Saskatoon

Financial uncertainty at historic auction house could cause 'devastating hit to the fur industry'

One of only two fur auction houses in Canada says it can't guarantee it will be able to sell wild fur over the coming season after its banking partners "appear to have decided to get out of the fur business."

North American Fur Auctions says loss of principal lender led to 'this unimaginable outcome'

A Canada lynx heads into a forest in this file photo. North American Fur Auctions says it can't guarantee a wild fur collection will be offered in the coming season. (David Zalubowski/Associated Press)

Canada's fur industry is reeling following word that a centuries-old auction house will likely not sell wild fur this season.

"A devastating hit to the fur industry," Saskatchewan Trappers Association president Wrangler Hamm said in a Facebook post to trappers.

North American Fur Auctions (NAFA), which is based in Toronto, said it's the result of losing its principal lender.

"We have faced almost insurmountable challenges as our banking partners of many years appear to have decided to get out of the fur business," NAFA president and CEO Douglas Lawson said in a letter to trappers and fur shippers earlier this fall.

He said all of the actions taken by the unnamed bank were, in his company's view, "unnecessary and unwarranted," adding NAFA was not in violation of any bank covenants.

"I want to sincerely apologize for all of the drama that you have had to endure with us over the past few months," he said to fur shippers.

In subsequent letters over the past few weeks, Lawson said NAFA was unable to refinance the company through a new lender and couldn't guarantee a wild fur collection would be offered in the coming season.

"We are very sorry to all our wild fur shippers for this unimaginable outcome," he said.

Lawson said the entire industry is still facing an "unprecedented market correction" and no sector is immune, including the auction houses.

He said NAFA would be addressing "the new realities of the industry through the right-sizing of our business."

When contacted by CBC News, a spokesperson said NAFA was not in a position to make a statement at this time.

Global promoter of wild fur

The company is the world's oldest fur auction house with roots that trace back almost 350 years to the Hudson's Bay Company, according to NAFA's website.

The International Fur Federation said NAFA is the world's second-largest fur auction house and produces the world's largest collection of wild fur.

"I think it's been quite an eye-opener for a lot of trappers across Canada, even North America," Hamm said when contacted by CBC News.

He said NAFA has taken "massive roles" globally in promoting and marketing ranch and wild fur.

Hamm said he expects the development will affect local fur collection depots that were agents for NAFA.

"So this will result in job loss and economic impacts for some of these families who've been in the fur trade and the fur business for most of their lives," he said.

Competitor says it's ready to fill the gap

A withdrawal by NAFA from the wild fur market would leave North Bay, Ont.-based Fur Harvesters Auction with a virtual monopoly on wild fur sales in Canada.

Hamm said he is "relieved" there is another company to market wild fur.

"They have reassured us that they are in a sound financial position, they are strong and they are ready for the ability to market all of Canada's and North America's wild fur," he said.

He said if trappers weren't able to market their fur one day, the cost of managing pests and predators would fall onto municipalities and taxpayers.

Canada's fur trade contributes nearly $1 billion to the Canadian economy annually, according to the International Fur Federation.

While numbers vary year to year, Statistics Canada reported in 2013 that the Canadian fur trade directly employs an estimated 60,000 Canadians, full-time and part-time.

The Fur Institute of Canada said Indigenous people make up half of the 50,000 active trappers in Canada.

About the Author

Kelly Provost is a newsreader and reporter with CBC News in Saskatoon. Email him at kelly.provost@cbc.ca.

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