“Is a frog game or fish? There is the rub.” A brief look at the history of ranaculture in Canada and Québec, Part 3

A typical advertisement of Giant Frog & Sea Food Limited of Montréal, Québec. Anon., “Giant Frog & Sea Food Limited. La Patrie, 18 October 1952, 53.

It is with humility tinged with awe that yours truly must admit that I did not expect to find a quantity of information allowing me to write such a long article on ranaculture.

Allow me to cite an example. An order in council which came into effect in Ontario in May 1933 protected northern leopard frogs, bullfrogs and green frogs from all forms of hunting during the months of May and June. Only frogs from American states or Canadian provinces other than Ontario could be sold in that province during those two months.

That measure suggested that frog hunting continued to significantly affect Ontario populations. One can assume that the same was true in Québec, a province where hunting did not seem to be affected by any restrictions, both before and after 1933.

If you do not mind, yours truly will limit this third part of our article on ranaculture to what happened after 1930 in the province of Québec alone. I do not particularly want to be led to write a fourth part. Any objections? Thank you.

The main agricultural publication in Québec, Le Bulletin des agriculteurs, seemed quite surprised to learn, in 1935, how developed the production of frog meat was on Québec soil. The value of the annual production, about 22 650 kilogrammes (50 000 pounds) on average, sometimes reached $ 50 000, or about $ 1 000 000 in 2022 currency. The bulk of that production was exported to Ontario and the United States, however. One of the people involved in that industry was the aforementioned resident of Windsor known as the Roi des grenouilles, who often gave orders of 2 275 kilogrammes (5 000 pounds) or more.

The author of a very interesting text, published in a September 1937 issue of the weekly Le Peuple of Montmagny, Québec, did not seem to know more about what is happening in Québec in terms of ranaculture.

Its author, a quite combative Québec publicist and journalist, Gérard Brady, commented on a very interesting work published in Montréal in 1936, I think, Osons! Notre émancipation économique et nationale l’exige by Joseph-Honorius Marcotte. According to the latter, a Montréal accountant / author / businessman / lecturer, the typical francophone Quebecer lacked initiative – “An eye-opening fact,” to quote, in translation, the title of Brady’s article. He slept in the arms of an uncomfortable routine. The farmer and his family starved while the worker and his family lived from hand to mouth.

All these people survived with pain and misery, and that on a territory overflowing with natural resources, both real and potential.

Marcotte denounced the virtual absence of flocks of sheep in Québec, a territory where woollens were nevertheless highly appreciated given the climate. He also denounced the absence of cuniculturists on Québec soil, and... Sigh... A cuniculturist practices the breeding of domestic rabbits.

Brady seemed to add to Marcotte’s remarks by pointing out another type of breeding, ranaculture. Admittedly, Brady got a tad too excited about that. While a pair of bullfrogs could produce up to 10 000 eggs per year, stated he, the fact was that the vast majority of tadpoles did not make it to adulthood. If yours truly understands the words of the owner of a frog farm located near Neenah, Wisconsin, around 1890, a certain Louis G. Dubois perhaps, the number of frogs ready for sale descended from such a couple varied between 125 and 210 per year, which corresponded to a mortality rate of 98 or 99 %. Ow!

If the expression dog eat dog is quite well known, the expression frog eat frog might be more appropriate. Just sayin’.

Before I forget it, Dubois was one of the 900 000 or so francophone Quebecers who emigrated to the United States between 1840 and 1930. Indeed, he arrived in Neenah in 1871, when he was about 19 years old.

Curiously, the important migration of which Dubois was a part does not seem to hold a very, very large place in the collective memory of Québec. This being said (typed?), it certainly played a crucial role in the creation of the Canada of 2022. Without that migration, there would indeed be 4 to 5 million more francophones in Canada on that date, which would increase the number of francophone Canadians from about 7.3 million to between about 11.3 and 12.3 million, but back to Brady.

