“Is a frog game or fish? There is the rub.” A brief look at the history of ranaculture in Canada and Québec, Part 4

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A typical wild and free bullfrog. John J. Brice, editor, A Manual of Fish-Culture: Based on the Methods of the United States Commission of Fish and Fisheries, with Chapters on the Cultivation of Oysters and Frogs, 258.

Hello with plenty of apologies, my reading friend, hello. Yours truly must admit to being surprised by the long history of ranaculture on Canadian and Québec soil. In this regard, the 1950s seem particularly interesting. Let us therefore pick up the threads of our story.

You will recall that we were tackling an examination of Giant Frog & Sea Food Limited of Montréal, Québec, and Canadian Frogs Industries Company / Canadian Frog’s Industries Company of Montréal.

Giant Frog & Sea Food was born in September 1952. The people mentioned in Gazette officielle du Québec in connection with that firm being found in other issues of that official publication in connection with new firms having nothing to do with ranaculture, yours truly believes that these people were mere straw people. The true masters of Giant Frog & Sea Food wished to remain in the shadows, but back to that firm.

A pair of Nufond Giant bullfrogs weighing 1.4 to 1.8 kilogrammes (3 or 4 pounds) cost a modest $ 60, or just over $ 640 in 2022 currency. That pair produced 20 000 eggs per year and brought in several hundred dollars during those 12 months. An investment of $ 1 000, or about $ 10 700 in 2022 currency, was enough to give rise to a profitable and important frog farm, claimed the mysterious masters of Giant Frog & Sea Food.

It is worth noting that frog farm owners did not seem to have to kick their bullfrogs’ bucket themselves. Giant Frog & Sea Food seemed to have committed to buy all the production and slay it, presumably in Montréal.

The mysterious masters of the firm based their statements on statements by a great name in North American ranaculture Albert Broel, a doctor and biologist it was said and founder of American Bullfrog Industries (Incorporated? Corporation?) in 1932 and American Frog Canning Company (1934), and author of Here’s How You Can Be a Frog Raiser (1937), Frog Raising (1943) and Frog Raising for Pleasure and Profit (1950), “an authority and the only recognized expert in raising of the frog since [1924].”

If I may comment, the masters of Giant Frog & Sea Food may have been wrong. Broel apparently became interested in frog farming as early as 1907. At least that was what he seemed to say at one point. Chances are it was Broel who had developed the variety of bullfrog known as Nufond Giant sold by Giant Frog & Sea Food.

A somewhat disturbing detail if I may. Broel, alias Albert B. Plater, Albert Plater and A.D. Plater, was accused of fraud in September 1938 after taking the money of somewhat naïve investors who thought they would get rich ($ 100 000 after 2 years, or nearly $ 2 900 000 in foreign currency Canadian 2022!) by raising frogs. If he was also arrested (more than once?) in 1935-36 for similar reasons, all charges were dropped due to a legal technicality. They were also dropped in 1938, actually.

In 1938, however, Broel concluded that it was time to sell out while American Frog Canning and the land on which it stood were still worth something. His failing health and his spouse’s wish to turn a page also played a part in that decision. Mind you, the government of Louisiana, where his business was located, passed a law (shortly thereafter?) which restricted the hunting of frogs in April and May, the batrachians’ mating season. Said law reduced the supply of frogs to such an extent that Broel’s cannery would no longer be profitable.

Did Broel pull out of ranaculture entirely, you ask? Well, no. He seemingly kept at it, albeit at much lower scale, and this for years to come.

Would you like to know more about Broel, my reading friend? And yes, that was indeed a rhetorical question.

Count Albert Broel-Plater. Anon., “Count Albert Broel-Plater, Lansing Man, to Ft. Sheridan.” The State Journal, 11 May 1917, 1.

A certain count Albert Broel-Plater made his appearance in American dailies no later than March 1917. That young man of about 27 years of age claimed to be a Russian subject of Polish extraction who had served in the cavalry of the Rússkaya Imperátorskaya Ármiya for about 6 months, as a lieutenant, around the start of the First World War. Broel-Plater also claimed to have been injured between 2 and 4 times. Captured in combat, he had managed to escape from the German Empire, via Switzerland, no later than 1915, thanks to the help of a German officer who happened to be a cousin in the local nobility.

