MORE ON “BOUT” FOX FARM (October 1/99)

Thanks to several readers, I am able to expand on the recent column about the Bout (Boot) Island Fox Company. One reader has supplied me with a photocopy of several interesting documents, the original Company six-page prospectus describing the operation, a financial statement dated December 31, 1914, and a shareholder’s proxy form; other readers have called to offer pertinent tidbits on the history of the fox ranch and the Island itself.

As mentioned in my September 10 column, J. F. Herbin, author, historian, Wolfville jewelry store founder and dedicated student of Acadian lore, was a director and the secretary-treasurer of the Company. School principal R. W. Ford, Wolfville, was president. A former Wolfville Mayor, T. L. Harvey, was a director; other directors were A.M. Wheaton, Wm. O. Regan, F. C. Dennison, Frank Gertridge and L. A. Armstrong, all of whom were either merchants or orchardists.

Also a director was A. T. McConnell, described in the Prospectus as a “well-known expert fox breeder,” from Port Hilford, N.S. Mr. McConnell, who had 30 years experience in the “fur business,” was the key figure in the Bout Island Fox Company; it was from his ranch that breeding stock was obtained and his expertise that would steer the Company on the right course.

One of the first acts of the new Company was to obtain breeding stock. In August of 1914 the Company purchased five “Silver black Foxes” – one pair of breeders and three pups – from Mr. McConnell for $40,000. By 1914 standards this was a large amount of money for two adult foxes, the pups being future breeding potential only. The Company’s future hinged on the breeding capacity of the adult foxes which in the prospectus were described as proven and “in their third breeding season.” As a further guarantee of success, McConnell was taken on to advise and guide the new operation. An experienced fox farmer, G. E. McGregor, was named as manager.

“The Bout Island Fox Co. begins business with all the experience and expert knowledge of Mr. McConnell at its disposal, and its financial success is assured from the outset,” reads the Company prospectus optimistically. “Every step forward will be carefully taken under the guidance of this skilled rancher.” McGregor is also described as having “full knowledge of the (fox farm) business.”

With proven breeding stock and experienced ranchers in key positions, why did the Bout Island Fox Company fail? To date I’ve been unable to determine this. A relative of a deceased former shareholder was told that the Company went bankrupt after operating for just over two years. The fledgling Company was at the mercy of the fur market, long known for its wild fluctuations in prices, and this may have been a factor.

Anyway, the prospectus provides a description of the Boot as it was over 80 years ago and it obviously has diminshed in size. “The ranch will be located on a 300-acre island in the Minas Basin, isolated, accessible and particularly adapted to the raising of foxes,” the prospectus reads. I doubt that the Boot is a 300-acre island today unless one measured it at low tide.

In the prospectus, Boot Island is said to have “a fine grove of 10 acres of wood.” That was in 1914; today little remains of the grove which apparently was gradually destroyed by roosting birds. In 1914 when the fox ranch was being set up, there was a large residence on the Boot and several outbuildings. When I visited the Island 35 years ago no traces of these buildings could be found.

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