The Beginnings of the Beardie in Canada

by Alice Bixler

Where did it all begin? That's hard to say exactly. But it appears that Beardies have been known in Canada for over a century. 

While researching material for the 1988 CKC Centennial, I came across an interesting item in the December, 1919, issue of Kennel & Bench magazine, the forerunner of Dogs in Canada. In an article, Dogs of the Empire, the author Freeman Lloyd wrote:

"It would appear that the bearded sheepdogs or shepherd dogs of Scotland were earlier known in Canada than the finer-bred black and tan collies from north of the Tweed. As before written, Scotsmen are great colonists and are wont to travel to the ends of the earth. After settling down, they send to the old land for well-bred horses, cattle, dogs, other animals and birds of the domesticated kinds. About 30 to 40 years ago, there were no other cattle dogs than bearded collies used about at slaughter houses in the east end of Montreal. These dogs were in common use by the French-Canadian drovers. The dogs were blue and blue-grey in colour. They were described to me by Robert Ross of Montreal who knew them well. 'They were just the blue of the Skye Terrier, with a white or pepper-and salt grizzle shade running all through it.' In Britain, such dogs were called Highland Collies."

That would place Beardies in this country since the 1880's. What happened to those early dogs in unknown. When they were no longer required as drovers, it's likely their numbers dwindled. Certainly there were people who immigrated from England and Scotland who brought their shaggy companions along. But there was no record of their existence, no driving force to unite the breed and put it in the spotlight of public awareness. At least not until Carol Gold. 

Carol had left Toronto to live in England for a while and write reports of the burgeoning pop music scene for Canadian publications. It was an exciting time with the Beatles breaking hearts on both sides of the Atlantic the time of the "British Invasion" when fans were hungry for news of the Rolling Stones, the Dave Clark Five, Herman's Hermits and all the rest. But Carol's interests weren't restricted to things musical. A Rough Collie owner, Carol visited a dog show. A Beardie stretched across a bench and kissed her. That did it! She was hooked. 

When she returned to Canada in 1968, she was accompanied by a blue Beardie female pup named Gael, more formally known as Wishanger Marsh Pimpernel. Carol knew of another Beardie who had preceded Gael to our shores. Slippers (Bracky of Bothkennar) had been imported in 1963 by sheltie fancier Muriel Ratner of Cote St. Luc, Quebec, on the advice of a friend who had visited England and told Muriel the "absolutely had to get one." Muriel described Slipper as a "more of a career than a pet". 

Gael herself sold a young Toronto couple on the idea of Beardie ownership. They met Gael while Carol was shopping and decided they just had to have a Beardie buddy of their own. Before long, Osmart Brown Barnaby made the trip across the Atlantic to join the MacLennan household. 

Next, Carol promoted an article in Dogs in Canada on the breed and as a result, the Wilson family in Regina, Saskatchewan, imported Osmart Black Cherry.

It was back in 1966, while looking at a home for sale in Florida, that I met a young architect and fell in love - with his dog. He had brought a lovely brown Beardie bitch back from a trip to England. Later, on another trip, he bought the adult brother of the famed Ch. Osmart Bonnie Blue Braid. The two were to be mated at a later date and I requested a brown bitch from the. upcoming litter but in the meantime, I left the Sunny South to move to the Great White North in 1968. A few months later, my pup, Hermione, arrived but she was a black since there were no brown females in the litter. Knowing how rare the breed was, I assumed I had the only Beardie in Canada. But fate showed me I was wrong. 

I took my young son to the Canadian National Exhibition in the fall of 1969 and sat down to watch the North York Drill Team perform and to rest my weary feet. As the dogs and their owners were being introduced, the announcer commented "Carol Gold and her Bearded collie, Gael. A very rare breed, she's one of only four in Canada."

"Five!" I corrected. Carol whipped around and focused on me. "Don't leave!" she commanded. 

I stayed. And in less than an hour, I was caught up in Carol's enthusiastic plan to get Beardies recognized in Canada, had agreed to train Hermione with the North York Obedience Club and made plans to order a brown male from an upcoming litter by England's top dog and bitch, Ch. Osmart Bonnie Blue Braid x Ch. Edelweiss of Tambora. 

Strange as it seems now, the CKC only required seven dogs to recognize a breed in those days. But we found out that Hermione couldn't count as one of them. Though born of two Beardies registered with The Kennel Club (England), the fact that she was born in the U.S., a country where the breed was not recognized, meant that we couldn't provide the export pedigree the CKC required. But that didn't stop her from promoting the breed. Carol and I took Gael and Hermione to demonstrations and shows, hoping we could interest others in importing. In many cases, people told us, "They're adorable and when the breed is recognized, I'm going to get one." But that didn't help us reach our goal of seven to achieve recognition. One person who did decide to import a Beardie was Rough Collie breeder Barbara Blake of Waterdown, Ont., who brought Tarskavaig Black Maria from Scotland in March, 1970. 