Broel-Plater later claimed to have arrived in the United Kingdom. Unable to obtain permission to go to France to try to find his mother and sister, in exile there following a desperate flight at the start of the conflict, he embarked for the United States in 1915.

Broel-Plater worked successively for J.I. Case Company, a well-known American agricultural machinery and construction equipment manufacturer, and for Packard Motor Car Company, an equally well-known American automobile manufacturer. In March 1917, Broel-Plater was an accountant in a foundry of minor importance, Lansing Foundry Company.

Do you remember when J.I. Case was mentioned in an issue of our unforgettable blog / bulletin / thingee? In March 2022, you say? Wrong answer. February 2022.

Following the United States’ entry into the war in April 1917, Broel-Plater began to train new United States Army officer recruits. He joined that service soon after but was discharged within as month or so because of his recent arrival in the country. Broel-Plater rejoined the United States Army in March 1918. This young lieutenant worked in an office at the United States War Department, in Washington, District of Columbia, as an intelligence officer, until the end of the conflict. Indeed, he became a naturalised United States citizen in 1918.

Oddly enough, if Broel-Plater’s American military papers gave 1889 as his year of birth, other reliable sources pointed out that he was born in August 1890.

Broel / Broel-Plater later claimed that his mother had died in France during the First World War after fleeing the family estate and that his sister had died at sea when the ship she was traveling on was sunk by a German submarine. His father, on the other hand, had died suddenly at the start of the conflict, shortly before the arrival of German troops who had occupied / ransacked the vast family estate.

In April 1920, Broel-Plater claimed to have received the assurance that, within the next two years, the German government, unless it was the Polish government, would give him a sum of money in compensation for the destruction of the family estate. The amount in question? Between $ 800 000 and $ 1 000 000, or approximately between $ 16 000 000 and $ 20 000 000 in 2022 Canadian currency!

Broel-Plater could certainly use the moolah. At the time, he was mixing mustard in the kitchen of the family of the mustard maker he was living with.

To answer the question that is starting to ricochet in your little noggin, the Broel-Plater family could not be more real. The problem was that the death dates of its many members found online did not / do not correspond to the potential death dates of members of Albert Broel-Plater’s immediate family. Worse still, there did / does not seem to be anyone with the name Albert in the Broel-Plater family.

This being said (typed?), an Albert Plater may, I repeat may, have been born in Warsaw / Warszawa, Privislinskiy Kray / Vistula Land, in August 1889. Vistula Land, as you undoubtedly know, my erudite reading friend, was a Polish region of the Russian Empire.

By the way, Broel / Broel-Plater’s mother was of French descent, or so he claimed. She raised frogs near the family residence in a region of the Russian Empire, the Vilna Governorate, which more or less corresponds to present-day Lithuania.

Incidentally, Broel claimed in October 1934 that his mother was still alive. She was 80 years old.

Oh, and before I forget, he was charged in May 1923 with practicing medicine without a license. That charge presumably stemmed from the fact that Broel’s medical degree, acquired no later than 1923, was in naprapathy, a variant of chiropractic, a well-known form of alternative medicine unrecognised by conventional medicine.

The money earned through that practice nonetheless allowed Broel to acquire a sumptuous home to house his family, a small factory where he supervised the production of cosmetics and a farm where he indulged in his ever more important hobby / obsession, frog breeding.

That hobby became financially far more important from 1931-32 onward. You may wish to note that what follows is deeply disturbing.

You see, Broel had become embroiled in the murderous activities of a member of the American Friendship Society, a very successful (50 000 members??) fee collecting confidential matchmaking / dating service organised by his second spouse, Olga Broel, born Tepper, in 1927. The tragic tale of how Herman Drenth, born Harm Drenth, a monster known as Harry F. Powers, Cornelius Orvin Pearson and Joseph Gildow, had robbed and murdered Asta Leicher and Dorothy Lemke, two lonely women looking for a loving companion, as well as Leicher’s three children, exploded on the front page of newspapers in August 1931.

