The Fox Farm

For years there was a stop or a way-point listed on timetables for the Botwood Railway that listed “Fox Farm.” It was located between Grand Falls and Bishop’s Falls about 7 Miles from Grand Falls and only a mile or two from Bishop’s Falls. I had always assumed that there must have been a fox farm there at some point. My research led me to the failed Exploits River Black Fox Company Limited.

In the early days of Grand Falls there was a man by the name of John Bethune. He was likely of Scottish extraction as he was noted as Presbyterian, it is also likely that he had a brother or other relative that was a medical doctor in St. George’s. I also believe there was another, earlier doctor Bethune at St. john’s.[i]

Now the story is the originally “Johnny” Bethune had experimented with keeping a couple of foxes in pens behind the Erin House (Bank of Montreal today, so roughly the CIBC and the stadium back parking lot). Then he decided to expand upon this venture by starting a company and selling shares.[ii]

Fox Farm Bethune non marked
Location of the Exploits Black Fox Company’s fox ranch on the Botwood Highway between Grand Falls and Bishop’s Falls. 

The Exploits River Black Fox Company Limited was Incorporated in May of 1913. It’s offices were noted as being at 5 Station Road, Grand Falls. (Registry of Companies) For his fox “ranch” Bethune acquired a 28 acre Crown Land Grand 7.5 Miles from Grand Falls on the Botwood Highway.

According to Jack Brown, Bethune must have obtained his foxes from “fellows trapping them in the woods.” He also noted that “nothing ever became of it.” This said in the few short years that this venture existed land was cleared and there was a a house and some building put up on the land. The last annual return for the Exploits River Black Fox Company was filed in December of 1916 and it was dissolved two years later. The property of the company was liquidated in August-October of 1917.

Evening Telegram (St. John's, N.L.), 1917-08-27 Adv. 7 Page 11 Exploits River Balck Fox Co
It seems Bethune’s fox farm was a failure and it was liquidated by those who had bought shares. (Evening Telegram 1917)
Evening Telegram (St. John's, N.L.), 1917-10-17 Adv. 3 Page 21 fox farm sale 1917.jpg
By the time it was sold the Fox Farm near Bishop’s Falls had 21 foxes on hand, but only one black female.

This venture was embarked on during a time when a black fox pelt was very valuable. I have seen newspaper and other evidence that people could get hundreds and even one thousand dollars for one during this time period. If this is true than a single black fox was worth a couple of years wages for most people in Newfoundland. My guess is that the single black fox that was on hand did not pass her genes down to her offspring and the get rich quick scheme did not make anybody rich quick. It should be noted that there were a number of fox farming companies Incorporated in Newfoundland in 1913-14 which must have had the same idea.

Evening Telegram (St. John's, N.L.), 1917-10-24 Adv. 43 Page 7 Fox Farm kesner
Simon Kesner was a scrap metal dealer, fur buyer and shoe store owner in St. John’s during the first two decades of the 20th Century. He bought the fox farm in 1917. 

The Fox Farm was bought by S.B Kesner, who was a St. John’s “metal merchant” (read junk man) who was also a fur buyer(Evening Telegram). I have no idea how long he owned this for or if he had any success with it. The 1921 Census does not that there was the family of Archibald Hancock living at Fox Farm, Bishop’s Falls (1921 Census Fox Farm) unfortunately I cannot seem to find the actual image of the census record that would list his occupation to verify if the fox farm was still in operation at that point. Kesner appears to have been a man with his irons in many fires and if he still owned the farm, Hancock was likely the caretaker.

John Bethune reappears in Grand Falls in the 1921 Census living in either the Erin, Cabot or Columbus House. He is listed as a store keeper with the Anglo-Newfoundland Development Company. There was a John Bethune of Grand Falls listed in the Evening Telegram as being an officer with the Newfoundland Regiment. The nominal role lists him as being a resident of Edmonton, Alberta. I also saw a piece in the Telegram listing this same John Bethune as wounded and in Hospital. If this is the same person, his actual involvement with the fox farm would have been cut short by the war. More information on Mr. Bethune would be greatly appreciated.

Apparently there may have been the foundation from the four room house still visible around 30 years ago. Right now I am going to file this with the one with the article about Lincoln road by the Grand Falls House, under ” I can’t believe there was once something there.”

I do believe that Mr. Simon Kesner was Jewish and he may have been acquainted with the Cohen’s because he had connections to the English-American Clothing Company, which I believe Simon Cohen worked for at some point. Other research suggests that he or one of his sons might have played some baseball and may have been familiar with Grand Falls though this activity. Kesner was representative of the Canada Iron and Metal Company and the proprietor of the White Shoe Company 1913 Directory St. John’s.

[i] https://www.familysearch.org/search/collection/results?count=20&query=%2Bsurname%3Abethune~&collection_id=2226517

[ii] http://collections.mun.ca/cdm/singleitem/collection/ich_oral/id/198/rec/55

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