year the Waldron mink were purchased.
      Alvah M. Hill, who bought the Stanstead Fur Farm in April 1944, provided us with an interesting clipping from the Sherbrooke Daily Record dated November 22, 1943. In the "Thirty Years Ago" column this item "The Stanstead Fur Farming Company has been organized with the following directors: Charles R. Jenkins, F. W. D. Melloon, Benjamin F. Butterfield, Alfred J. Bisonnet and Harry B. Stewart."
      In the Dominion Bureau of Statistics report, Charles R. Jenkins was listed as manager (probably secretary) as late as 1928. From 1929-32 F. W. D. Melloon was secretary. After that only the manager's name, George E. Bullis, was listed.       Stanstead Fur Farm was an important source of breeding stock for close to 30 years. Their first advertisement in the Fur Trade Journal was in the May 1924 issue. In May 1934, George E. Bullis advertised his book "A-I Mink - Twenty Years Breeding" at .50 cents a copy. One year later, the price was $1 per copy, showing that wine isn't the only thing that improves with age.
      If any one man could be called `The Father' of the Canadian mink industry it would be L. D. McClintock of Knowlton. He graduated from McGill University with a Bachelor of Scientific Agriculture degree and enlisted in the first World War. He earned the rank of Major and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery in action. On demobilizing he was appointed Government Agricultural representative (Agronome) for Brome County.
      In a letter to R. G. Hodgson published in May 1930, Major McClintock says "In the fall of 1920 there was an epidemic of cat distemper here and we lost two mink presumably from the disease". In his first article entitled "Mink Farming" in the April 1924 issue of the Fur Trade Journal of Canada, he states "After having bred mink in captivity for more than three years, I feel like making a few statements about this branch of fur farming". On this evidence we accept 1920 as the year he started.
      The Major's first advertisement in the Fur Trade Journal to sell breeding stock was in the March 1924 issue under the name of North East Fur Ranch, Knowlton. In July of that year, he and R. G. Hodgson co-authored a booklet entitled "Mink Raising for Profit" selling for .75ยข, or free for two subscriptions to the Fur Trade Journal. The wages of virtue in this case was recognition by the public and Major McClintock from then on advertised his mink under his own name.       In 1926, he wrote a 64 page book entitled "Mink Raising" which he sold for $2. and it became the rancher's bible. In that year he became Associate Editor of the Fur Trade Journal of Canada. In later chapters we will deal with his accomplishments in other aspects of the mink industry.
      But now, let us get back to mink. The Major, for all his easy geniality, was a fanatic as to the source of good wild mink. To him, this was northern Quebec whose southern limit was the country immediately north of Lake St. Jean. In his estimation the further north you went, the better they were. One other fact you should keep in mind, L. D. McClintock was an honest and truthful man. In the September 1937 issue of the Fur Trade Journal, the following advertisement appeared under this heading 'UNGAVA STRAIN OF QUEBEC MINK' - "pure descendants of wild caught stock taken by Indian trappers in the north east of Quebec toward the Ungava, but more generally in the region between Lakes Mistassini and Nichikun. These mink are outstanding as regards quality of fur. A few young males are for sale at $250. each but prospective buyers must arrange to inspect the animals at my ranch before any deal will be considered by me. It is respectfully suggested that those who do not know fine quality of fur at sight, kindly refrain from inquiring here. Signed L. D. McClintock, Knowlton, Quebec, Canada."
      In the December 1937 issue, the following item appeared "On November 1st, Major L. D. McClintock sailed on the SS Vasaholm taking with him to Sweden over 50 of his mink for which he received $250. each. In view of the wide price cutting that is prevalent in the industry here in Canada, this sale amply verifies Mac's contention that people are willing to pay the price at which the best can be fairly produced."
