Sale highlights growth of fur trade industry

Eric Bell
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Animal pelts from all regions of the province filled the Allen Bird Memorial Centre as trappers gathered to sell their fur at the first-ever Saskatchewan Trappers Fur Table Sale this weekend.

The sale provides a unique opportunity for Saskatchewan trappers as they are able to get offers for their pelts from several different buyers at the same time.

“The way it’s set up is to give trappers the opportunity to bring their fur out and realize the price available for it,” Saskatchewan Trappers Association president Don Gordon said. “We encourage trappers to go all the way through and get an offer from everybody.  Here they get three offers, and all the companies don’t know what the other one has offered. That way it’s up to the trapper to decide who they will sell to.”

The three companies buying fur at the sale were North American Fur Auctions from Toronto, the Northwest Company from Winnipeg, and Red Deer Furs based out of Porcupine Plain. Gordon says the companies purchasing pelts from Saskatchewan will usually sell the fur to China, where the bulk of garments for the world are produced.

China’s demand for fur has increased over the past few years, driving up prices as well as the amount of trapping licenses sold in the province. Gordon estimates the average price of fur at the sale will be between $80-$90 per pelt.

“It doesn’t compare to 1980, when there were 20,000 licensed trappers in Saskatchewan, but this year there are between 3,500 to 4,000 trappers,” Gordon said, pointing out that numbers are up significantly from 2007, when the province hit an all-time low of only 1,500 licensed trappers.

Gordon says he has noticed the average age of people buying trapping licenses in the province is changing.

“There seems to be growing interest from the younger generation,” Gordon said. “With younger trappers, we are looking at a generation whose kids are now old enough that they are starting to become interested in the outdoors. So they are going out and bringing their kids with them.”

For Northern Saskatchewan Trappers Association President Clifford Ray, engaging the younger generation is key to keeping the trapping industry alive.

“We have a long history,” Ray said, noting that the trapping industry in Canada dates back 350 years. “When I was growing up, you had a lot of elders and teachers. My dad was a respected trapper and hunter and I learned from him and from my uncles. Today we are living in a more modern society where the kids have to stay at home to go to school, so it’s up to guys like me to pass on what I know to the young people.”

One of the greatest barriers for youth wanting to become licensed trappers is the cost. Ray hopes that by pooling their resources, the trapping community can attract more young people.

“It’s a business, and it’s a high-cost business,” Ray said. “Young people right now, they have to come up with at least $25,000 to get set up. So we have a mentorship program involving elders and 500 trappers cabins up north that they can utilize.”

Gordon said that around 125 trappers both young and old have brought in their furs since the sale began on Friday. While he was hoping more would show up, Gordon deemed the sale a success but hopes to see some changes made if the sale is to happen again next year.

“It would be nice to see a couple more buyers here to make pricing a little more aggressive,” Gordon said. “Getting the message to the trappers worked adequately, but maybe the date could be a bit earlier since most people travel for Christmas this time of year. The opportunity is here, it’s just up for the trappers to decide if they want to come down and sell.”

Ray agreed that the sale was a success, saying he is glad that high demand for fur is causing a renewed interest in trapping.

“Things in the trapping industry have been down since 1980, and we have had lots of problems,” Ray said. “But it makes me feel good to see the industry coming back.”

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