he Hudson's Bay Company or HBC was originally a fur trading company, headquartered in London, England. The headquarters were moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba in 1970CE, its 300 year anniversary. In honour of the anniversary, Queen Elizabeth II granted a new charter, revoking the majority of the original. This was also the official transfer of the headquaters from the United Kingdom to Canada. In 1998CE, with the purchase of K-Mart the headquarters made its final move to Brampton, Ontario.
HBC THROUGH TIME
The Early Years
s the fur trade emerged in the 17th century as a major commercial enterprise due to Europe's demand for beaver fur felt hats. Médard Chouart des Groseilliers and Pierre-Esprit Radisson, French traders, were the first to propose the idea of a trading company reaching the interior through the use of Hudson Bay. Thus allowing for easier access to the fur resources located there. After being turned down by the French they turned to England in 1665, where they piqued the interest of Prince Rupert, the cousin of King Charles II. With Rupert's support, the king, several merchants, and noble men backed the venture. The Eaglet and the Nonsuch set sail for Hudson Bay June 3 1668. The Royal Charter being proclaimed on the second of May, 1670. Originally they were the known as the "Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay". The charter granted wide powers to the company, including the exclusive trading rights within the territory traversed by the rivers flowing into the bay, this region was declared Rupert's Land, after Prince Rupert for his backing.
Did you know?
Historic place names such as Moose Factory and York Factory indicated the “factor” or chief trader of the area resided there. Prince of Wales Fort was at one point called Churchill Factory or Prince of Wales Factory.
n the summer months after the trapping season of the fall and winter, when beaver pelts were of the highest quality, the Indigenous peoples travelled to the trading posts, to barter furs for manufactured goods.
The now-iconic point blanket was one such item. Often, Indigenous traders were middlemen, bringing furs from communities farther inland. In order to standardize trade among posts, the HBC introduced the 'Made Beaver' as the currency of the fur trade. All furs and manufactured items were valued according to this standard, which was the equivalent of one prime male beaver skin.
The impact of the fur trade was great upon the Indigenous peoples of Canada. Many abandoned their traditional lifestyles and economy as a result of their involvement in the fur trade. Becoming reliant on European manufactured goods and foodstuffs for survival, many moved beyond their traditional territory. Searching for fur-bearing animals in order to obtain a better position in trade, this movement and competition for European goods led to many conflicts amongst the Indigenous peoples. Europeans also brought diseases with them, such as smallpox, that devastated many Indigenous populations.
The Eighteenth Century
he Hudson's Bay Company struggled for control of the fur trade with the French until 1763. A series of battles, both land and naval, took place on the James and Hudson bays. England's claim to the Hudson Bay was acknowledged by France in 1713 with the Treaty of Utrecht. HBC erected posts only at the mouths of the major rivers flowing into the bay. The only exception to this was the Henley House(1743), on the Albany River roughly 200 km from the coast. Due to the reluctance of establishing posts in the interior of Rupert's Land, the HBC was undercut and outflanked by their competitors who were willing to travel to the Indigenous people rather than waiting. The Indigenous traders capitalized on the rivalry for greater returns on their furs.
The Treaty of Paris, signed in 1763, led to the French Rivals being replaced by the much more formidable Montreal-based overland trade network which had been taken control of by British investors. Trade by the HBC had been undercut so severely that by 1774 the governor and commitee decided to embark on policy of aggressive inland expansion. This started with Cumberland House located on the lower Saskatchewan River. The North West Company's intensive competition with HBC spilled over beyond the borders of Rupert's Land into the Pacific slope and the Mackenzie drainage basin. The combining economic and physical violence resulting in the Battle of Seven Oaks.
The Nineteenth Century
merger of HBC and the North West Company was arranged in 1821, resulting in British Parliament confirming and extending the monopoly privileges to include the Nortwest Territories. With the differing traditions of the HBC and North West Company coming together with the merger, a new administrative structure was required. The portion of North America controlled by the British was divided up into distinct trading departments, these were then further subdivided into districts. In annual department meetings headed by the North America Governor (George Simpson 1826-1860), the district managers would meet. They passed local trade regulations, establishing logistical requirements, and the deployment of labour and outposts. According to the terms set out in the deed polls of 1821, 1834, and 1871, these officers had a vested interest in the success of these attributions since they received a profit share.