At first glance, that polemicist seemed to be getting carried away again when he claimed that a dozen bullfrogs sold for between $ 2 and $ 5 in 1937 – that’s between $ 39.60 and $ 99.00 in 2022 currency. As remarkable as that may seem, such a price might not have been outlandish, provided the conditions were right and the batrachians were of good size.

This being said (typed?), the retail price of frog legs did not seem to be particularly high at that time. In fact, in November 1936, a Montréal merchant, A. Dionne Fils & Compagnie, sold his frog legs… Uh, and why not insert another price list?

Frog (legs)

approximately 77 ¢ per kilogramme (35 ¢ per pound)

about $ 15.30 per kilogramme (about $ 6.95 per pound) in 2022 currency

Shrimp (fresh, green)

approximately 77 ¢ per kilogramme (35 ¢ per pound)

about $ 15.30 per kilogramme (about $ 6.95 per pound) in 2022 currency

Swordfish (fresh)

approximately 62 ¢ per kilogramme (28 ¢ per pound)

about $ 12.20 per kilogramme (about $ 5.55 per pound) in 2022 currency

Veal (chop)

approximately 62 ¢ per kilogramme (28 ¢ per pound)

about $ 12.20 per kilogramme (about $ 5.55 per pound) in 2022 currency

Ground beef (fresh)

approximately 33 ¢ per kilogramme (15 ¢ per pound)

about $ 6.55 per kilogramme (about $ 2.95 per pound) in 2022 currency

I remind you that boneless chicken breast seemingly sold for just under $ 20 per kilogramme (just over $ 9 per pound) in Ottawa, Ontario, in 2022.

If Brady accepted Marcotte’s conclusion that the typical francophone Quebecer seemed to lack initiative, he blamed the provincial government and its overly timorous, even incompetent, civil servants.

Brady denounced the refusal to grant a subsidy to a “good guy” who wanted to start ranching and rabbit farming, a refusal signified several times in 1937 by the head of the Service d’agronomie of the Ministère de la Colonisation of Québec, Léo Brown. Said refusal was based on the fact that the profitability of these types of breeding remained to be demonstrated on Québec soil – a disappointing conclusion for the “good guy” but all in all a reasonable one in a period of major economic crisis.

A brief digression. Yours truly wonders if the overly timorous, even incompetent civil servants whom Brady denounced were those who had served the series of governments of the party in power between May 1897 and August 1936, or those who served the new government elected in August 1936. The new party in power indeed dismissed an almost hallucinating number of provincial civil servants, for various reasons, which ranged from crass incompetence to a questionable coziness with the defeated political party.

And now for something completely different. Would you believe that, when the Canadian ocean liner SS Empress of Britain set off on a 130-day round-the-world cruise, its 12th apparently, in January 1935, no less than 225 kilogrammes (500 pounds) of frog legs were shipped to the port of New York City, New York, by a merchant in Montréal, Québec, were part of the trip?

A little frog tells me that more batrachians may well have been brought on board at various locations around the globe, once the initial batch got gobbled up by the seafaring naked apes – a descriptor made popular by the influential / controversial 1967 book The Naked Ape: A Zoologist’s Study of the Human Animal of the English zoologist / ethologist Desmond John Morris.

The cost of a ticket? At least $ 2 150, or approximatively $ 45 000 in 2022 Canadian currency. That $ 2 150 corresponded to about 30 months of salary for a typical worker in the Canadian manufacturing industry. Is a comment on how much fun it must have been to be awash in moolah in the middle of a crushing economic crisis really necessary? I too thought not.

And yes, the SS Empress of Britain belonged to Canadian Pacific Steamships Ocean Services Limited, a division / subsidiary of Canadian Pacific Railway Company, a Canadian transportation giant mentioned in many issues of our blog / bulletin / thingee since April 2018. Canadian Pacific Steamships Ocean Services, on the other hand, was mentioned once therein, in September 2022, but I digress.

