Saturday, May 12, 2012

Details of the Canadian Pork Trade, 1890s

Michael Bliss' biography of Joseph Flavelle, A Canadian Millionaire (1978) offers not only an intimate perspective on an archetypal Canadian capitalist, but also explains much of the changing pork industry in Toronto where he got his start.

Bliss writes that "the pig was and is man's best friend in the animal world". (p.37)  He goes on to cite that swine store 35% of the energy they consume on their body, while sheep and cattle only convert 11% of their diet into mass.  More of the pig is usable than cattle, and the protein is also better from pork providing the greatest energy value.  Pork is also the easiest meat to preserve.  No pigs were interviewed to determine their thoughts on this "friendship".

Twelve typical bacon hogs (2,200 lbs. together).
 The Wm. Davies Co., Toronto.Topley Studio / 
Library and Archives Canada / PA-026091
Canada could never compete with the United States and Argentina in selling chilled and frozen beef overseas.  New Zealand and Australia had cornered the sheep and lamb market.  With pork left, Canadians could still not compete with the fat salt pork producers south of the border.  Bliss noted that costs were kept down in the Mississippi Valley corn belt in an unappetizing manner.  These farmers, "supplied Chicago with mountains of cheap hogs grown wonderfully fat and round from following cattle and eating the corn in their excrement." (p.39)

William Davies, the namesake owner of a meatpacking company which Flavelle would come to dominate, discovered that the peas, grains, and skim-milk refuse from dairies that Ontario farmers fed their pigs developed a superior meat.  Davies left the cheap salt pork to others and specialized in the British market for bacon and ham.

Pen of hogs. The Wm. Davies Co.  
Topley Studio / Library and Archives Canada / PA-026094
Davies and Flavelle could not initially meet the supply of leaner hogs they needed.  Bliss wrote, "Not any old porker would do.  Ontario farmers had to get over their North American preconception that the ideal hog was a two- or three-hundred-pound symmetrical ball of lard." (p.39)  In the early days, Davies purchased the small number of undersize hogs that showed up in Chicago.

Animal husbandry responded to the growing demand created by this market as Davies introduced of the Improved Yorkshire into Canada.  As prices were higher for these leaner English breeds, Davies is said to have effected, "the Anglicization of the Canadian hog." (p.40)  Bliss writes, "his parentage, length, leanness, and lightness now sharply distinguished him from his corpulent American neighbour.  There were some Canadian who took a certain national pride in not raising hogs fed on cattle turds.  It was an altogether cleaner business north of the border."
Purebred Yorkshire sow purchased by William D. Albright, Beaverlodge, Alberta. NB-15-47
 The Glenbow Museum has chose an interesting placement for their archival brand in the above shot of a Yorkshire.  Perhaps with all the recent government cuts in the heritage sector, they are considering the meat packing business?

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