Hudson's Bay Company
The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was officially chartered on 2 May 1670 and is the oldest incorporated joint-stock merchandising company in the English-speaking world.1 French traders Médard Chouart des Groseilliers and Pierre-Esprit Radisson first proposed a trading company that sent goods via the Hudson Bay as a way to gain easier access to the fur resources of the interior of what is now Canada. After the company was chartered, it claimed 1.5 million square kilometers of land inhabited by Inuit and First Nations communities.2
The company's original headquarters were in London, England, with its head offices located in Brampton, Ontario; and its first royal governor was Prince Rupert for whom “Rupert's Land” was named. The HBC established various posts throughout the country and had a large impact on Indigenous Peoples and their traditional way of life and economy. The company exploited Indigenous hunters' methods of trapping for profit, and the arrival of Europeans also introduced diseases such as smallpox.3
In 1821, the HBC merged with the North West Company. After the merger, the company closed many of its trading posts which were unprofitable. This caused a very negative effect on Indigenous groups who had become reliant on the fur trade.4 In 1849, the British extended a ten-year lease to the HBC for the propriety of Vancouver Island. The condition of the grant was declared to be the colonization of the island. However, this new colonial paradigm of land settlement proved difficult for the HBC.5 During this time, Richard Blanshard was dispatched by the Colonial Office to serve as governor, he was one of the few non-Indigenous persons on the island who did not work for the company. Blanshard's time in the position was short-lived. After his resignation, James Douglas (the former Chief Factor of the HBC) was appointed governor.6
After Douglas' appointment, he was met with pressures and orders to settle the island with colonists who were loyal to the Crown. During this time, Edward Gibbon Wakefield's theory (the “Wakefield System”) aligned with the HBC's policy of settlement on the island. The policy was a colonial theory premised on high land prices and a land based exclusionary franchise. This experiment resulted in the settlement of a mere handful of independent colonists.7 This policy was strongly opposed by Douglas and inevitably failed.
The Crown in its relationship with the HBC, began to see Douglas as having a conflict of interest: that Douglas was more mistrustful of settlers and defensive of Aboriginal rights.8 Eventually the HBC relinquished its colonial responsibilities after Douglas' governorship of British Columbia began in 1851.
Today, the company is associated with 250 department stores in Canada and the United States.9
  • 1. Arthur J. Ray, Hudson's Bay Company, The Canadian Encyclopedia, 2 April 2009.
  • 2. Ibid.; Melissa Gismondi, The untold story of the Hudson's Bay Company, 2 May 2020.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Ray, Hudson's Bay Company.
  • 5. John Douglas Belshaw, The Island Colony, in Canadian History: Pre-Confederation, (BC Open Textbook Project, 2015); Foreign Office to [Recipient not known], 1849, CO 305/1, p.635.
  • 6. Belshaw, The Island Colony.
  • 7. Ibid.; Richard Mackie, The Colonization of Vancouver Island, 1849-1858, BC Studies, no.96, (Winter 1992-93), p.3.
  • 8. Belshaw, The Island Colony.
  • 9. Ray, The Hudson's Bay Company.
Mentions of this organization in the documents