      The following July, irritated by ranchers who had bought his regular Quebec strain, climbing on the Ungava bandwagon, he published the following notice "I will not be held morally responsible for extravagant claims of any unauthorized person advertising "McClintock Ungava" mink if they have reference to the stock which I have sold under the name of `Ungava'. Only to four persons have I sold my `Ungava' unmixed with other blood, namely: two bred females to Dr. Law, one male to R. G. Hodgson, 27 males and 28 females to Clarence Hammar of Sweden and C. N. Ovrebo of Norway bought 2 females and 4 males. Positively no one else is allowed to represent themselves as having my `Ungava' stock for sale. I want it clearly understood that while others have bought good mink from me in the last few years, in all such cases there was some admixture of other blood from that which I have developed my `Ungava' strain. I also want it thoroughly understood that for all that, my stock known as `Ungava' is not necessarily better or worse than that of others. I am not offering any more mink for public sale."
      The Major did sell four bred female Ungavas at a later time to W. M. (Bill) Ritchie, a fur auction representative who became the head of the fur grading branch of the Canadian Department of Agriculture. Bill Ritchie was a great believer in superiority of eastern mink over the western. In as far as I can recall, he was the only fur expert who did. As these were the first live mink Bill owned, he had to arrange accommodation for them on his wife's parents' estate near Unionville, Ontario.
      Time passed. Bill wasn't ready, but the pregnant females were. Our farm was five miles away so Bill asked us to whelp the females and to keep them and their offspring until they were old enough to move. We were delighted to help and curious to see what the Ungavas looked like. They were very small mink. Their colour in April was brown to tan. Whatever it was at pelting time it couldn't have been very dark.
      We were concerned that our breeding pens built for large mink might present opportunities for escape. Our pelting sheds were escape proof and empty at this time of year. The floor was dry and the breeding pens were placed on it. The four females whelped and raised 21 kits.
      Long before our larger, lazier Yukon kits made it out of the nestbox, these little agile Ungavas who looked and acted more like cockroaches than mink, were climbing the wire to feed with the mother and, as the 1" mesh didn't stop them, scurrying around the shed and visiting the other pens.
      At this time, we were visited by a rancher who came several times a year to see any new departures we were making in ranching mink. We found him a bit of a hairshirt. No matter what we showed him, he had seen bigger, better or nicer somewhere else. This day we took him to the pelting shed with no explanation. We were really interested in his unprepared reaction to Ungava mink. The kits hearing us coming went skittering back to their pens and into the nestboxes. Choosing what seemed to he the noisiest box, we closed the slide and opened up a nest full to overflowing with kits. Seeing his bug-eyed expression, we forgot about Ungava and started to count the kits back into the pen. Sixteen of the twenty-one had ended up in the same nestbox. We said nothing and strangely enough, neither did he. It was one story he couldn't top!
      Two memories of Major McClintock will close out this description of the man and his accomplishments. The first was his concern with cleaning greasy pelts. Fox pelts were drummed in sawdust. He saw no reason why this would not work for mink as well. It didn't. There was no trouble drumming them in sawdust. Trouble came when you tried to get the sawdust out of the underfur. It just didn't come out and the Major got poor prices for that year's offering. Years later, when corn cob meal became available we found it was heavy enough to shake out of the underfur. We built a drum similar to that used for foxes only a bit smaller, and successfully did the job the Major had started.
      The second memory was of lobster chowder. Each year we attended the January auction in Montreal as did the Major. Being of a generous nature he insisted on an annual visit to his favourite restaurant for a bowl of chowder made to his formula. It was lobster meat in light cream, liberally laced with sherry and served piping hot. The quart sized bowl of this chowder was a challenge that my gaelic, porridge oriented stomach, never met successfully. It always ended with the Major eating his and finishing up mine because "It was too bonny to go to waste."
      Louis Marcotte of Deschambault states in his later breeding stock advertisements that he began mink ranching in 1921. Stephen Poliquin says "He first started with silver fox, but as all the fur bearing animals were interesting to him, he bought live mink that had been caught by trappers. He raised them in a large shed he used before for his cattle and horses. He stayed in our industry for quite a few years and sold breeding stock to many new ranchers, two of them being Cal Martin and Dave Stevens."
