My paternal grandfather (George Chapman) was a wholesale fish monger, silver fox rancher and maple syrup producer. He owned a home on the St. John River in New Brunswick (a province adjoining Maine, USA). He had seven children and drove a Packard limousine as a result! There’s a story that when my father’s marriage to my mother was announced, my father’s mother told my mother, “Get everything you can out of him in the first four years because there’ll be nothing after that!” My mother received in addition to her substantial engagement diamond ring several fur coats – among them a lamb shearling and a silver fox called a “chubby” (which was strictly for formal evening wear). There is nothing innately silver about the silver fox. The fur is actually black but through the tanning process the colour is altered.
The only time I shot a gun was a .333 in a rifle range at St. Andrew’s College where I attended boarding school. The occupation never stuck. Of the many things I inherited – wittingly and unwittingly – from my father and his father I much preferred the gold and sterling silver pocket watches I secured over the years from each of them. I did however adopt for a time my mother’s affection for fur apparel. In 1967 upon my entry into undergraduate studies at Glendon Hall my mother bought me a full length racoon coat from Flesher Furs on Cooper Street in Ottawa. The winters in Ottawa were notoriously brittle so the coat was employed with the conviction of an Eskimo. I also used it when downhill skiing at Mont Tremblant, Québec. Though somewhat preposterous the coat was a notable improvement of the traditional skiing gear and made the lengthy ascent upon the chair lift quite tolerable by comparison. The union of furs, Ottawa and Mont Tremblant was evident in an account I was told years ago by Pat Flesher. If I recall correctly she advised that when attending a fur auction in the Laurentian mountains the raw pelts were delivered to the auction site by Brinks trucks. Payment by cash or equivalent was required before delivery. The underlying theory to this seeming unqualified negotiation was that once the furrier took the knife to the pelt, it was game over – particularly if the furrier didn’t have the skill to modify the pelt expertly.
The only relic of my past indulgence is a fur hat which I continue to use to this day – most recently while strolling along the freezing waters of the Ottawa River. In spite of the current unpopularity of fur I consider it an offence to discard the hat. Nor do I wish to be buried with it but rather pass it along – with honest gratitude to the erstwhile beast in keeping with the original indigenous posture – to another of my immediate acquaintance. Until global warming completely overtakes us, we urban dwellers are not as far removed from the influence of winter as we might think.
This account reflects the many now unpalatable heirlooms of our past. Some people seek to dilute the distaste by accusations of lingering carnivorous appetites or by inflicting similar axiomatic objection arising from the retail of leather coats and gloves. Nor does it assist to be told that some oriental – or should I say Asian – nations traffic in puppy meat. I recollect having eaten horse meat (which had apparently been pounded by the butcher for tenderness) when studying at Alliance Française in Paris, France.