THE KINGS COUNTY KARAKULE SHEEP COMPANY (July 16/12)

“I have a unique question,” wrote Kings County Museum curator Bria Stokesbury.  “Have either of you heard of the Evangeline Karakule Arabi Sheep & Fur Company?”

What prompted Stokesbury to contact Louis Comeau and I was an old stock certificate she recently had opportunity to examine.  The certificate was issued in Kentville, representing 4,200 shares in an unusual sheep ranch that just over a century ago attempted to set up in Kings County.

“I’ve never heard of this company,” Stokesbury said when she wrote us about the certificate Jim Noonan had brought into the Museum.  “Apparently it had assets of $84,000 at the time, a considerable amount for that period.”

I had to plead ignorance of the topic.  Until I received Stokesbury’s message I’d never heard of Karakule Arabi sheep or of the sheep company.  It was a different story for Kentville historian Louis Comeau.  Trivial or not, much of Kentville’s history, from at least day one of incorporation until the present, can be found in his data base.

As you’ll see, Comeau was familiar with efforts to raise Karakule sheep in Kings County, an attempt in the early 1900s to profit from of a world-wide market.  Later I’ll get back to what Comeau told Stokesbury about the sheep ranch, but some background info first.

Karakule sheep are interesting animals.  Apparently native to central Asia, these hardy sheep are noted for multiple uses, being raised for their milk, meat, pelts and wool.  Usually spelled Karakul, the Arabi in its name refers to its black color phase.  A 1920s report on the sheep says the animal produces so-called Persian Lamb and Astrakhan Fur when crossed with domestic coarse-wooled breeds; hence its one time popularity.

Wearing Persian Lamb or Astrakhan Fur on a variety of apparel – coats, collars, caps and muffs – was a high society trend in the early 1900s.  “We require $14,000,000 worth of such furs annually,” claims a 1920s U.S. agriculture report, explaining why around 1908 Karakule sheep were imported into Texas and ranches were established to supply this market.

The idea of raising Karakule sheep for profit eventually caught on in Canada.   We have this as evidence:  “The Alberta Karakule Arabi Sheep & Fur Company (was) recently formed to raise Karakule Arabi Sheep,” reads a report in the February 1915 issue of the Boston Evening Transcript.  “The Company secured its first stock from near Topeka, Kansas.”  At that time, the newspaper reported, two other Canadian farms besides the one in Alberta were devoted to raising these sheep – one in P.E.I., the other in Nova Scotia.

This takes us back to the stock certificate that intrigued Bria Stokesbury.  The certificate was rescued from a trip to the dump by Jim Noonan when Judge Roscoe’s old law office on Cornwallis Street, Kentville, was being cleaned out in 1978.

From the certificate we learn that the Evangeline Karakule-Arabi Sheep & Fur Co. Ltd was incorporated on July 15, 1915, with an authorized capital of $125,000.  The head office was in Kentville, the president H. K. MacDonald, the secretary-treasurer J. D. Spidell.  The stock certificate, representing some 4,200 shares in the company, was issued to one William B. Foster a few months after the company incorporated. Shares were valued at $20 each

The attempt to breed Karakule sheep here for their fur was short-lived.  In his reply to Bria Stokesbury, Louis Comeau said the venture only lasted a few years.  “The whole enterprise was unfortunate,” he said.  “As I understand it, they tried to breed for Persian Lamb but didn’t understand the genetics, with the result that the lambs and their skins were of no value.  The company failed quickly.”

In Louis Comeau’s files is a notice dated February 21, 1919, inviting shareholders of the sheep company to a “special general meeting.”  The notice appears to indicate the company is winding up business and the romance with Karakule sheep was over.   The purpose of the meeting as per the notice:  “Electing officers for the Company and considering what shall be done with the stock of sheep remaining on hand and for receiving a statement of the affairs of the Company and determining what action shall be taken in relation thereto.”

While the head office of the company was in Kentville, it isn’t known where the ranch or ranches were located.  Apparently there was at least one in Kings County.  Louis Comeau hints it may have been at Dempsey’s Corner near Aylesford, based on the possibility a company officer, A. E. McMahon, had a farm at this location.

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