Fur farming is the practice of raising animals in captivity for their fur. Furs from animals caught in the wild are known as “wild fur”, as opposed to “farmed fur”. After demand for beaver furs dropped in the mid-nineteenth century, fur farming became more profitable. Fancy furs, such as mink and marten, continued to provide profits for companies in place of beaver, a staple fur. The two most popular furbearing animals farmed in Canada were the mink, Neovison vison, and the silver fox, Vulpes vulpes.
Lac La Biche provided thousands of mink and fox pelts over the period in which fur farms were in operation. While mink were often the most valuable furbearing animals in Canada, as they are today, fox pelts were also extremely popular among women, especially during the 1920s, and their price reflected that. A fox scarf made from a single pelt could range in price from $350 to $1000. In 1945, over $500,000 of mink pelts were sold from Lac La Biche fur farms. This accounts for just over a third of the total value of mink pelts sold from Alberta of that year, $1,487,731. Adjusted for inflation, today’s value of that $500,000 would be several million dollars.
The last mink ranch in Lac La Biche closed in 2007, largely due to lack of fish the rancher, Otto Fyith, was able to procure for his mink. The mass closures of commercial fisheries in lakes surrounding Lac La Biche resulted in a lack of large quantities of fish available for purchase in the area. At the height of Fyith’s career, he was raising around 2500 mink. Today, the Canadian fur trade has two-thirds of its furs produced from fur farms and one-third from trapping. There are many trapping families in Lac La Biche contributing to the number of trappers that gives Alberta one of the highest levels of trapping in the country. Over several hundred years of inclusion in the fur trade, Lac La Biche has managed to shift its fur trade focus from wild furs, to fur farming, and back to wild furs.