      Calvin Martin states "Original stock purchased from Louis Marcotte, Deschambault, County Port Neuf, P.Q. two males and two females, total price $3011. Mr. Marcotte was bringing mink in from the wild."
      Dave Stevens records, "My first pair of mink were purchased from Louis Marcotte. This rancher advertised breeder mink for sale in the Fur Trade Journal. I inquired by mail for information and prices and received a reply that a pair of dark eastern mink of good quality would cost me $150. FOB Deschambault and a 25% deposit paid now would hold a pair for delivery in late November.
      "So I mailed a money order for $37.50 in late August and planned and built two pens which I had ready in early December. In late November, Mr. Marcotte wrote to tell me that the female he intended to sell me had died and that he had no more young females to sell and he would return my deposit. However, if I would accept an adult female that had lost one hind leg he would reduce the price and I would only have to send him $100. for the two animals not the $112.50 as agreed in the original order.
      "As this was my only chance to get started in 1926, as there were no other breeder mink available, I mailed the $100. and received the mink by Canadian Pacific Express. They arrived late at night December 23rd and the Express Agent agreed to feed them and hold them until the next day. 1 borrowed my father's touring car and picked the mink up on the morning of December 24th and brought them home; that evening with a flashlight I caught 40 sparrows in a neighbour's haystack which was enough to feed the mink for eight days. When telling people about my early mink experiences, I make a statement quite often that I will bet that I am the only living 70 year old that can remember everything he did on December 24th, 1926".
      C. R. Partik of Lantier, a prolific writer on varied fur animal subjects said that he started mink in 1924. C. A. Bisbee who began in 1926, recalls "One early rancher I knew before I started was C. R. Partik, Lantier, Quebec near Ste. Agathe. He was a bachelor. I intended to stay awhile to learn the business but changed my mind as the ranch was very isolated in winter."
      Aramis Albert Talbot of Robertsonville according to his advertising, started in 1925 .and sold breeding stock for many years. His two sons continued the ranch until recently.
      Dr. J. E. Laforest of Quebec City did not advertise mink breeding stock for sale until February 1930 - "Mink - Quebec Labrador: now booking orders for pedigreed 1930 stock. Your choice out of 75 breeding pairs." Stephen Poliquin says "In 1925, in addition to foxes, he started raising mink." Wallace R. Waters who was in charge of the mink, writing in the October 1944 issue of the Canadian Silver Fox and Fur about another matter, says "I. was at his ranch (Nelson Waldron's) in 1930 and at that time purchased five trios of mink for, what is now, one of Canada's best known ranches." (Presumably Laforest).
      Dr. Laforest was a man of many talents and a completely social person. He was at his volatile, gallic best leading an English audience in rousing choruses of `Allouette' en francais! Considering our present day problems in bilingualism, it's too bad that he is no longer here. With his verve and enthusiasm he could have taught either language to a cigar store Indian.
      His contributions to the fur industry included the Laforest Platinum which revolutionized the fox business and the Azure Blue Labrador mink, a dark mink with a bluish underfur, which was popular for awhile. The genial doctor was a dentist and it is reasonable to assume that none of his patients needed laughing gas.
      Clairval Limited of Laterriere, Chicoutimi County, was started in 1928 by A. N. (Nick) Schoch. According to Stephen Poliquin "He obtained 15 selected wild Labrador mink from the Indians in the interior and from these mink developed the famous `Clairval' strain of Labrador".
      There is no question that the name `Clairval' in mink came to have the same connotation as sterling in silver. Nick Schoch and his sons Arnold and Peter brought an intensity to mink breeding, pelt handling and shrewd marketing that had not occurred up to that time and while it may have been equalled since, it has not been surpassed.
