CANADA’S FUR FUTURE
By AGNES C. LAUT
WHEN I lived in the Canadian Northwest, we were horribly and foolishly sensitive about being told we had a cold climate. We would meet on the streets of Winnipeg in a forty below with a wind straight from the North Pole blowing us off our feet; and we would cuss the climate; but if an outsider said it was cold-especially if the outside foreign press said it was cold -we could prove "you didn't feel it." Of course "we didn't feel it." We had wedge-shaped fur caps down over our ears; and we had fur coats down to our feet; and we had storm collars to button across our faces; and we wore fur gauntlets to our elbows and felt-lined overshoes half way to our knees. Of course, we didn't feel it.
Besides, if one unreefed in that kind of a wind, we froze so quick we didn’t feel it till some stranger accosted us on the streets with a polite—-“Excuse me, your ear is frozen;” “Beg pardon, but your nose is white as wax,” when off would come the gauntlet and, with fur side vigorously applied, we restored the recalcitrant member of our anatomy to proper functioning, brushed the icicles off our eyelashes, and for the next ten minutes “felt it all right,” I give you my word of honor; for once when I was very green and very young I had that experience on the prairie with both my feet; and I danced the tango twenty years before there was any tango with feelings which I don’t like to recall to this day.
We were so supersensitive about our cold climate that it led to abolishing “ice palaces” and excursions to winter sports in Montreal and Quebec for fear these very delightful functions would hurt our reputation as a home for foreign colonists.
As I look back on it now, it was all very foolish. I have since spent winters in every part of America from the tropics to New England, and learned to thank God for our cold climate. Instead of apologizing for it, we ought to have stuck out our chests and capitalized it as a cash asset. It gives us our red-blooded energy, and makes us 100 per cent, alive and robust.
Canada—the Great Fur Farm
ALL this is apropos of furs; for the same false shame about our cold climate makes us equally supersensitive and foolish about Canada’s natural resources in furs. We don’t like any reference to Canada as “the great fur farm of the world”—which she is—though in ten years more I venture to say the tremendous changes in world fur trade will bring Canada as big cash returns from her fur fields as now from her grain fields.
I know the average conservative Canadian will contradict this; but I want to put some foreign figures before him. He will say—“We export only $13,000,000 to $14,000,000 of furs to the United States. How can that ever become $100,000,000, $200,000,000, or $300,000,000?” “I’ll tell you how. When we compute $13,000,000 of furs to the United States, we compute the trapper’s price, say $30 for other raw which sells in New York at $90—and I have never seen an otter skin in New York I would buy. Suppose Canada could get the New York price for her skins— that $13,000,000 would be $39,000,000 wouldn’t it? But this ignores still more raw skins going to the London market, which we have no method of checking up or classifying. Certainly more raw skins go to English than American markets. Could Canada get the American price and the British price for skins, instead of only the trapper’s price, her total would be far more than $78,000,000.
But that is not all Canada should get. It takes nine otter skins to make a coat. At $30, that is $270. Try to buy a perfect otter coat in Russia, in New York, or London, and the price is—$270? It is not. Add even $50 to $100 for making; and the price should be $340. No, the price of the manufactured article is $1,300 for poor, $2,400 for perfect. I want Canada to get not only the trapper’s price, not only the seller’s price, but the manufacturer’s price, which is easily five to ten times the trapper’s price. I do not want one skin to go out of Canada unmanufac tured. I want Canada to skin all the profits. Am I wrong in saying her profits from her fur field ought to be not $78,000,000, but five times $78,000,000, which exceeds any yearly export of furs she has ever made.
Half a Billion—Some Day?
BUT this is not the end of the story. The United States foreign trade in raw furs has jumped from $30,000,000 before the war to $100,000,000; and the United States will not have any more appreciable supplies of raw furs in 20 years. Where except in Alaska will she get them? Fur farms may supply skunk. Australia will always supply rabbit or electric seal. The Chesapeake and Delaware under careful muskrat farming may supply Hudson seal. House cat may supply electric seal. For the rest, she must depend for furs on Canada’s natural fur domain. From that fur preserve we are to-day netting perhaps $26,000,000. We ought to-day and some day shall be netting half a billion.
