Hudson's Bay Company
an early Canadian business firm


Hudson's Bay Company is a business firm that became famous for its role in western Canadian history. It was founded in London in 1670 to establish a fur trade in what is now the Hudson Bay region. Today, Hudson's Bay Company ranks as one of Canada's largest corporations.

A group of English merchants and nobles founded the Hudson's Bay Company with the help of two French fur traders, Sieur des Groseilliers and Pierre Esprit Radisson. The two traders knew that furs from North America could earn fortunes. After a quarrel with the French colonial government in Quebec over profits and taxes, they had offered their services to Charles II of England.

In 1668, Groseilliers helped direct a trading expedition to the Hudson Bay region. The expedition was so successful that the king gave the Hudson's Bay Company a charter in 1670. The firm received sole trading rights in all lands drained by the streams that flowed into Hudson Bay. Company agents built trading posts and forts along the bay. They traded with the Indians and exchanged such goods as guns, kettles, and knives for beaver pelts. In England, the pelts were made into expensive felt for garments and hats.

For many years, the company struggled with the French, who also claimed the Hudson Bay region. French forces from Montreal and Quebec captured and destroyed many of the firm's trading posts. French fur traders began to threaten the company's trade monopoly with the Indians. But the British took control of almost all French lands in Canada in 1763, and the company gained almost complete control of the fur trade in the region.

During the late 1770's and 1780's, the North West Company, a newly organized group of independent fur traders, began competing with the Hudson's Bay Company. Because of the growing competition, the Hudson's Bay Company sent expeditions far inland to find new sources of fur. Its explorers established a network of trading posts and transport routes. The Hudson's Bay Company thus helped open Canada to settlement all the way to the Pacific coast.

In 1821, the two rival companies combined under the name Hudson's Bay Company. This company was completely reorganized under the leadership of Sir George Simpson. It held full land and trading rights in much of western British North America until 1870. That year, the company gave the British government much of the territory granted by its charter. The government, in turn, transferred the land to the newly formed Dominion of Canada. The company received about $1˝ million for the land from the Canadian government. It lost certain trading rights but kept large areas of the western plains. The Hudson's Bay Company later sold these lands to settlers.

The Hudson's Bay Company ended its fur-trading business in 1989. Today, it ranks as Canada's largest department store retailer. The company owns a chain of department stores throughout Canada.

Contributor: John Elgin Foster, Ph.D., Prof. of History, Univ. of Alberta.

Additional resources

Newman, Peter C. Company of Adventurers. Penguin (Markham, Ont.); Viking Penguin, 1987. Caesars of the Wilderness. 1988. Merchant Princes. 1992. Three-volume history of the Hudson's Bay Company, first published in 1985, 1987, and 1992. Empire of the Bay: An Illustrated History of the Hudson's Bay Company. 1989.

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