Celebrating the HBC's Legacy

How the Hudson’s Bay Company’s 400-year-old records became the property of the people of Canada.

Created by Canada’s History

October 2, 2014

Today most Canadians are familiar with Hudson’s Bay Company as a department store. But in the context of the history of Canada, HBC is so much more.

No corporation that has had a greater impact on Canada’s development than HBC. From the time it was founded in 1670 as a Company of Adventurers “trading into Hudson Bay,” the history of HBC has been entwined with the history of Canada.

It’s trading interests put it at the forefront of exploration, with traders such as Samuel Hearne, John Rae and David Thompson charting new frontiers. Its traders were usually the first Europeans with whom First Nations made contact. And its trading posts effectively served as local governing bodies. They even provided health care, by, for example, vaccinating First Nations against smallpox.

Fortunately for historians and others, HBC kept meticulous records, as well as a treasure trove of artifacts and works of art at its headquarters in London, England. And, thanks to the work of a handful of people who were aware of the collection’s importance, most of HBC’s archives and artifacts are now housed in Canada and available to be viewed by the public.

The work of transferring the materials from England to Canada took place in two major events forty and twenty years ago — and it was no small feat.

In this video, Canada’s History interviewed many of the key players who were behind the move. They include people like Rolph Huband, the secretary of HBC’s Canadian committee, Shirley Anne Smith, the first Keeper of the HBC archives in Canada, and Ian Wilson, former Librarian and Archivist of Canada, and many more.

Together, they tell a compelling story of how this priceless record — which has been designated a UNESCO world treasure — was brought home to Canada for the Canadian public to use and enjoy.

This video premiered at a celebration held September 30, 2014, at the Archives of Manitoba to mark the 40th anniversary of the arrival of the records and the 20th anniversary HBC’s gifting of its collection to the people of Canada.

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