Something is happening to the American fur trade so
swiftly that reported figures can hardly keep pace with facts; and as I think Canada ought to know these facts, I am not going to apologize for referring either to our climate, or our fur domain of the Far North.
If Canada does for our Fur Domain what the United States Government is doing for Alaska, she will hold the whip handle of the fur world. I know that London, Leipzic and Nijzni are going to fight to get the markets of the world fur trade back; but Canada holds the key to the situation and I want her to keep it. Nor am I going to
JV/TISS AGNES LAUT’S articles.
A which have been running in MACLEAN’S during, the past few months, have attracted an unusual amount of attention. So universal has been their appeal, so national and constructive has been their subject-matter, and so racily have they been written, that MACLEAN’S has arranged with Miss Laut to make another tour of several of our provinces during the spring and, summer of 1921, and give the results of her investigations in her usual crisp and entertaining fashion—for the benefit, of all the readers of Canada’s National Magazine. Miss Laut asserts that various branches of our administrative government should be co-ordinated in order to give the fullest possible service to all our citizens. She has been preaching this for some time, and now is gathering further facts as proof.
express opinions. I am going to set down the facts of what has happened and is happening. Then you can draw your own inferences as to what course Canada ought to follow to reap, not 10 per cent, of the benefit, but 100 per cent, benefit, from the changes in the world fur trade, which have happened in four years.
First, the world fur markets were forced by the war to come to America. Formerly, the world fur markets of the world fur trade were in England, Germany and Russia. This applies to all three divisions of the fur trade—
(1) The selling by the trapper and hunter of his raw furs to the little buyer, or the big buyer.
(2) The dyeing and the dressing of these furs, which entails the employment of millions in capital and certainly a half million people in industry.
(3) The manufacturing of these dressed furs into felts, hats, trimmings, coats, whole pieces and parts, and the selling of these manufactured furs to the trade through departmental stores and special fur stores.
You have only to look at these three transfers to realize how impossible it is to put in figures the tremendous profit this entails to trapper, dresser, worker and manufacturer; but I can give you a few figures.
Fur Sales of 1920
BEFORE the war, the United States bought of raw furs and exports of furs dressed and undressed less in the aggregate than $40,000,000, slightly more than $30,000,000. To-day, the United States imports and exports of furs more than $106,000,000; and this is only a beginning. When fur auctions began in St. Louis in 1913-14, a total sale of $6,000,000 was considered phenomenal. St. Louis fur sales for 1920—at a drop price of 80 per cent, below 1919—exceeded $60,000,000 The same story could be told of New York fur auctions for 1920, except that the aggregate runs from $10,000,000 to $12,000,000 for New York’s sales ; and Canadians know what happened in Montreal last spring, even discounting certain features—which I shall touch on later—when otter, which ordinarily sells well at $25 a pelt,brought $100; and silver fox, which didn’t bring $200 before the war, sold at $1,200; and marten, which we used to think high at $30, went under the hammer at over $400; and muskrat, which I have been offered up on Cumberland Lake at 12 cents and which buyers consider
high at 90 cents, sold for $5 to $7. I recall the day when we would not buy red fox in Manitoba at $10. At one of these spring sales in 1920 red fox sold at $90. Before the war, only a few hundred people were employed in New York and Brooklyn dressing and dyeing furs; to be accurate, I think the all-the-year round employees numbered about 800, more or less. To-day in Brooklyn and Newark only, there are 12,000 skilled dyers and dressers earning an average of $106 a week, and recently 10,000 of them are on strike for higher pay; and it is estimated there are 60,000 people in Brooklyn alone supported by the fur industry. The strike lasted from May to December, when the fall in the price of rawfurs caused it to collapse.