      Their uncompromising attitude to quality mink shows in their August 1930 advertisement in the Fur Trade Journal "Clairval mink, a trade-name for extra fine dark original Quebec genuine northern stock; pen bred and raised plus scientific breeding and feeding, $300. a pair. We shall be pleased to buy anywhere, at any price, better stock. Our tradename shall be your guarantee".
      The Breton Brothers of Quebec City were butchers, located inside the old city, on one of the side streets. Cal Martin says "The butcher shop was within two blocks of the gates in the walled part of the city". They claimed to be bringing in wild mink from Labrador. Evidently they didn't have too many mink and as we can find no other references to them, they probably were not in the mink business too long. As Cal Martin and Dave Stevens bought mink from them in 1929 it is possible they were in the business in 1928.
      St. Hyacinthe Fur Farm owned by Dr. A. Bedard first advertised in October 1928. They had mink but they also had black raccoon, fitch, fisher, nutria and blue foxes. Probably not all at the same time and it is likely that in time other fur bearers were added. There was a zoo atmosphere to some of the early ranches.
      H. Ehrensperger, Ph.D., of Montreal whose ranch was at Mackayville probably started in 1928. The doctor, who came from Germany in 1925, was a prolific writer of scientific articles some of which he translated from German publications. For a brief period he was Associate Editor of the Fur Trade Journal. In March 1936, he advertised for sale a round pen he had designed, to be known by his name. The pen was four foot in diameter by 18" high with a solid board top and the nestbox attached to the outside. The original plan called for two more sets of pens, each progressively narrower in diameter so that they could be stacked like hat boxes three tiers high. This system had a very brief popularity.
      Carl C. McClay of Knowlton started mink ranching in 1927 in a picturesque setting. The back of his property was a rough and steeply rising hill. As the ranch grew, and it did grow to be quite large, row after steep row were added to the hillside. The hired help had to be in athletic trim and agile, to feed, water and survive.
      The ranch, operated today by Hilde and Fred Lahue, has been tamed by bulldozers and modernized in a shed oriented way. In Carl McClay's time the Knowlton area was the centre of the mink business. Fourteen ranches of which seven were from Knowlton, and the remainder from nearby, formed the Eastern Townships Pure Quebec Mink Breeders Association in August 1930. As we have detail on McClay and McClintock only, we leave the listing of these ranches to the chapter on organizations.
      The Barnston Fur Farm which began in 1926 has an unusually well documented history. Fred Lahue provided a number of newspaper clippings from which we extracted the following information. Wilfrid Sevigny in partnership with his brother-in-law R. E. (Rosario) Gonthier established a fox and mink ranch at Barnston. The head carpenter was Ray Merrill. Shortly thereafter, probably in 1929, Wilfred Sevigny was killed in a train accident. The ranch was sold to Captain C. T. Pedersen, an arctic whaler and fur trader whose wife was a neice of Mrs. Ray Merrill and at whose home they spent their holidays.
      R. E. Gonthier was retained as manager and we presume the Captain went back to his arctic pursuits. Many years later, we visited the farm and were intrigued by the old, and at that time, abandoned sheds. The present day mink were housed in modern facilities. Because of the heavy snowfall the old sheds were built on piers. The floor was a good twelve to fifteen feet above the ground. The sheds were empty at the time of our visit and no evidence of built in pens could be found. Evidently the pens were individual and placed on the floor.
      The present day operators only remembered one problem and that was the prevalence of singe on the pelts produced in this windy location.
      Captain Pedersen sold the ranch in 1955 to Gilbert La Perle. He retired to his home near San Francisco and in 1969 he and his wife were killed in their beds by escaped convicts. He was 92 years of age.
      Maska Minkery of St. Hyacinthe in an advertisement in the June 1934 issue of the Fur Trade Journal says "We secured our foundation stock from a limited area around Cartwright, Labrador in 1931. Be safe. invest in animals of known origin." Many ranches made general claims of Labrador ancestry. This was the only one we found that was completely specific.
