Fur garments have been made using hand techniques for more than 100 years, although new technologies have been introduced in the last decade. Innovations include cutting machines, an attachment to guide fur through the wheels of the fur-sewing machine, and a German invention for finishing a coat, ie, installing the lining, as well as German and Japanese machines that cut and sew a mink skin into a "let-out" stripe. Almost no research and development is done anywhere except in Germany and Japan, but innovation exists in Canada in dressing, dyeing and cutting.
Canada is known internationally as the producer of the world's finest furs. Jacques CARTIER was met in 1534 on the shores of the St Lawrence R by Indian chiefs wearing the robes of their rank, hand sewn from beaver and bear pelts. Western Europeans wintering in Canada found it essential to tan and sew pelts they had obtained by trapping or barter, although the resulting garments could hardly be called fur coats, since there was no styling. A modest custom-fur business sprang up to meet the demands of voyageurs and traders who wanted better garments. Exported pelts were used mainly for men's hats, but gradually fur fashions began to appeal to women in Europe and Canada.
This demand created a market for custom furriers, who designed, made and maintained fur garments. The Hudson's Bay Co, formed in 1670 to collect pelts from Rupert's Land, slowly developed a garment business as well. From 1880 to 1920, many of the immigrants from Ukraine, Poland and Austria, as well as young men from England and Scotland, had had experience with the needle in Europe and went into Canadian fur stores and workrooms. The early custom furriers were Anglo-Saxon, but by 1930 Jewish immigrants had developed a wholesale manufacturing industry to serve the custom trade and the developing retail trade.
In 1933, as the GREAT DEPRESSION created financial chaos, manufacturers formed the Fur Trade Credit Assn of Canada, later the Fur Trade Assn of Canada. Retailers formed the Retail Furriers Guild of Canada. Each May the Fur Trade Assn and Trade Fair Entrepreneurs sponsor great fur fairs and international shows in Toronto and Montréal, where retailers order coats for August fur sales. The 1950s and 1960s brought many trained furriers from Greece, almost all being from the small town of Kastoria which had been totally employed in manufacturing fur items for 2000 years. The Greek furriers congregated in Montréal, Toronto and New York, and they are becoming a major factor in Canadian fur manufacturing. They have developed their own trade association in Toronto.
Fur-production workers can be trained on the job or at Toronto's George Brown College to become cutters (who cut the pelts to fit the pattern, using a pointed razor-bladed knife), operators (who sew the pieces together), blockers (who tack or staple the sewn sheets of fur to the tracing of the pattern) and finishers (who close the coat and install the lining, buttons, etc). The fur industry consumes relatively little energy because so much of the work is done by hand. Synthetic fur uses much more energy and its manufacture creates chemical pollution.
Author SIDNEY S. SCHIPPER
Links to Other Sites
In Pursuit of Adventure: The Fur Trade in Canada and the North West Company
An extensive website featuring digitized archival material related to the fur trade and its role in the early exploration, settlement, and economic development of Canada. From the McGill University Digital Collections Program.
Fur Institute of Canada
This Fur Industry of Canada website focuses on such industry issues as animal welfare, humane animal capture devices and wildlife conservation. Also includes educational resources about fur bearing animals and sustainable use practices.
Hudson's Bay Company ends its fur trade
Hudson's Bay Company was created in 1670 to trade animal pelts for goods at remote outposts across North America. This 1991 CBC news story focuses on the company’s decision to discontinue selling furs in its retail stores.
Facts of Fur Types
Facts on types of fur found in the fur trade. From the website for the International Fur Trade Federation.
Fur Trade Facts
A glossary of terms commonly used in reference to the history of Canada's fur trade. From the website for Alberta's Heritage Community Foundation.
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