The investigators who combed through Drenth’s house and chamber of horrors found letters and photos which led to believe that he had been operating his love racket since 1922-23. That belief led to speculation by some that Drenth might have murdered as many as 50 women, a horrible figure for sure but one based on no solid evidence.

The Bluebeard of Quiet Dell, as he was called, was found guilty of five murders in December 1931. He was executed in March 1932.

Even though Broel and his utterly shocked spouse were exonerated from any wrongdoing, his naprapathy practice collapsed. Worse still, he received threats and was kidnapped / assaulted – or so Broel claimed, a claim which did not convince the local police. In March 1932, Broel and his family fled to their farm where he set out to develop his frog breeding techniques, but back to our story.

Could Broel / Broel-Plater have been an impostor with a real fondness for exaggeration and / or illegality, you ask? That is quite possible, but impossible to prove.

This being said (typed?), the fact was that rumours circulated in 1932 according to which an unidentified Russian lady had allegedly claimed around 1917-18 that Broel was in fact just a person who had served the relatives of a certain unidentified member of the Broel-Plater family before the First World War.

And what about the sum handed over by the German or Polish governments, you ask? In all likelihood, it only existed in the mind of Broel / Broel-Plater.

But back to Giant Frog & Sea Food, the one and only distributor of the Nufond Giant bullfrog in much of Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, Ontario, Prince Edward Island and Québec).

In fact, there is not much else to say except that this firm was the exclusive distributor of Broel’s recent book, the aforementioned Frog Raising for Pleasure and Profit. Would you be interested, my reading friend? If so, be prepared to pay the measly sum of $ 15, or about $ 160 in 2022 currency. Too expensive for you? Fear not. A brochure was indeed also available. Its price? Just $ 1.25 including postage, or about $ 13.40 in 2022 currency.

Now let us move on to the advertisements of Canadian Frogs Industries Company / Canadian Frog’s Industries Company.

This firm not being mentioned in Gazette officielle du Québec, which was quite curious, its masters remained well and truly in the shadows.

Would you believe that Canadian Frog’s Industries claimed in October 1952 to be able to count on 10 “distributors and ranchers under exclusive contracts?” One of these firms, Sherbrooke Frog’s Industries Company, was located in… Sherbrooke, Québec, the homecity of yours truly.

Interestingly, at least for me, the mysterious masters of Canadian Frog’s Industries also supported their statements with the words of Broel. They also claimed to hold the exclusive rights to distribute a variety of bullfrog for Canada. A single pair of these little beasts could produce between 18 000 and 20 000 eggs per year. More concretely, it could annually produce more than 1 500 kilogrammes (3 325 pounds) of frogs worth $ 500, or about $ 5 125 in 2022 currency.

Considering that a Broellian bullfrog could weigh 1.4 to 1.8 kilogrammes (3 to 4 pounds), the tadpole mortality rate hovered between 94 and 96 %. Ow!

Interestingly again, Canadian Frog’s Industries distributed Broel’s book, Frog Raising for Pleasure and Profit, a publication of which Giant Frog & Sea Food stated it was the exclusive distributor, as well as a brochure in French. The sale price of both was identical to the prices asked by Giant Frog & Sea Food.

And yes, Giant Frog & Sea Food also seemed to have committed to buy all the production of its customers.

I have a question for you, my reading friend. Would it paranoid of me to wonder if Canadian Frog’s Industries and Giant Frog & Sea Food had the same mysterious masters? You were asking yourself the same question, were you not? I guess we will never know.

Be that as it may, the craze, dare I say (type?) the jiggery-pokery (grenouillage), surrounding ranaculture seemingly inspired some imitation. Fancy Frog Industries Company was born in Sherbrooke no later than January 1953. That firm not being mentioned in Gazette officielle du Québec, which was quite curious, its masters remained in the shadows.

