The Early Days of the Golden Retriever in Canada

This article originally appeared in the GRNews, and is written by Jennifer Abramson. Permission from the author and GRNews has been granted to the GRCC to reprint.

Although we might never know for sure when our beloved breed was first introduced into Canada, it is likely that one of the first Goldens to come to this country traveled with the children of Lord Tweedmouth in the 1890s.

In 1894, a picture was taken in Ottawa (Canada’s capital) of Ishbel Marjoribanks, daughter of the first Lord Tweedmouth, with her brother the Honorable Archie Marjoribanks (who resided in Texas at the time). In the photo, along with Ishbel’s children, was a Golden Retriever…not surprising given the family name. Ishbel was married to the Governor General, Queen Victoria’s representative in Canada. They lived in Vernon, British Columbia…and the Golden’s name was Lady, a bitch whose ancestry harkens back to Culham Brass and Culham Rossa, Lord Harcourt’s “yellow” retrievers.

“Lady” with the Marjoribanks family in 1894.
It is believed that several Goldens were brought into the country)’ from England by retired naval officers around the
turn of the century. As far as I know, there is no direct evidence to prove this.

It was not until the 1920’s and ’30s that the breed truly “took hold” in Canada and ultimately, all of North America. In fact, the first reference to the Golden in the Canadian Kennel Club Stud Books appear in 1927. However, one must keep in mind that before this time the CKC grouped all retrievers simply as “Retrievers,” so the first “registered” dog of our breed would have definitely been earlier.

Probably the most famous early Golden fanciers in Canada were Col. Samuel Magofn (Rockhaven Kennels) and Christopher Burton, both of Vancouver, British Columbia. Another was Bart Armstrong (Gilnockie Kennels) of Winnipeg, Manitoba.

Mr. Armstrong had a number of Goldens in his Gilnockie kemiel and for many years did much to promote the breed in Canada. You might recognize the name “Gilnockie,” as there was also a Gilnockie kennel in Denver, Colorado, owned by Col. Magofn. When Bart Armstrong died in 1932, the kennel name was transferred to the Colonel by the executors of the estate.

In any case, one of his dogs, Noranby Eventide (whelped in England in 1922), was actually the first Golden in Canada to complete a Canadian championship, even though he was published as being a Wavy Coat Retriever. This was in 1927. Mr. Armstrong also owned the first Golden registered by the CKC, Judy Of Westholme.

The first “Golden Retriever” dog to earn the title of Canadian Champion was Foxbury Peter (Eng. Dual Ch. Balcombe Boy ex Wonder Duchess), who had been imported by Alex MacLaren of Buckingham, Quebec. The first Canadian champion bitch was Dame Daphne (Speedwell Nimrod ex Guiding Star), imported by Mr. E. N. M. Vernon of British Columbia.

Interestingly enough, “Daphne” was pregnant by Eng. Ch. Haulstone Dan when she was imported. The litter, whelped in Canada in 1930, contained two bitches who were destined to become part of the foundation for Rockhaven Kennels, and as such, the basis of the breed on this continent. Their names were Saffron Penelope and Saffron Chipmonk.
Speedwell Pluto and Rockhaven

Although Sam Magofn is known to be the man who first established our breed in North America, it was actually through a man named Christopher Burton that he got his first Golden Retriever: Am-Can Ch. Speedwell Pluto, who became the basis of his famous Rockhaven kennels.

As a boy in England, Mr. Burton used to hunt with yellow retrievers belonging to his brother-in-law. When he moved to Canada, he first settled in Winnipeg, where he met Bart Armstrong, and later moved to Vancouver, where he came to know Mr. Magofn.

Here is a quote from a letter written by Christopher Burton chronicling that fated conversation that resulted in Speedwell Pluto’s trip to Canada. This appeared in Gertrude Fisher’s excellent book, The Complete Golden Retriever, first published by Howell Book House in 1974.

“. . .The late Sam Magofn was a great friend of mine — we were talking one day at his lovely West Vancouver home, Rockhaven, about shooting and gun dogs, and he asked me which breed I liked best, and having seen and shot over Goldens in England, before I came to Canada, I suggested a Golden. He got up and walked to his study and came back with a cable form and asked me to send a cable to my brother-in-law, as I had already told him he had Goldens and knew about them…As a result, out came Speedwell Pluto from the Speedwell Kennels at Saffron Walden, England…”

Speedwell Pluto was out of Eng. Ch. Speedwell Emerald by Eng. Ch. Michael Of Moreton, and made a large impact on the breed in both Canada and the United States. A prepotent sire who carried some of the top bloodlines in England, his name appears in the pedigrees of four U.S. National Retriever Trial champions and the one winner of the Canadian field trial championship. On top of being a sire of repute and a wonderful gun dog, “Pluto” was the first Golden to win a Best in Show in the United States (1933 at the Puget Sound Kennel Club show in Washington State), and actually took BIS several times in both countries.

