HBC Memories

To celebrate HBC’s 350th anniversary, readers from across Canada share personal recollections of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Written by Henrietta Roi

Posted April 14, 2020

The Hudson’s Bay Company has left an indelible mark on Canada. HBC’s ability to adapt to new ventures has allowed it to grow and expand. And it has been doing this for 350 years.

When HBC began its business in North America the company touched the lives of many people, Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Its interventions had a lasting impact that is tied into the evolution of Canada. It is rare for a company to have such an effect on people and history and to do it over such a long period of time.

People are at the centre of the Hudson’s Bay Company story. For 350 years they have been central to many memories. This is evident in the records of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, located in Winnipeg, which features a mix of personal and corporate documents. HBC’s department stores, found across Canada, have also been part of the memories of many Canadians.

We asked our readers to send in their memories of HBC, and we have compiled them here.

Many readers shared their holiday memories of The Bay, from the display windows to the porcelain bells that would be given out around Christmas time. Bonnie Gill remembers walking down Saint Catherine Street in Montreal and how it was “always so interesting to see the beautiful displays.”

Sandy Moeller, from Red Deer, Alberta, recalls the special displays in the windows and inside the store at The Bay in Victoria, British Columbia. “Each was different. Some had wonderful moving displays. Inside it was decorated to the hilt. So elaborate, and on every floor.”

Doug Campbell of Houston, British Columbia, said he has never forgotten the furry greeter that used to stand near the doorway to the HBC store in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. “The first thing you would see was a very large stuffed polar bear standing on his hind legs in the entrance way.”

There are others who remember The Bay’s unique restaurants, like the Honeydew in Sarnia and the Paddlewheel in Winnipeg. Readers like Christine E. Bennett of Bashaw, Alberta, remember the malt shop in The Bay on Jasper Avenue in Edmonton. Bennett recalled happily going “down to the basement for a malt every time.”

June Boyle of Courtenay, British Columbia, fondly recalled the restaurant in The Bay in Sarnia, Ontario, “that was like spring all year round, with lattice on the ceilings and walls, and plenty of silk flowers everywhere.”

The iconic Bay Days also featured in many memories. Teisha Gaylard remembers when Bay Days were something different altogether. “Once or twice a year the store would hold a “Bay Day” where it was open to staff and their families only. Every woman would be handed a carnation flower at the front door.”

Neven Humphrey, from Gatineau, Quebec, remembers the opening of the first Bay store in Quebec City. “My mom and sister were going to witness it, however, they convinced me that it would be boring, and that the sheep sale my father was going to would be much more interesting.” Two years later, when Humphrey saw commercials for the Bay’s 315th Anniversary he remarked “You’ve only been open for two years: don’t exaggerate!” Then one of his sisters confirmed that The Bay was indeed 315 years old. 

People also shared their memories of working with HBC. Among them was, André Pelchat of L’Avenir, Quebec, who remembered his father’s work in the 1960s and 1970s.

“He was a trapper and regularly caught furs to sell to the Hudson’s Bay Company! Once a year he would go to the HBC store in Quebec City and sell the furs he had caught during the winter.”

There are also stories like Gary Hanna’s: “In 1974 I entered the HBC retail management program as a trainee. I took the same oath that morning as many other clerks took 350 years ago. A very proud moment two years later, when I graduated.”

We received memories from coast to coast and from across the decades. HBC’s historic impact is clear, but it is evident that the company remains prominent in the minds of Canadians. Three-and-a-half centuries of history is certainly something to remember.

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