This column has on several occasions dealt with aspects of the Beatty Brothers firm in Fergus.
That company totally dominated the economy of the town in the first half of the 20th century. It would be a mistake, though, to ignore the contributions of others to the growth and well-being of Fergus.
There were a number of other business ventures during the period of Beatty domination, though all were minor ones compared to the Beatty behemoth.
One such venture was a concern called Fergus Fur Farms. The owners were Jack Tweddle, who operated Tweddle Chick Hatcheries, and T. Campbell Richardson. Tweddle sold and shipped day-old chicks to farmers across a wide area in Ontario. His business was very successful and long-lived.
The real force behind the venture was T. Campbell Richardson. He was one of the most interesting of Fergus’ businessmen, and something of a character, with his relentless pursuit of new adventures and experiences and his gregarious nature. Richardson was the son of a Fergus barber. He was born in 1897 and his early years were not unusual. He attended the Fergus schools, enrolled in the army during the First World War, then learned telegraphy and worked at the Fergus Canadian National Railway station in the early 1920s.
The one thing that distinguished him from others of his age was a burning curiosity and ambition.
In the mid-1920s he cultivated a friendship with Tweddle, another ambitious Fergus boy. The two men concluded that there was a lucrative future in raising mink for the fur coat industry.
In 1925 they established a breeding and feeding operation on Richardson’s property, the former Alex Barnet property on Garafraxa Street.
Richardson and Tweddle divided the duties associated with the fur operation. Richardson looked after the animals, taking charge of feeding and breeding. He seemed to have a natural ability to work with animals, and he greatly enjoyed the challenges. Tweddle handled the paperwork, looking after sales and promotion, using skills he had developed with his day-old chick business.
There were, at the time, many fast-talking operators who lured naive people into the fur-raising business with the promise of huge profits, which never materialized. Richardson and Tweddle were much more serious. They studied the industry and the market for mink, and they saw a lucrative venture if they managed their business carefully and knowledgeably.
During the late 1920s the two men quietly and steadily built up the business. Their first pens were near the front of the Richardson property along Garafraxa Street. By their standards of a few years later, they were crude and primitive.
Soon they designed and built more sophisticated pens at the back of the property along Perry Street. The improved pens were in groups housing 40 animals, and soon Richardson had four groups. The animals could be looked after in comfort in the most disagreeable weather.
During the late 1920s Richardson and Tweddle earned respectable profit selling their animals for fur. They soon came to the conclusion that greater profits could be earned raising live mink for breeding purposes.
They were inspired in part by the boom-and-bust cycle of a few years earlier when the raising of silver foxes was all the rage until the market dropped through the floor due to overproduction. Richardson himself had been caught in that fad. But with mink they were looking at building the industry in Canada, and not seeking a quick profit. Their animals would be only of the highest quality.
Richardson used only imported breeding stock, rather than the more common native mink which did not adapt well to domestication. He noted that succeeding generations of them became adapted to living in pens, and became tame and inquisitive. He experimented with feeding, and developed a special diet that kept the animals vigorous and healthy year-round.
In 1930 Richardson and Tweddle had developed the business to the point where they felt confident in issuing a catalogue. It described the animals they were selling, and included instructions for preparing food and feeding mink during the varying seasons of the year. Along with the catalogue, the partners expanded their operations by setting up a branch farm at Bradore Bay in Labrador, raising the variety of mink that is native to that area.
Labrador mink had the best quality fur in the world, Richardson told reporters. He would raise them on a fur farm there, he said, where he could control the breeding and the quality of the animals. He built up the stock to more than 500 in 1930, and kept careful control of the breeding. In an interview with Hugh Templin of the Fergus News-Record, he stated that a breeding pair of Labrador mink could bring $350 on the market, a fortune in 1930 dollars.
In late September of 1930 the two men garnered a great deal of publicity when they shipped 60 pair of mink to a breeder in Port Arthur, Ontario. The animals had an unusually dark colour of fur. They came from the Fergus Fur Farm’s new operation in Labrador.
The men received a mind-boggling $15,000 for the shipment, which was their second to the breeder there. That price, which works out to $250 per pair, gave credence to the $350 figure they had given earlier. The prices were extraordinary given that the Great Depression was already gripping the North American economy.
In late October of 1930 Richardson and Tweddle took a trip to the Labrador operation, driving as far as Quebec City, and then taking a train to Chicoutami. With them was Sid Aiken of Fergus, who had signed on as manager of the Labrador farm. By then there was a strong demand for Labrador mink, and the men visited several mink ranches in the Lake St. John area.
Richardson and Tweddle returned to Fergus with a female mink of the Labrador species, but one with unusual fur. It had a distinct bluish tinge to its pelt, something no other mink was ever reported to have. Richardson intended to experiment to attempt to produce a distinctive line of mink having that colour. He reported that he had turned down offers of $850 for the animal.
By 1931 Richardson claimed to have the largest mink operation in Canada, and no one appeared to challenge the claim. Sales by the Fergus Fur Farms remained surprisingly healthy despite the depression conditions. It appears that Jack Tweddle wound down his involvement in the mink operation during the mid-1930s, but specific information is not available. In any case, Cam Richardson became the public figure for the operation, frequently speaking to the press about the farm.
In 1938 Richardson purchased the Beatty Brothers experimental farm, started by that firm a decade earlier to demonstrate the value and convenience of Beatty products, as well as experimenting with new farming techniques. The Beatty Brothers had concluded that the farm was costing the firm too much money in relation to its value as a sales tool.
With the added space and state-of-the-art facilities, the property was ideal for the Fergus Fur Farms. At the same time, always looking for fresh challenges and opportunities, Richardson established the Associated Mixed Feed Company, which supplied feed and equipment to fur ranchers.
The Fergus Fur Farms operation was Richardson’s biggest venture, but he was involved in many other activities. He was never happier than when he was pursuing a new business, especially one that others had not taken up.
Those are stories for another time, and another column on this remarkable Fergus citizen.