Hudson's Bay Company
Hudson's Bay Company is the oldest and largest company in Canadian history. Today it is a large Department store selling clothing, handbags, jewellery, accessories, shoes and beauty products, but its creation is linked to the fur trade and exploration in Canada. To explain this link let us start with a bit of history.
By the 17th century, the dying-out of European beavers led to an ever increasing need for more beaver fur. European beavers were indeed victims of over-hunting, as their fur was used for some new fashions, such as hats. This is why Prince Rupert, cousin of Charles II, who was a very good businessman, thought of making money in the fur trade. The king made a charter which gave Prince Rupert and his companions a monopoly on the fur trading business. They formed Hudson’s Bay Company, also abbreviated HBC, on May 6th 1670 and Prince Rupert became its first governor. All the land around the Hudson Bay was given to the company and became known as Rupert’s land.
From 1714 until the late 1740s, the business was at his highest point being very profitable. The reason for this success was that the Hudson’s Bay Company, being the only one allowed to trade fur, had no competition from other companies.
The fur trade business slowed down from the 1750's onwards. The main reason for this decrease in the fur trade was the Seven Years War between France and England, which began 1756 and went on until 1763. During this war France and Britain fought in North America in order to decide which of the two countries would control the northern half of the continent. After having won, Britain took control of mostof the French territories and the fur trade.
Moreover, from 1783 onwards, HBC had to face competition from fur traders in Montreal (the North West Company): both companies wanted to find new sources of fur by exploring further west, thus creating a fierce competition. It is only in 1821 that the Hudson’s Bay Company defeated the North West Company which then joined with the winner. Following this merge HBC became North America’s most powerful organization. Until 1870 the company controlled most of what is now called Canada: they were in charge of the land and enforced many laws.
However the fur trade was beginning to change and in 1821 the company began trading furs from other counties. Fashion also changed and fur hats were replaced by silk hats, which made things worse for the trade. As a result, fur trade was no longer a powerful industry in 1870.
HBC started being a modern company, no longer only involved in the fur business, when the Queen granted Rupert’s Land to Canada (formed in 1867). They helped the settlers by providing them with land and supplies. It is also around that time that HBC went from trading posts to retails stores, what they still are today. Indeed they opened their first store in 1881.
In 1960 they changed their name to the Bay and expanded to Montreal, and so to Eastern Canada. This made them the largest chain store in the country by 1978. At first their headquarters were in London but in 1970 they moved to Winnipeg, and then to Toronto, where they still are today.
Despite the decreasing success of the fur trade, they only abandoned it completely in 1991, because people increasingly saw this as cruel. Now the Department Store sells everything but fur. Indeed when you go and see their site you can do your shopping ‘by category’ (accessories, clothing, beauty, shoes, etc.) or by ‘the brands we love’.