Less than 5 years after said cruise, in September 1939, the Second World War began. Canada joined that conflict that same month.

While it was true that the civilian populations of Canada and Québec were not directly threatened, it was nonetheless true that the situation was serious. If the conflict led to massive job creation, thus ending the Great Depression of the 1930s, the fact was that Mr. and Mrs. Everyone did need a laugh once in a while.

Many Quebecers found that amusement by listening to the radio. The Montréal radio station CKAC, then owned by the important daily newspaper La Presse, had been broadcasting a 15-minute comedy series since January 1939, broadcasted from Monday to Friday, which was a great success.

And yes, my perplexed reading friend, there is a reason behind the presence of the two preceding paragraphs. Just bear with me a tad longer.

Created by the great Québec actor / folklorist / screenwriter / singer Ovila Légaré, Nazaire et Barnabé recounted the tribulations of a group of francophone Montrealers hit hard by the Great Depression who emigrated (went into exile?) in the Abitibi region of Québec and tried, without much success, to reinvent themselves as settlers in Casimirville – a slum (initially?) without a woman and without a priest. Légaré and another Québec actor, Georges Bouvier, alone played the 15 or so characters of that long-lived (January 1939-May 1958?) radio soap opera whose absurd and good-natured humor probably did not call much into question.

And yes, you are right, my reading friend, Nazaire et Barnabé was inspired to some extent by Amos ‘n’ Andy, a very popular and long-lived American radio situation comedy (March 1928-November 1960) whose two main black characters were played by white actors – an unacceptable but widespread practice at the time.

All that information on one of the classics of Québec radio humour, a classic of which no episode seemed to have survived, allows yours truly to point out that at least one episode broadcasted in July 1941 mentioned the presence of frogs in Casimirville, a culinary resource that one of the residents of the place, a certain Fulgence, intended to exploit.

The Second World War and its many horrors relegated ranaculture far into the background. Indeed, that production did not hit the headlines again until the early 1950s, in the midst of the Cold War. (Hello, EG, EP and VW!)

In fact, it was in May 1952 that the Montréal daily newspaper La Patrie began to publish large advertisements on ranaculture. And yes, my eagle-eyed reader friend, it was through one of these advertisements that yours truly initiated this imposing article of our blog / bulletin / thingee.

What was curious was that said advertisement appeared mainly (70 % of cases) in La Patrie, a declining daily. The following list is most enlightening in that respect.

Canadian Frogs Industries Company / Canadian Frog’s Industries Company of Montréal, Québec

La Patrie (Montréal) 7 advertisements between May 1952 and May 1953

Le Petit Journal (Montréal) 1 advertisement in June 1952

Le Bulletin des agriculteurs (Montréal) 1 advertisement in February 1953

Giant Frog & Sea Food Limited of Montréal, Québec

La Patrie (Montréal) 14 advertisements in October and November 1952

Fancy Frog Industries Company of Sherbrooke, Québec

La Tribune (Sherbrooke) 6 advertisements between January to May 1953

A preponderance whose explanation escapes me. Did Canadian Frog’s Industries and Giant Frog & Sea Food fail in their attempts to place advertisements elsewhere than in La Patrie? Anyway, let us move on and…

Do you have a question, my reading friend? Why were all the advertisements published in francophone newspapers, you ask? A good question. I believe that farmers in Québec were predominantly francophones. Indeed, it looks as if advertisements like the ones published in Québec in 1952-53 did not appear in American newspapers, and…

A second question? A request? Ah, you want to see ads from Giant Frog & Sea Food and Canadian Frog’s Industries again. You cannot imagine how that kind request fills my heart with joy. This being said (typed?), let me remind you that such advertisements can be found at the beginning of the 1st and 3rd parts of this article. You can go check them out yourself and…

That is all for today.

Come back next week to check out the 4th and final part of this article. I dare you.

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Rénald Fortier