by Cameron Bridge, Nicola Valley Museum and Archives —
While the Nicola Valley is well known for it’s farms, one of its lesser known farms were that of fox farms.
At one point, the Nicola Valley was a hot bed for fox fur and fox farms, and one of those farms belonged to Albert Axten. Albert and his wife, Clara, moved to Canada sometime before the First World War. Axten made a name for himself as a hotel manager across B.C., first being the manager of the hotel in Walhachin, before managing the Leland Hotel in Kamloops.
In 1919, the Axten’s moved from Kamloops to Merritt to manage the Adelphi Hotel. Axten managed the Adelphi for nearly exactly two years before stepping down in June of 1921 to manage his fox farm full time. This was not the Axten’s first fox farm, as he had started fox farming in Walhachin when he found a fox and her cubs by the Canadian Pacific rail line. When they moved to Lower Nicola, it appears that they moved their fox farm with them.
The Axten’s bred silver foxes, the fur of which was the ideal fox fur for clothes makers, as silver fur could be dyed to match whichever colour of fur they wanted. In 1921, Axten was the first fox farmer in B.C. to have his foxes registered. It was around this time that a number of other people in the Nicola Valley began to run fox farms as well, the Gillis brothers and the Guichons are two families that also owned fox farms in the Nicola Valley.
The Nicola Valley’s climate suited foxes quite well, so it was seen as an ideal place to raise them. It was estimated in 1923 that the Nicola Valley held the highest concentration of fox farmers than anywhere else in B.C. Because of this, on July 18th, 1923, the B.C. Fox Breeders Association was formed and headquartered out of Merritt, with Albert Axten serving as the first president of the association.
The Axten Fox Farm appears to mainly made their money through the selling of breeding foxes rather than through the furs. In a 1929 Merritt Herald article, it was mentioned that a pelt of silver fox fur went for $12,500 (approx. $225,000 in today’s money), but a breeder fox would sell for between $17,500 and $20,000 ($310,000 – $350,000).
Axten became an award winning fox farmer, winning a number of different awards at international fox farming contests.
Albert Axten passed away on February 8th, 1950 at the age of 78. Only 10 days later, Clara Axten would pass away as well at the age of 80. Unfortunately, we have no photos of the couple.