After the completion of the merger, the HBC closed all non-profitable outposts within its territory. This decision affected the survival of the trade reliant Indigenous groups. A group of independent traders within the Métis
population of the Red River Colony opposed the monopoly rights of the company. The monopoly which had been renewed by Parliament for an addition twenty years in 1838. This led to the infamous Sayer Trial in 1849. Pierre-Guillaume Sayer was tried and convicted of violating the HBC's legal privileges. The court never passed sentence out of fear of a Métis revolt since Sayer was himself Métis. Because of the lack of sentence trade in southern Rupert's Land was effectively opened for many of the small-scale fur trading competitors.
Relinquishing Colonial Responsibilities
ith the fur trade still the company's primary concern, HBC found it had become increasingly more involved in providing governmental assisstance in Vancouver Island and the Red River Valley. The governors of Assinbioa, agents for the Selkirk Estates, found themselves overshadowed by the HBC between the years of 1812 and 1834. The company reclaimed jurisdiction in 1834 of the governing body of the Selkirk colony until the transfer to Canada. The colony on Vancouver Island was granted to the HBC in 1849. This colony was to be developed as an agricultural settlement.
Chief Factor James Douglas was appointed governor of the the Vancouver Island colony in 1851. By 1858 the Fraser Gold Rush caused the mainland colony of British Columbia to be created out of New Caledonia
. In order to become the governor of BC, Douglas was required to to resign his HBC commission by British Parliament. With this move HBC began relinquishing colonial responsibilities.
The International Financial Society bought controlling interest in 1863, this purchase signalled a shift in the outlook of the company. The vast majority of the new shareholders were more interested in real estate speculation and the economic development in the West. Negotiations with the Colonial office and the Canadian government
eventually resulted in Rupert's Land being purchased
by Canada. The company received one-twentieth of the fertile land to be opened for settlers as well as handy sum of £300,000. Additionally it retained all title to the lands upon which their trading establishments existed.
HBC became on of the most important developers in western Canada with its control of vast land holdings in the praries and around their posts. The company was an active major real estate developer in western Canada from the establishment of the Land Commissioners Office in 1874.
udson's Bay Company increased the amount of business it did with settlers as the economic development in the Prairie West accelerated after 1870. Since the requirements differed in many ways from those of the Indigenous groups, seperate accounts were kept for sales. From these humble beginnings the HBC's wholesale and retail divisions emerged. The company restructured into three divisions in 1910, retail, land sales, and fur trade. HBC recognizing that retail had a future potential greater than the other two invested in the construction of retail outlets in 1913. Calgary had one of the original six department stores, while Winnipeg opened the last of the six in 1926. The fur trade was rebranded as the northern stores department in 1959, while in 1961 the land sales division was moved entirely to a subsidiary company.
The aquisition of Henry Morgan & Company
in 1960 saw HBC expanding to central Canada from its previous operations being entirely in western Canada. The 1970's saw the aquisitions of Shop-Rite and A. J. Freiman Ltd. in 1972, majority interests other companies such as Markborough Properties in 1973. The first Toronto based store was opened at Yonge and Bloor in 1974 when it moved its headquarters to Toronto from Winnipeg. The Simpsons department store chain was purchased in 1978, and it outlet locations were converted to Bay stores in 1991.
The expansion continued through the 1990's with the purchases of Woodward's in 1993 and K-Mart in 1998 and folding them into the Zellers brand. Zellers competitor Wal-Mart was it eventual downfall starting in 1994. HBC founded and opened Home Outfitters in 1999.
uring the early twenty-first century HBC has changed hands three times. The first when it was bought by Jerry Zucker for C$1 billion
, the second was when his widow sold it to Lord & Taylor, NRDC Equity Partners, and the third time was to a Bermuda-based holding company. It went public in 2012 when it was listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange and became private again in 2020.