The fur trade was Canada's first industry and remained so during the early years of exploration and settlement. It was the demand for furs from Europe and the resulting competition and rivalries among the traders that sent the explorers farther and farther into the wilderness opening up new districts that eventually lured the settlers. As civilisation advanced, other industries grew and the fur trade inevitably became relatively less and less important until today it is a minor item on the Canadian production record. Nevertheless, Canada is still one of the great natural fur preserves of the world. In her vast northern regions trapping is still the means of livelihood for many of the inhabitants - Indian, half-breed and white man alike. During the 1948 - 49 season approximately 9,900,000 pelts were taken, 93% of them from wild animals.
Ontario leads the provinces in value of fur production, having accounted for 25% of the total in the year ended June 30, 1949. Manitoba produced 19% of the total, Alberta 16% and Saskatchewan and Quebec each 10% The numbers of pelts taken in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan were higher than in Ontario, but in those provinces, muskrat and squirrel, which are lower-priced furs, made up the major portion of the total while in Ontario the more valuable mink pelts brought the total value to a higher level.
The fur industry has changed very markedly over the decades. The early supremacy of the beaver has slowly disappeared; less than 15% of the total value of furs taken in 1949 was beaver. The successful breeding of the fox on fur farms came in the period of rising prices after 1890, with the introduction of woven - wire fencing. The fox, especially the silver fox, held the position of greatest importance in the fur industry from early in the present century until 1944. Mink have been raised for many years on farms but it is only during the past few years that this animal has contributed substantially to the Canadian fur industry. In the 1945 season, mink took the lead in total value. of pelts taken in Canada and has continued in this position; in 1949 mink accounted for over 36% of the value of pelts taken. Fashions indicate that this fur will occupy a position of importance for some time to come. The second greatest contributor to the value of pelts taken is the muskrat, followed by beaver, fox pelts of all types, squirrel and ermine pelts. The decrease in total value as compared with 1947 - 48 was mainly due to lower average prices for beaver, ermine, muskrat, white and silver fox, squirrel, otter and marten skins. Beaver pelts increased by 26,000, squirrel by 1,485,000 and muskrat by 555,000, while mink pelts decreased by 27,000. The average price of beaver dropped from $32.36 to $20.72, ermine from $2.27 to $1.63, muskrat from $2.67 to $1.49 and squirrel from 62 cents to 24 cents. The prices of all types of fox pelts, except for white - marked, were lower than in 1947 - 48.
FUR FARMING - Scientific breeding has revolutionized the fur industry. Not only has it stabilized business for the fur farmer, but it has brought new glamorous furs into existence. Blond, pure white and silverblu mink and many colour phases of fox now grace the shoulders of fashionable women.
Fur farming is carried on in all provinces of Canada. Of the 5,040 farms operating in 1948, 1,306 were in Ontario, 1,058 in Quebec and 793 in Alberta. The decline in the popularity of long-haired fur resulted in a decrease in the past few years in the number of farms raising foxes. In 1948 there were 262,827 standard and mutation mink valued at $6,544,333 on 3,319 farms and 42,867 foxes of all types valued at $1,220,575 on 1,955 farms. All other types of animals raised in captivity, including chinchilla, coyote, fisher, fisher, lynx, marten, nutria, raccoon and skunk, numbered only 5,241.
In 1948, 634,884 pelts valued at $7,970,552 were sold from fur farms. This was a decrease of over 16% in number and 32% in value over 1947 sales. Average prices for all pelts, except fitch and raccoon, sold from fur farms were lower than in 1947.
The capital value of fur farms in Canada in 1948 for land and buildings was $11,472,304 and for fur animals $8,909,535, a total capital of $20,381,839. The capital invested in land and buildings was 7% lower and that in animals 37% lower than in 1947.
FUR PROCESSING - In 1948 the production of fur manufacturing establishments was valued at $66,384,0135. 615 establishments were employing over 6,400 persons and paying out $13,482,000 in salaries and wages. About 75% of their production was women's coats. The peak year for fur prices in Canada was 1946. Since then, although the price of pelts has dropped, in most lines the price of the finished garment has not diminished to the same extent. One reason is the high cost of labour. The lowest-paid fur workers in the larger centres earn from $30 to $35 for a 40 - hour week, and cutters, if they are good, may earn from $80 to $120 a week.
There are also in Canada 21 fur - dressing and dyeing establishments which paid out $3,119,000 in salaries and wages to 1,602 employees in 1948.
FUR TRADE - At present, the United Kingdom and the United States are Canada's best customers for fur pelts, although Canadian furs have a worldwide distribution. Montreal is the leading fur market in Canada, but auction sales are also held at Vancouver, Edmonton, Regina and Winnipeg.
The Canadian fur trade, both exports and imports, is chiefly in undressed furs; the - value of dressed and manufactured furs going out of Canada or coming in make up a comparatively small portion of the total. A good part of the exports consists, of course, of those furs which Canada produces in greatest abundance, mink being the most valuable followed by beaver, muskrat and fox. On the other hand, such furs as Persian lamb, certain types of muskrat, rabbit and squirrel, and sheep and lamb, which are not produced to any extent in Canada, make up the major portion of the imports.