There had been other Beardies in Canada, but how to find them? We heard rumours of a kennel in B.C. and of other shaggy dogs here and there which people were sure were Beardies and we did our best to track them down. But it was like chasing the wind. 

While doing some work for a public relations firm, I was asked to take a photo for Dogs in Canada of the CKC's new computer system. Carol was coerced into bringing Gael along for the shoot and we posed her with a paw on the mechanical monster and an expression that enquired "So when will I be registered?" 

While I was waiting for my brown male (Bronze Javelin of Tambora) to become old enough to ship, my husband visited England on business and returned with (surprise!) a six-month old Beardie female (Tarskavaig Black Velvet) and a five month old male (Cynpeg's Hillbilly). And all at once, we had our seven dogs! 

And more. Carol bred Gael to Osmart Brown Barnaby and in July, 1970, the Beardie population took a leap with a litter of nine, all of whom had "First" in their names since they were the initial Beardie litter to be CKC registered. In the meantime, Brit (Bronze Javelin) finally arrived. Audrey Benbow and Audrey Gray brought in Broadholme Cindy Sue. The breed was growing. 

The founding meeting of the Bearded Collie Club of Canada was held at the Sportsmen's Show, March 1970, and Gael was the presiding Beardie. She wasn't entered, of course, but was allowed there as a member of the North York Drill Team. Later, final details were hammered out at Barb Blake's kitchen table. The first order of business was to petition the CKC for breed recognition. 

The good news came through in August of 1970. Beardies were officially recognized! We rushed to fill out show entries. Gael was the first to be shown and appeared in both conformation and obedience at the Scarborough K.C. show, September 27. Shortly after that we amassed all eligible Beardies in the area (five) to appear in competition at the old Greenwood show. Suddenly a woman appeared at ringside with tears in her eyes. "Beardies!" she exclaimed, "I never thought I'd ever see one again." She had brought her Beardie over from England when she moved to Canada. Her beloved pet had passed away just a few months earlier at the age of 17. 

With CKC recognition and Beardies appearing in shows, the breed began to gain momentum. By the end of 1980, the BCCC boasted a membership of 10. There were a lot of "firsts" in those early years: First Canadian Beardie Champion to earn a CD - Ch. Wishanger Marsh Pimpernel, was also the first to earn a group placing. First male to become a champion, Ch. Cynpeg's Hillbilly. First Canadian-bred Champion - Ch. Raggmopp First Impression, who went on to become the first to hold both a Can & Am. CD. In a way, every new achievement was a "first" for the breed, not only in Canada but in North America as well. 

There have been a lot of changes since Beardies entered the show scene. Most notably, the Working Group, where we competed against 32 other breeds, was split into Working and Herding, making group placements somewhat easier to achieve. Championships became a little more difficult a the end of the 70s when the CKC decided that it was necessary to defeat one or more dogs to earn points. Prior to that time, a lone dog could win a point just for showing up (through the rules stipulated a dog had to defeat at least ONE other dog to become a champion.) Best Puppy awards were originally open only to Canadian-bred dogs which meant our imports couldn't compete in those early days. Later, the CKC realized that Canadian-bred dogs could hold their own against imports and dropped that restriction along with the Canadian-Bred competition which was awarded at breed, group, and show level. 

And seven years after CKC recognition of our breed, the American Kennel Club bestowed its blessings on Beardies, making it possible for us to head south of the border in search of new titles. American exhibitors might have been tempted to barricade that border after the first BCCA specialty in Ohio when Canadian-owned Beardies took home the lion's share of winnings, including Best of Breed. 

What of the original seven Beardies? Slippers (Bracky of Bothkennar) was shown only once, never bred and lived to a ripe old age as Muriel's beloved pet. Gael (Ch. Wishanger March Pimpernel CD) had the greatest impact on the breed. Her offspring provided the foundation stock for several kennels and many of today's dogs can trace their pedigrees back to early Raggmopp Beardies. Gael was mom to many champions, group-placing dogs and a specialty winner. She continued to be an ambassador for the breed until she passed away at the age of 16. 

Osmart Brown Barnaby left his mark as sire of the first registered Beardie litter in Canada. He was not shown. Little is known of Black Cherry. Tarskavaig Black Maria was Barbara Blake's foundation bitch and produced many champions for Colbara kennels. Due to an aversion to the show ring, she never earned a championship herself. Her litter sister, Ch. Tarskavaig Black Velvet, collected her title and then lived out the rest of her 15 years as the treasured pet of Katy Lamon Smith. She was never bred. 

Scot (Ch. Cynpeg's Hillbilly, Am CD) was the first male champion in the breed and sired several litters which produced not only champions but Canada's first CDX Beardie (Colbara Black Molly). Several years later, Scot went to live with Kay Holmes in the States where he became one of the early Beardies to earn a CD there while the breed was still in Miscellaneous. He also sired some litters there as well, making his mark on both sides of the border.

Copyright © 1997 [Alice Bixler]
All rights reserved