This being said (typed?), a firm by the name of Fancy Frog Industries Company Limited could / can be found in Gazette officielle du Québec. It was born in Montréal in February 1954. Fancy Frog Industries had as its masters 2 small industrialists and 1 insurance broker, but back to the year 1953.

I will not tell you anything you did not know, my reading friend or reader with encyclopaedic knowledge, by reminding you that the most important daily newspaper in Québec, Québec, Le Soleil, published an editorial on “Breeders of… frogs!,” its translated title, in early April 1953. Its author began his remarks by emphasizing, in translation again, that “Our products are not lacking in diversity.” Indeed,

Nobody would have imagined a farm where we practiced the breeding of… frogs! On the Island of Montréal and in the Eastern Townships, there is a culture of this particular kind which can supply a very profitable market of more than half a million frog legs a year […].

A slight addition if I may. The Montréal daily Montréal-Matin reproduced the text of that editorial in a late April edition, indicating the source of said text, of course.

As you may imagine, the many advertisements extolling the merits of ranaculture did not go unnoticed.

The hunting and fishing columnist for La Patrie, a declining Montréal daily, Gaétan Benoit, responded to requests for information sent by readers even before the end of April 1953 by quoting the translation of an extract from General Zoology, a recent (1951) book written by an eminent American zoologist. Artificial breeding of frogs was not a viable business, stated Tracy Irwin Storer. In fact, he did not know of any firm of that type which had had held up for long. That professor at the University of California, Davis also mentioned the losses incurred by people solicited by unscrupulous promoters.

Moreover, it was in May 1953 that the first of many articles denouncing ranaculture appeared. At least 15 or so texts appeared in May and June in more than 10 Québec dailies and weeklies, all of them in French, with one exception, it seemed. These texts originated from a single source.

At the beginning of May 1953, Gustave Prévost, director of the Office de Biologie of the Ministère de la Chasse et des Pêcheries of Québec, spoke out against the artificial breeding of frogs in Québec.

The following text is a translation of one of the many versions of that position paper published by the Québec press.

Judging from the numerous requests for information that have been addressed to us for some time, the problem, already fifty years old, of the artificial breeding of frogs for commercial purposes, is coming back to the fore.

Some people, misguided by enticing and very promising, but biologically unfounded propaganda, have already invested or are about to invest appreciable amounts in this breeding, sometimes even several thousand dollars.

We believe it is our duty to recommend the greatest caution to the public before engaging in such an undertaking.

We would like to inform you that certain newspapers which had accepted the announcement advocating the artificial breeding of frogs, have stopped this service, once informed of the risks incurred by buyers. These newspapers certainly deserve congratulations for their good public spirit and for their concern for the interests of their readers.

The day it is satisfactorily demonstrated that the artificial rearing of frogs for commercial purposes is economically feasible, we will be the first to rejoice and recommend that new industry.

Indeed, only people with access to bodies of water frequented by wild frogs had managed to do well.

And yes, the Ministère de la Chasse et des Pêcheries was in contact with many American biologists and government agencies which were also interested in ranaculture.

According to Prévost, it seems, the failure of Québec breeders could be explained in various ways:

- the vulnerability of frogs to certain diseases,

- the cannibalistic tendencies of frogs living in large numbers,

- the finicky nature of frogs with regard to their carnivorous diet, and

- the relative slowness of the growth of the frogs, spread over a few years.

Prévost concluded his remarks with a warning which seemed to be published only by an English-language Montréal daily, The Montreal Star. “If, after that warning people, people still want to put money into such an enterprise, it is up to them.”

And yes, The Montreal Star seemed to be the only English-language daily in Québec to publish something about ranaculture in 1953.

According to a May 1953 issue of the weekly L’Écho de Frontenac of Saint-Joseph-de-Beauce, Québec, “The news which appeared in the newspapers announcing that frog farming was done on a higher and higher scale startled more than one reader.” And yes, that quote was a translation.

A few examples of said scale will suffice.

Contacted by many individuals who asked him questions about ranaculture, the person in charge of the “La pêche dans les Cantons de l’Est” column in the Sherbrooke daily La Tribune, J.B. Sirius Huard, in turn contacted the director of the Baldwin’s Mills hatchery in the Eastern Townships, today’s Estrie – one of the first hatcheries in Canada.