Rockhaven Kennels and Pluto made a tremendous contribution to the breed both in Canada and the United States. In fact, as I was flipping through the GRCA Yearbook (1964), I counted 33 Canadian bench champions between 1928 and 1948, of which 18 sported the Rockhaven prex and 10 were sired by Pluto himself.

Sam Magofn went on to help found the GRCA, while Mr. Burton spent his life actively promoting Goldens and their use as a hunting companion. In fact. it is through Mr. Bur1on’s research into the early days of the breed in Canada that we owe much of what is written in our Golden Retriever books today. They both leave a fine legacy for us to preserve.

Noted Canadian Field Golden Firsts

In 1947, a bitch owned by Charles Snell named Stalingrad Express became the first Golden to attain its Canadian field championship. The first dog to complete this title was Oakcreek’s Van Cleve (Victorius Of Roedare ex Oakcreek’s Celestial Angel) in 1949.

“Van” was an outstanding Canadian Golden who eventually found his way to the U.S. He completed both his American and Canadian field trial championships as well as his American amateur field trial championship, won the Canadian National in 1952, and qualified for the U.S. National for four years in a row. This outstanding dog amassed the highest number of field trial points ever won by a Golden until the time of his death in 1961.

He was trained early in his career by a very well known Canadian field trainer, Charles Bunker. Mr. Bunker worked with many famous field Goldens, including Rockhaven Raynard Of F0-Go-Ta (Rockhaven Rastus ex Judye Of DewStraw), who became the first Canadian dual champion in 1953. Later, Van was partnered with Jack Smyth.

The very first and subsequently the only Golden Retriever bitch to achieve Canadian dual champion status was Lady Bess in 1958. Owned by Alec Wilson, she was by Honeyat Cavalier out of Amor of Northlands.

A Few Words from Kennel and Bench

In closing, I would like to leave you with snippets from an article entitled “That New Breed in Canada — The Golden Retriever,” by Thos. P. Murray of Winnipeg. It appeared in Kennel and Bench magazine (later to become Dogs in Canada) in April of 1927.

“A few days ago I was looking over the list of breeds recognized by the English Kennel Club and amongst them I noticed the Golden Retriever, for which, I presume. we can thank that great sportswoman, Mrs. Charlesworth, and now seeing that we have in our midst quite a number of this breed, is it not in order for both the Canadian Kennel Club and American Kennel Club to recognize this as a distinctive breed. We would like to point out that Western Canada is a sportsman’s paradise for Retrievers. For example, take any show catalogue for Western Canada shows and notice the number of Retrievers and Spaniels that are entered therein. We shall look forward to some action from the powers that be in this respect in the near future, for it is hardly fair to allow any fancier to get the impression that insofar as the various Kennel Clubs are affiliated with each other he naturally expects if one club recognizes a certain breed so will the other clubs do likewise, and therefore he spends considerable money in importing one or two of the breed only to be informed that they are not recognized by the club to which he belongs, and it is high time that some definite understanding was given as to what it is safe to import and what not to import with reference to what we in Canada know as new breeds…There are at present in Winnipeg ten of these Golden Retrievers and six or seven in Alberta, also quite a number in British Columbia, and no doubt there will be considerably more in the near future if the Canadian Kennel Club only do what the older established club in England have already done. For instance, we have many breeds today not nearly so well known as the Golden Retrievers and other breeds that we never see anymore…Therefore, let us hope that justice will be done to this breed in the near future and so encourage further importation for the betterment of the breed.”

To which the editor replied:
“Perhaps our contributor should be fair and tell our readers how long it took Mrs. Charlesworth to secure special recognition from the Kennel Club (Eng.) and also give his reasons for presuming that the affiliation reciprocity agreements in any way affects the recognition of breeds. Perhaps, too, it will be interesting to know just how many Golden Retrievers there are actually in Canada at the present time which have come to this country with papers specifying the breed as Golden Retrievers. To say ‘quite a number’ is rather an indefinite statement, and to talk of ‘high time, etc.’, is quite uncalled for. Undoubtedly the breed will be recognized for registration and for dog show purposes as soon as such recognition justifies itself.”

The breed was recognized later that same year.

I hope you have enjoyed this brief jaunt into Canadian Golden Retriever history. I would like to acknowledge the following exceptional sources: Gertrude Fisher’s The Complete Golden Retriever and The New Complete Golden Retriever, Marcia Schlehr’s The New Golden Retriever, Joan Tudor’s The Golden Retriever, the 1964 GRCA Yearbook, several issues of Kennel and Bench magazine from the late ’20s early ’30s, and the GRCC Hall of Fame books.