Before the war, one of the biggest dye firms exclusively devoted to dyeing muskrat into Hudson seal in Brooklyn almost crowed its head off with pride when its yearly total went up to 200,000 muskrat. In 1919, that dye firm and its allied subsidiaries totalled 4,000,000 muskrat; and, in 1921, they expect to dye 7,000,000 muskrat. That is— they have contracted with the trade to deliver to the manufacturers 7,000,000 dressed muskrat.
I would be afraid to set down the figures on rabbit dyed into electric seal; for in London, they are now using 90,000,000 rabbit skins a year; and in the United States they are using more.
I could go on down the list giving equally spectacular figures.
The Sliver Fox Triumph
U'OR instance, before the war, the United States imported " of the skins known as Persian Lamb, which are not Persian at all, but karakul and broadtail and astrakhan from Bokhara and krimmer from Crimea—a total of $14,000,000. It is expected by 1926 the entire supply can be drawn from karakul fur farms established in this country; and one big buyer told me he considered the skins that come on the United States market this year from United States farms as good as the best from Bokhara.
Canadians don’t need to be told anything about silver fox farming in Prince Edward Island. It has been the great triumph of domesticating fur bearing animals of the century; and has sent the price of wood land in Prince Edward Island higher than farm lands. That collection of $500,000 silver fox skins at the Montreal sale of 1920 was something never before excelled in the long history of the fur trade; and it marks a transition that is startling—the transition of fur bearers from wild life with all its cruelties to domestic life with all its care and painless death.
When you have a pair of silver foxes registered, true in progeny for three generations with no throw-back to crossfox or red, you have what a fur breeding fancier may pay $10,000 for, or $35,000, which is the top price to date; and you cab bet your hat those foxes will get the care of a millionaire baby; for they may litter nine a pair; and each pup may be worth from $500 to $2,000, which was the top price for silver in London in 1920. The panic of 1920 brought these prices down a little; but if you want to know bow much, try to buy a true flawless silver fox; and you may get it at greatly reduced retail price at $1,800. Try it!
It is only ten years since the biggest buyer of raw furs in America told me “fur farming could never pay.” And fur farming is here, and it is here to stay, and it is here to pay.
Or take the come-back of beaver!
The Fashion for Beaver
WHEN I left Canada some eighteen years ago—left it reluctantly with my heart in my boots—beaver was so nearly extinct that Ontario and Quebec had clapped on a period of closed years. Last year, beaver was so plentiful in Algonquin Park that land owners adjacent to the Park had to request the authorities to break down beaver dams to prevent the flooding of land; and the only reason beaver did not sell high at the sales was that the closed years drove beaver out of fashion and supplanted it with nutria, an inferior South American fur; and this has given the beaver a chance to multiply. It is only fur farming in another form; and the use of 8 million motor cars in the United States a year is going to renew the demand for beaver; for nutria will not stand hard wear; and beaver will.
Buffalo coats, in which we used to glory in the old days in Winnipeg ($45 a coat), are so unknown to the trade here that hides sold at only $65 and $75 in the 1920 sales; but buffalo have come back from a few hundreds ten years ago to 5,000 in one Canadian Park—Wainwright—only.
All this is fur farming under another name.
Or take the U. S. Government fur farming in Alaska seal. I don’t wish to go into the question of Pelgiac sealing. Canada is as sore on that as Nellie McClung is on sheep; but when the U.S. began fur farming seal, the annual catch was down to 6,000 and the herd—old and youngdown from 3,000,000 in 1867 to 196,000 in 1912-18. Today, there are more than 500,000 seals on the Seal Islands; and by 1926 it is figured the herd will be back to more
Continued on page 49
Canada’s Fur Future
Continued from page 9
than 3,000,000, when the old controversy may be opened again by any South American country, which was not a signatory to the Treaty, scouting Pacific waters.
I simply give these figures to show you what fur farming will do and to let you draw your own inference as to whether anything is happening in the world fur trade. If you want more figures, write to Mr.White, of Canada’s Conservation Commission, to whose wonderful work Canadians will one of these days waken up. If the Dominion Government and the Provincial Governments support what Mr. White is trying to do for the Canadian fur trade, he will one day give them as big cash returns in furs as Marquis and Red Fife Wheat have given in the hundreds of millions.
