Fish Artifacts at the Community Waterfront Heritage Centre in Owen Sound

By Wendy Tomlinson, Curator/Manager

These taxidermy mounts are of a German Brown Trout, Large Mouth Black Bass, and a Northern Pike. They were all caught in the Grey Bruce area, in the late 1920s. The (female) Brown Trout weighed two pounds, eight ounces, and was seventeen inches long when caught. This mount features a small donors’ plaque listing the donor as the Owen Sound Chamber of Commerce. The large mouth bass weighed three pounds and was eighteen inches long when caught at Chesley Lake by George W. Williams using ‘bait’. Using a trolling rig, the pike was also caught by George W. Williams, in Chesley Lake in 1926. The pike is thirty-three inches long and weighed eight pounds when caught. While it is not known who the taxidermy artist was that created these specimens, they were most probably produced locally, and feature matching glass and oak cases. The fish are in good condition, but have discoloured somewhat, over the years. These specimens make a wonderful addition to the CWHC collection and will be featured in the 2018 summer exhibit, as they are a great example of sport fish that were commonly caught during that period in Grey Bruce.

Taxidermy is the art of preparing, stuffing, mounting and displaying the skins of animals, especially vertebrates. Preserving animal skins is a practice from ancient times and embalmed animals have been found with Egyptian mummies, and throughout many cultures around the world. In the 18th century, hunters began bringing their trophies to upholstery shops, where the upholsterers would stuff tanned animal skins with rags, straw and clay. Eventually more sophisticated lightweight wire frames, wrapped in cotton, supported the sewn skins and advances in preservation techniques produced more lifelike results. The Great Exhibition in London in 1851 included a large display of mounted birds by famed English ornithologist John Hancock, which garnered enormous interest and contributed greatly to the popularity of taxidermy during the Victorian era, when no parlour was complete without taxidermy décor.

 Since then, preservation techniques have greatly improved, allowing for better quality mounts using less toxic materials; however, the traditional method of retaining the original skull and leg bones of a specimen and using them as the basis for a mannequin made of wood continues. Modern taxidermists work with polyester resin, fibreglass cloth, manufactured Styrofoam mounts, factory produced glass eyes, artificial teeth, tongues, claws, beaks and legs are commonly used. Today, creating a trophy mount need not involve preserving the actual body of the animal. Instead, detailed photos and measurements are taken so that the taxidermist can create an exact replica in resin. The benefit of this is that no animals are killed in the process and this has somewhat helped take the pressure off endangered and protected species. In the world of ‘catch & release’ sport fishing, this is a prevalent option.

This article was first published in the September 2017 issue of The Grey County Historian.

Fish Tales Logo Exhibit 2018

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