Louis-Roch Séguin provided him with information from at least 3 sources, including the Conseil supérieur de la pêche (France) and the United States Bureau of Fisheries (United States), not to mention the aforementioned Storer’s book. If people with access to bodies of water frequented by wild frogs had managed to do well, stated the sources, the artificial breeding of frogs was not a viable business.

Huard transmitted that information to his readers through a column published just after the appearance of the first articles on Prévost’s position statement.

Said position statement also prompted a quick reaction from the person in charge of the “Faune et conservation” column of the daily L’Action catholique of Québec. In the words of Homo sapiens, a gentleman whose identity yours truly would like to know, translated words of course, advertisements praising ranaculture constituted “A gigantic fraud” perpetrated by Montréal crooks “without conscience and without shame” who scoured the countryside in search of victims.

The columnist revealed that the arrival of numerous questions about ranaculture at the Montréal office of the aforementioned Office de Biologie had prompted a discreet investigation. Somewhat alarmed by what he had learned, Prévost had decided to take a public stand.

According to Homo sapiens, said position statement led / forced the crooks to cast their nets in villages farther from major centers. Touched by the note of a country priest who saw some of his parishioners played like a fiddle, the columnist published Prévost’s position statement, in its entirety it seemed. And yes, said text was quite a bit longer than the quote above.

Homo sapiens ended his chronicle on ranaculture thus, once translated:

Caveat emptor – let the buyer be on his guard – and after this government warning, if any naïve person falls into the trap, he will know where to do the mea culpa. It is all the same deplorable, if not fantastic, to note that the lure of a quick gain is in the process of causing our savings to lose nearly half a million dollars in this colossal fraud set up by crooks without conscience and without shame.

The $ 500 000 in question corresponded to $ 5 400 000 in 2022 currency. The mind boggles.

I wonder, however, where Homo sapiens got this colossal figure.

It went without saying that several people who read Prévost’s position statement were quick to contact the Office de Biologie. Some of them were preparing to invest a good part of their savings, sometimes even relative fortunes, while others had already done so. Some people had even started building artificial ponds. All these people were understandably worried.

Faced with that situation, the ministry reiterated its warning. Indeed, the Ministre de la Chasse et des Pêcheries of Québec, Camille-Eugène Pouliot, a doctor, reaffirmed that the artificial breeding of frogs was not a viable business.

Incidentally, Pouliot was a competent and long lasting (1944-60) minister with progressive ideas who made a considerable contribution to the development of Gaspésie, the region of Québec where his riding was located.

In 1954, a well-known lawyer and professor of law at the Université Laval in Québec, the city of course, Louis-Philippe Pigeon, appeared in court to defend the interests of many people beguiled by the fine words of the promoters of frog farming. History unfortunately does not say if these efforts proved successful.

We can doubt it. Indeed, no matter how badly new frog breeders failed, so long as the crook… Sorry. As long as the promoter kept his commitment to buy all the frogs bred by his customers, he was theoretically invulnerable. Indeed, he was strictly respecting the clauses of the contracts signed by those same customers.

Yours truly must therefore conclude this aspect of our interminable article with a very sad observation. The crooks “without conscience and without shame” denounced by L’Action catholique seemed to have vanished into thin air with a serious sum of money. Indeed, if we are to believe a text published in June 1955 by the aforementioned daily La Patrie, the profits of these individuals amounted to approximately $ 200 000, or approximately $ 2 150 000 in 2022 currency.

Quebecers who hunted wild frogs at that time certainly could not count on accumulating such large sums. A skilled hunter working in a favourable location when the temperature was favourable could catch / kill about 24 frogs of various species per hour, which corresponded to between 1.4 and 1.8 kilogrammes (3 or 4 pounds) of frog legs. These legs selling for around $ 2.65 per kilogramme ($ 1.20 per pound), our hunter earned between $ 3.60 and $ 4.80 per hour. A 2022 currency conversion gives us about $ 28.40 per kilogramme (about $ 12.90 per pound) and an hourly income ranging from $ 38.65 to $ 52.55.