Oodles of Ready Cash
I HARDLY need to tell how the war forced the transfer of the world fur trade to Canada and the United States.
Europe was destitute of money. The United States had oodles of ready cash. People were buying furs who never bought fur before. Ocean transportation blocked the export of furs from Russia to London and they came by way of the Pacific here. The same thing happened to South American furs. They could find no sale in Europe and came here. Then the Leipzic dyers could not handle the squirrel and Persian lamb, which had been their great specialty; and they came here.
Then the manufacturers of America determined once and for all to win their independence of Germany for a supply of dyes. By means licit and perhaps illicit, they got the dye formulas. (There is a bitter fight right now on fur seal dye processes, which I don’t want to go into here, but I shall again as soon as the Supreme Court gives its decision. It is a matter to
So before International Courts very soon.)
tanks advanced dye works millions to get the industry established before the war ceased; and the dyeing and dressing of furs is in the United States and Canada to stay.
Fur fashions became here a sort of frenzy that grew by what it fed on—summer furs, which will pass as a fad, fur trimmings, fur for evening gowns, for wraps, for rough weather, for summer
motoring. And furs are the most beautiful setting for any face, old or young, man I or woman. There is a fur for every comI plexion, for every color of hair, for every age, for every season —chinchilla and grey I squirrel and mole for light evening wraps,
I fox for neck and street pieces, full coats for I rough weather and motoring.
A point of saturation will be reached j when the foolishness of the frenzy will ! pass, and you won’t see a^fox skin round a young girl’s neck when it is 80 degrees in Toronto, or Vancouver; and you won’t see girls parade Fifth Avenue, with fur fluffs on their high-heeled shoes, like wings; but a rich, careless spending nation, which has once acquired the taste for furs, will never lose that taste and go back to pure wool, especially as pure wool is going higher and higher in price, and dye processes are putting cheaper furs within the reach of the poorest buyer.
Furs are to-day in the United States and Canada what diamonds used to be in the old blazing horse-show days, when people went to see the diamonds, not the horses. Why, this year, I saw on the most costly dressers in New York, little harp seal coats from Newfoundland, which we used to regard as good only for blubber and oil.
The whim will pass, but America to-day is the biggest buyer and the most reckless buyer of furs in the world. The reckless buying will pass with the fuller knowledge of what is worth while and what isn’t; but a people once transformed into fur buyers will be fur buyers always.
Skinned Themselves, Too
AND the sales and the dressing and the dyeing and the manufacturing are here to stay. Why not? Why should we Canadians sell muskrat at 19 to 25 cents, ship it to Germany and Paris, and buy it back as Hudson Seal at an excess of 2,000 and 3,000 per cent? As the traders say— “I don’t think! Never again!” To be sure the ignorant fools who rushed out and paid high prices for unprime muskrat at Norway House—$4 for pelts worth 50c— got stung in the sales and had to buy back their poor furs and lost every cent they had. All the better for the muskrat at Norway House. These fur gamblers will never again buy unprime skins or try to skin the old wolves of tjie trade. They have skinned themselves for all time and will have to get out of the trade; but that is all the better for the trade. Old traders never buy unprime skins; and if you take skins only when prime, you give the muskrat time to multiply and keep the supply up.
Let the gamblers in the fur trade get out for good and all! They and their doped whiskey did more to demoralize the fur trade of the North in 1919 than it has suffered since the old fights of 1810 to 1820. Another such year would have debauched Indian tribes to the point of extermination; but the gambling interlopers are down and out, and the fur trade is back in tlje hands of legitimate traders. When a good muskrat sells for $7 and a poor one for 10c to be used in felt, these gay gamblers have had their lesson. When a perfect silver fox sells for $2,000, and an unprime for $1.50—which happened in one sale in 1920—some fool learned a lesson and the whole silver fox tribe got their revenge.
