VICTORIA, P.E.I. - Nowadays it’s a frowned upon industry, but at the turn of the 19th century P.E.I. was a world leader in fur trade, a boom that – like all silver rushes – ended as quickly as it started.
As part of Heritage Week events, an open history circle was held in Victoria Hall on Sunday afternoon to remember, preserve and promote the economic importance of the village of Victoria and its fox trade industry.
Brenda MacQuarrie Boudreau, chairwoman of the Victoria Historical Association, was among those in the Victoria History Circle who came dressed for the occasion.
“For our history circle, we decided to focus on the fox ranches that were here in the village. Many people invested and made money on the ranch that boomed over the years. And I’m playing the character of Mrs. Miner MacNevin.
“Her husband bought the Wright Brothers General store, which is now the Island Chocolates Company on Main Street, and she operated it. It was like the Walmart of Victoria, where you could get your groceries, water and gossip all at one stop.”
MacNevin died in 1944. Boudreau donned a 1930s fox-coloured shawl to re-enact her grandmother’s life in the village.
“My husband, invested in silver foxes back in 1915 and when he bought our house, he paid for it with two foxes. They were worth a lot of money back then,” she explained, while in character.
“The big boom of fox farming was in the early 1900s to the ‘40s, but it was like the gold rush and ended just as quickly with a big bust.”
Foxes farmed were black with strands of silver in their fur.
Summerside historian George Dalton explained how his father, James Edward, became a fox farmer.
“In 1905 my dad came from Nova Scotia as a druggist to P.E.I., but in 1910 he decided to buy his own drug store and move to O’Leary. He stayed there for two years and connected to Sir Charles Dalton, and they became good friends.
“My dad bought breeding stock from Sir Charles, who had the best foxes in the world. And in the 1920s when my father sold 22 of these prized foxes, he had his best year, and that’s when he purchased the Lefurgey house in Summerside, and the Dalton family resided there for 42 years.”
Fox fur was prized in society as a show of wealth. But farmers struggled to get foxes to mate in captivity.
“Charles and his partner Robert Oulton developed the right conditions for successful breeding, and they had four partners. They called them ‘The Big Six,’ and they became extremely wealthy. They then decided to sell their breeding stock, so others could start up.”
Dalton, Oulton, Robert Tuplin, Captain James Gordon, B.I. Raynor and his father Silas held a monopoly on farming foxes for a decade in this province.
Scattered evidence of the thriving fox industry of the 19th century can still be seen in Summerside through the grandeur of many historic homes.
Victoria Historical Association partnered with Tryon and Area Historical Society for the history circle, which featured Jack Sorensen as guest speaker.