      The Cousens Fur Farm of Bolton Centre was owned and operated by Thomas E. Cousens and sons Donald and Morris. In 1932, they bought two bred dark females from the Stanstead Fur Farms for $125. Later a dark female was purchased from a ranch in Ontario. The mink was named Lucy and contributed many kits to the start of the business.
      As there was no electric power in the area, Torn and his sons built a dam on the Missisquoi River on their property and generated their own power for refrigeration, grinding and mixing feed. They were resourceful and able mink ranchers.
      H. J. (Jeff) Hutchison appears on the scene in. 1934, when he joined the staff at Clairval to learn the business. Clairval's pelt sales were conducted by the Canadian Fur Auction Company Limited in Montreal. The financial support back of this auction became interested in mink ranching and in partnership with A. N. Schoch set up Labrador Mink Ranches Limited in a suburb of Quebec City in 1936. Jeff was made general manager and was a shareholder. He was a capable, hard worker and the business prospered. Later the nearby Annis Mink Ranch was added to the holding. Jeff was a director of the Quebec Fur Breeders Co-operative and the Quebec delegate to the Canada Mink Breeders Association for twelve years. He served his province and the mink industry well.
      Lieutenant Colonel William A. Lowry of Montreal took an active part in mink organizations and educational field days. We remember him best for his involvement in the argument over the plural of mink. Much heat was developed as the various protagonists wrestled with the problem of using an `S' or not. Some interesting anatomical suggestions, as to what to do with the `S' were made. It reminded me of the old theological disagreement as to the number of angels that could dance on the point of a pin. Fortunately both sides won. The English authority said minks. The Canadian authority said mink. And the mink, as usual said nothing.
      Holt Renfrew and Company Limited had a large ranch at Charlebourg near Quebec City. In the beginning it was a fox ranch but in later years had mink as well. The manager was R. F. Lindsay and the rancher was J. Emile Cote. Their first advertisement for mink was in the July 1937 issue of the Fur Trade Journal "Offer 1937 mink kits from genuine Quebec mink selected from the best sections. Buy with confidence from a firm with 100 years experience in the fur business".
      Allan A. Adams of St. Francois de Sales established the Mount Royal Mink Ranch in a most picturesque setting on the bank of the Mille Isles River. Allan was a professional architect and contributed some very useful improvements in pen and shed design. Eventually he took in partners who expanded and continued the ranch for many years after his death.
      Langdon Hill Mink Ranch of Lennoxville began in 1937 when the Homer Fur Farms of St. Catherines, Ontario moved here and were renamed. One of the partners, Dr. John McCombe was now the head of the Canadian National Railway Medical Services. The other partner, Miss M. O. Boulter devoted full time to running the ranch. It is interesting to note that at an earlier time, the Langdon Hill property was owned by a retired Hudson's Bay factor.
      Dr. Ronald G. Law who had been the head of the Kirkfield Experimental Fur Farm was now the Veterinary Officer in the medical services of the Canadian National Railway and no doubt had his input in the Langdon Hill operation.
      La Belle's Labrador Mink Ranch of St. Jovite owned by A. J. La Belle is interesting because the manager was L. J. Simard who in 1938 was said to have had ten years experience in Canada and the United States. In 1941 the Quebec Government started the Fur Bearing Animal Division with Mr. Simard as Director. The rest of his life was devoted to the service of Quebec fur ranchers. He was a fine man and an able geneticist.
      Ross Fur Farm of Rawdon was operated by James W. Ross a construction engineer who had built several of Montreal's important industrial plants. The ranch was run as a profitable hobby and was stocked with quality mink. During World War 11, Jim got into the pig business in a big way as his contribution to war time food supply. Jeremie Labonte of Robertsonville began his ranch in 1938. His early housing was a copy of nearby ranches. When expansion came he devised pen arrangements and sheds on brand new concepts. in fact, his inventive genius improved most of the mechanical arrangements. Presently he and his son are ranching 12,000 mink.

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