But there was a subtler reason why the fur sales would ultimately have come to America, even had there been no war; and this reason is such a red-hot end of a poker I want to make it clear.
European traders have fended off the day of the transfer for a century. They have fought the movement tooth and nail, fair and unfair, in court and out of it; but it had to come; and I can explain the reason best by a well-known case of 20,000 Canadian beaver or 20,000 Canadian inland Arctic fox.
Taking a Huge Loss
ONE year just before the war, both these furs had been bought from the trapper on the field at from $7.50 to $10. There was a sudden demand for fox in American fashions—I think it was the year when white trimmings were the vogue for evening wraps and young girl’s evening gowns. The price went up in the U.S. for white fox undressed to $20. But the 20,000 white fox sent from Canada that year couldn’t reach London that year before December, or be sold to the trade before March or April. By March or April the fashion had changed. They had to be brought back and put in storage for five
years. That very year, London got some 20,000 beaver. She dressed them and shipped them out here. Beaver was out of fashion here as it is yet. That consignment could not be sold. There was a loss that represented $400,000 in white fox, $400,000 in beaver, which ate its head off in interest charges straight through the four years of the war; and those two consignments will either have to be sold at a loss, or cost the ultimate buyer, at 6 per cent., $120,000 each consignment more than was necessary. When these two cases were drawn to the attention of the great European fur brokers, their sententious answer was: “Yes, but we can afford to drop all profits and if necessary a million or two in loss, rather than lose the fur markets of the world.”
But that hurts the ultimate price to the Canadian hunter and the ultimate price to the consumer; and that is the real reason why fur sales of American and Canadian furs had to come to the United States and Canada.
The laws of supply and demand break us. We can’t break them. We can only throw a monkey wrench in the machinery, that comes back on us as a boomerang. When the gamblers’ unprime furs failed to sell in the open market last year, the gamblers bought them in; but the banks closed down on the gamblers, seized the furs and threw them on a market demoralized by the panic. To have sold those poor furs on a panic market would have ruined legitimate dealers; so the poor furs were sold by sealed bids for what they would bring. They are out of the way now. Trappers did not go much afield during 1920; and this year will witness a catch estimated at 15 per cent, of normal. Results—good furs will multiply—good furs will a¡lso be very scarce in 1921 and will comrrfand high prices. I don’t think poor furs will ever again “slump” the market. The lesson was too costly to the tenderfoot horde of fools who rushed into the game.
Second, I want you to consider where the great natural fur domains of the world’s fur supply lie—furs are best from three sources:—
(1) In cold climate, where the pelage is deepest and strongest, which is why heaver is stronger and more durable than nutria, Alaska seal than muskrat seal, marten than chinchilla.
(2) Near fresh water rather than salt water with the exception of Alaska seal and sea otter, which is almost extinct.
(3) In timber or brush wood shade with the exception of the pure white furs, which are best from the Arctic.
Only three domains in the world answer all three requirements—Northern Russia, Canada north of Belle Isle to Athabasca and the Pacific—Alaska.
From these three domains must come the world’s future furs.
Bolshevists and Furs
RUSSIA may be written off the map for twenty years. Sables were becoming scarce before the war and the Imperial Government was just beginning fur farming and protective measures, when the Bolshevists came in, when there has been a closed seáson for nothing but decency. Game laws have gone by the board. Every hunter has been a law to his own lawlessness. Furs have been looted and smuggled in a mad orgy, prime and unprime, sold for a song. It would not be surprising if by the time the Bolshevists finish with Siberia, her best fur resources could be written down nil as the sea otter is already all but extinct. Only 17 sea otter came on the sales lists in 1920 compared to 200 ten years ago, and 100,000 a year a century ago.
You can ignore Russia as a fur domain for twenty ypars.
That leaVfes Alaska and that belt of Canada from Labrador to Athabasca diagonally northwest as the world’s fur farm for the next century, a fur farm called on to clothe in furs the whole world.
Won’t that exhaust Canada’s fur resources?