On a spring or summer night lasting several hours, the potential income was interesting to say the least, for a skilled hunter who worked in a favourable place when the temperature was favourable.

A very brief digression if I may. Yours truly had an uncle on my mother’s side whose family name was Pigeon. As well, my paternal grandmother’s family name was Pouliot. Small world, or small province, are they not?

You see, the fact is that virtually all "old stock" francophone Quebecers, to use a somewhat loaded expression, all 6.75 or so million of them, have one or more than one common ancestors. How could it be otherwise given that the population of New France in 1763, when that French colony became a British possession, hovered around 70 000 people? Hi, cousin!

Apart from a slight revival of interest in 1958 and 1959, frog farming was seemingly not talked about in Québec for quite some time after 1952-53. The revival of 1958 may, I repeat may, have been linked to the (short-lived?) projects of a certain Roland Hébert. The latter wished indeed “to generalise, in Québec, the breeding of these frogs and even to promote a frog canning industry.” Hébert actually claimed to have been interested in raising frogs since the mid-1940s.

The resurgence of 1959, on the other hand, was linked to profiteers at work in the Québec region of the Laurentides. These were denounced by the aforementioned Benoit, but let us go back, err, move forward to the frog-breeding projects put forward after the 1950s.

By the way, Albert Broel / Broel-Plater left this world in October 1966, at the age of 76 or 77.

If yours truly may be permitted a pun, the harvest in the area of frog-breeding projects put forward after the 1950s was rather meager. A frog farm project in Lanoraie, Québec, northeast of Montréal, in a vast bog, in 1988, raised an outcry of indignation, for example. The Commission de protection du territoire agricole agreed with the locals. The promoter was forced to abandon his project.

Mind you, it might not have been so much the presence of 1 500 000 frogs (!) which bothered the people of Lanoraie. Nay. Oh, sorry, I had not realised I was shouting. They feared for the quality of their drinking water, drawn directly from the bog. In addition, they feared that the owners of the frog farm intended to sell large quantities of peat and moss.

In 1995 at the latest, Quebecer William Jones raised bullfrogs in a shed in Berthierville, Québec. He wanted to create a large frog farm in Danville, very near Asbestos, Québec, today’s Val-des-Sources, which would have allowed him to produce more meat to meet some of the needs of Québec gourmets who, through good times and bad, consumed $ 5 000 000 to $ 7 000 000 worth of frog legs, or $ 8 750 000 to $ 12 250 000 in 2022 currency, from Japan, Brazil or Bangladesh. Jones hoped that using heated sheds would allow him to obtain 3 or 4 clutches of eggs per year, double what was naturally possible. He had actually been studying the issue since about 1990.

Despite the support of the Corporation de développement économique de la région d’Asbestos, Jones’ project seemingly did not come to fruition.

This being said (typed?), the interest of Canadian foodies in frog meat certainly did not go away. As late as 1996, many people in Eastern Ontario were hunting frogs without a license and selling the legs to friends or small restaurants near their homes. Such a frog black market may well still exist in 2002, sorry, 2022, in Ontario and Québec, and… I believe the time has come to end this article.

These days, the many countries of Europe were importing approximately 100 million (!) pairs of frog legs a year. The United States and Canada probably imported (tens of?) millions as well. To that total, one must add countless numbers of frogs eaten by poor and hungry people across the globe. According to some (accurate?) estimates, humans consume up to a billion (!!) frogs each year. That global slaughter is pushing numerous species toward extinction.

You and I and our neighbours in rich countries may not see the effects of such extinctions but the truth is that frogs consume a ginormous number of insects which devour crops or transmit diseases. Wiping them off the face of the Earth will have dire consequences in the poor countries that we, yes, yes, we, exploit to satisfy our whims and cravings (palm oil from Indonesia, cut flowers from Kenya, avocados from Mexico, etc.).

This writer wishes to thank all the people who provided information. Any mistake contained in this article is my fault, not theirs.

See ya later.

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Rénald Fortier