Remembering Rolph Huband

He was a visionary, and a champion of history who played a key role in repatriating a historic trove of Hudson’s Bay Company artifacts and records back to Canada.

November 21, 2016

Canada’s History Society offers its sincere condolences on the passing of Rolph Huband, the society’s Publisher Emeritus and Founding Chair. Mr. Huband was also the former Vice-President and Secretary of Hudson's Bay Company. It was his vision, initiative and leadership that established the History Society. He was named the Society’s Founding Chair in recognition of his contributions.

“Mr. Huband was a champion of Canadian history, and understood well the importance of the HBC legacy to the growth of the country,” said Canada’s History Society President and CEO Janet Walker. “Thanks to Mr. Huband’s tireless efforts, both in the 1970s and in the 1990s, Canada today is home to the priceless collection of HBC artifacts and records that are so crucial to understanding early Canada.

“And the History Society he helped to create continues to share Canada’s stories with print and digital readers across the country and around the world.”

From 1994 to 1997, Mr. Huband held dual positions as Chairman of the Board of the History Society and Publisher of The Beaver, the publication with which he had been closely associated since 1960.

He was responsible for the shift in focus from a magazine about the North to one of general Canadian history, which lead to an increase in The Beaver's circulation and visibility. In August 2003, he was appointed to the Order of Canada.

Joe Martin, President Emeritus of Canada’s National History Society, and a lifelong friend of Mr. Huband, praised Mr. Huband’s tireless dedication to preserving the legacy of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

“Because of his love of history, he was instrumental in persuading the Bay to gift Lower Fort Garry and York Factory” in Manitoba, Martin said. Both sites are today National Historic Sites.

Deborah Morrison, the former Publisher, President, and CEO of Canada’s History, called Mr. Huband an “extraordinary champion for Canadian history.” “There are those individuals who command respect, and then there are people like Rolph Huband, who simply have it,” she said. “He was generous with his time, and always had words of encouragement and support to offer. His passion for our history became a vocation, and because of him, Canadians for many generations will benefit from this incredibly rich legacy he preserved for us.”

Mr. Huband was born, raised and educated in Winnipeg. A graduate of the University of Manitoba, he held degrees in Law and in Commerce. A man of contrasts, he was a baseball fanatic, particularly of the World Series, and was a principal player in the establishment of the Manitoba Opera Company. Mr. Huband joined the HBC in the 1950s and served as the company’s Corporate Counsel and Secretary of the Company.

In 1974, he played a crucial role in coordinating the transfer of the HBC records and artifacts from Britain, where they had been stored for decades. This priceless trove of documents and artifacts detail the history of the fur trade era and are prized by both scholars and everyday Canadians. Twenty years later, he helped negotiate the permanent gift of the HBC collection to Canada.

In 2003, Mr. Huband was appointed to the Order of Canada for his contributions to preserving and promoting the past. To mark the occasion, the Hudson’s Bay Company paid tribute to Mr. Huband: “A visionary, Mr. Huband saw that all facets of the Company’s historical legacy got new, good, permanent homes, to preserve them for future generations to enjoy. In doing so, he has played a key role in preserving, protecting and celebrating a signification part of Canada’s past and developing pubic interest in Canadian History.”

During his tenure as publisher of The Beaver, he oversaw the Society’s expansion into books and online publishing. He also encouraged the creation of the Pierre Berton Award, which honours the country’s top producers of popular history, as well as the Governor General’s Award for Excellence in Teaching Canadian History.

These awards, now greatly expanded, continue today as the Governor General’s History Awards, the premiere celebration of history teachers, content creators, scholars, students and community groups in the country.

You can read Mr. Huband's obituary in the Globe & Mail.

In 2014, Canada’s History interviewed many of the key players who were behind the transfer of the HBC records, including Mr. Huband. You can see him in this video:

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