Ray Gall, a Canadian trapper, is trying to keep his balance on a dam. He moves cautiously to try to retrieve a large black bear he had caught in one of his traps.
It is rare for anyone in the country to still make a living in this business that dates back to 400 years ago, when the first Indigenous trades in pelts were made to European explorers.
However, thousands of Canadians, including Indigenous People, continue to be active in this now highly-regulated industry.
Gall, 47, a municipal water worker, claims that trapping, foxes, and wolves in Canada is the oldest profession. He lives in a forest about three hours north of Toronto.
He says, “There’s always going to be a need trappers regardless of whether the market is available or not.” Before untangling the carcass of a beaver and stuffing it into a bag that he throws over the shoulder.
Tom Borg, a 70-year-old Indigenous trapper, says that “trapping has become more and more difficult” due to human encroachment, which reduces animal habitats and causes shorter winters because of climate change.
“It’s part our heritage, and it’s part us.” He says, misty-eyed, “So that’s difficult, it’s like stealing a piece from you.”
Market has been under severe pressure due to boycotts by luxury brands, the lack of Chinese buyers since the outbreak of the pandemic, and the loss of two key markets, Russia and Ukraine, since Moscow’s invasion.
Robin Horwath is the head of the Fur Institute of Canada, and the general manager of the Ontario Fur Managers Federation. He believes there will be a turnaround.
After it reached “about the lowest point in the cycle,” the situation is now “stable,” he stated.
Pelts can be tied together in bundles and sold at an auction
Canada is the world’s largest producer of wild furs, with 415,000 pelts being sold during the 2019-2020 season. This totals to Can$13.8million (US$11.0million).
North America’s last major fur sale is taking place in North Bay. It is located about 350 km north of Toronto. Brokers are busy looking at the offers ahead of the event which will be held online for the third consecutive year due to the pandemic.
Tens of thousands of animal furs are stored in a warehouse. They include lynxes and wolves, as well as black bears and foxes. The pelts are tied together and hung from racks.
Michel Roberge, the broker, holds a pencil and a catalog. He inspects every fur in detail for foreign buyers.
The Montreal merchant says, “Since this is a luxury market it’s naturally we are affected first” during a crisis.
Trimming coyote fur
Dolce & Gabbana, one of the most prominent luxury brands in America and Europe, was forced to stop using fur by animal rights activists in Europe. Lately, Burberry and Chanel have also stopped using fur.
Mark Downey, of the Fur Harvesters Auction, North Bay, stated that “the fur industry’s existed, it’s the oldest, and it’s crashed and risen many, many times over the past 400 years.”
“Canada Goose’s expulsion from the fur trade… was certainly a black mark on the industry.”
He is confident that other manufacturers will take over the “void” created by Canadian company. Last year, the Canadian company announced it would soon cease using coyote fur trim in its parka hoods. This feature has been a key part of Arctic explorers’ lives for the past five decades.
The industry will also need to deal with the inaccessibility to Russia and Ukraine markets — Russia is the second-largest fur market in the world, but has been targeted by Canadian and other economic sanctions.
Downey stated that “the war between Russia and Ukraine is a major handicap due to our (other) large buyers from Greece, Italy, and Turkey… their manufactured fur products are sold into Russia, Ukraine, and vice versa.”
He said, “But (the sector) will return again.” “The demand for these products is enormous, particularly in Asia.”