Mr. White thinks it will. It will if we do as Russia; but in the light of what the United States has done in Alaska, and what Canada is doing in fur farming, (1) silver fox, (2) beaver, (3) buffalo, I do not think it need or will exhaust Canada’s fur field.
T have spoken of the seal herd being restored from 196,000 to over half a million in ten years. That is a sample of other work in Alaska. Incidentally, Alaska cost Uncle Sam $7.200.000 in cash and
patrol work about $2,000,000. Up to 1919, Alaska had returned Uncle Sam in furs $80,000,000.
There is at present no way of computing the value of Canada’s fur farm; so little have we heeded our great gold mine in furs. The United States buys from $13,000,000 to $14,000,000 of raw furs from Canada a year. England must buy many times that. I should say Canada’s fur crop used for local needs and foreign would not be under $50,000,000 annually. Her foreign sold furs must exceed $80,000,000; but undressed furs are not dutiable anywhere, and though you add all the Canadian furs sold in London in a year by all the fur brokers and all classified here as Canadian, you can’t be sure little traders and trappers do not export by mail just as many furs as go out in regular bulk shipments to the big sales. Neither can we be sure that much sold as Canadian is Canadian. I know one consignment of 12,000,000 small skins sold as Canadian that came from Australia, which gives an altogether inferior fur. We haven’t even attempted to standardize a crop that in future years may be worth $500,000,000 to us. Sales in the U.S. have increased ten times in price in four years, and they certainly will in Canada.
What then should Canada do?
What is a Blue Fox?
ONE more fact on what Uncle Sam has done in Alaska. Blue fox used to command about $10 to $20 a pelt. They now run high as $200 and $300. Why the difference? Fur farming again and care and no unprime skins, and painless deaths so that the fur does not shed like the hair of a fevered patient. I am not going into the question of what a blue fox is, or I should in the midst of a furious scrap between naturalists and the fur traders; but the fact is blue fox used to run with white fox and have all kinds of mongrel off color babies. They used to be hunted with dogs and traps that injured the fur. They used to be the prey of wolves and such “varmints” as the trappers call them. They used to be trapped by the Indian prime and un prime; and they were rapidly diminishing in numbers to the vanishing
First Uncle Sam segregated the little rascals so they couldn’t contract undesirable matrimonial alliances; for the fox prefers to mate for life if he is allowed to be a good decent moral fox; That is—certain of the Aleutian Islands were given to blue fox farming—the island rented at $100 a year. Then the white foxes and the wolves were killed off; and the blue fox could raise his family in peace. Then if rabbits, or sea birds, or eggs, or fish were scarce—which they seldom are—blue fox was fed by the game wardens who were animal lovers as well as wardens. The bodies of dead “bachelor seals” or salmon were fed to him.
Hunting by dogs and traps was stopped. Both injured the fur and frightened the fox. Box traps were used. Before the trapper could take his fox from the box, a game warden had to inspect it. If the prisoner were a lady, she was branded and let go. No, don't scream! She wasn’t branded with irons. She had a ring carefully scissored in her fur round her tail; and any trapper found with a “ring tail” fox got his furs confiscated, with a fine of $500 if he did it twice. If the fox were young and small, he received similar treatment; and he couldn’t grow the fur in that ring inside another year. If his fur were unprime and would not command a good price, he got another lease of life. The game warden would stamp for export only full grown males taken in perfect and prime condition as to fur.
It hardly needs telling if the superfluous males were not killed, they would fight among themselves, with crueler death than the painless death the fur trader now demands for a perfect high-priced pelt. Chloroform is one form of death. If this is not possible a quick blow on the head ended “the superfluous male’s” happy life. In nature is no such thing as a painless natural death. Under this fostering care, blue fox farming is attaining almost the same measure of success in the Aleutians as silver fox farming in Prince Edward Island.
What should Canada do?
There are the facts. Judge for yourself. Considering what is happening in the fur world here, I should say in the rough farm her fur domains carefully as she is farming wheal, and do it before it is too laic.