The Hudson’s Bay Company

The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was established by Royal Charter from Charles II in 1670. The charter gave the company control over one third of present-day Canadian territory.

This area covered most of northern Ontario, northern Québec and Saskatchewan, all of Manitoba, the southern half of Alberta and much of the Northwest Territories, as well as much of the US States of Minnesota and North Dakota. This enormous area was know as Rupert’s Land after Prince Rupert, one of the King’s cousins who helped establish the company.

The company was set up to trade for beaver pelts with the Cree and other American Indian peoples near James Bay, and continued as a trading and exploration company into the nineteenth century. Continuing to this day as Canada’s largest non-food retailer, the HBC surrendered ownership of its Rupert’s Land territory to Canada in the 1869 Deed of Surrender. In the fur trade years the company faced stiff competition from French fur traders and later the North West Company with which it subsequently merged in 1821.

American Indian trappers traded fur pelts for guns, axes, knives and predominantly woollen textiles, including blankets. By the eighteenth century the Gloucestershire broadcloths, often known as ‘strouds’ dominated the fur trade inventories in both bulk and value. Cloth, especially strouds, had been an important trade good since the seventeenth century and had even been exchanged for land and people:

‘in 1716 “Indian Peggy” appeared before the Commissioner of Trade with a “French man” purchased by her brother and given to her. The man had come dearly, costing her brother “a gun, a white Duffield match coat, two broadcloth match coats, a cutlass and some powder and paint”. Peggy was willing to exchange her hostage for the gun, and “the value of the rest of the goods might be paid her in strouds.”’

( Hill S H. 1997. Weaving New Worlds: Southeastern Cherokee Women and Their Basketry. University of North Carolina Press. From McDowell. Colonial Records of South Carolina. Journals of the Commissioners of the Indian Trade, November 16 & 24)

Canadian Trade RoutesThe Hudson’s Bay Company traded across much of Northeastern North America through trading posts that were linked to the main traderoutes shown on the map. Small American Indian communities were based close to the trading posts to mediate trade between the company and Native fur trappers. Métis communities became established, with their own distinctive material culture, as white traders married American Indian women.