In Good Company

As the HBC’s 350th anniversary approaches, we invite readers to share their memories of North America’s oldest company.

Written by Janet Walker

Posted January 14, 2020

History is about people. Here at Canada’s History Society, we also believe it’s about fostering inclusion, mutual success, and a collective ambition to share, to listen, to remember, and to understand.

The Hudson’s Bay Company was chartered on May 2, 1670, when King Charles II granted exclusive trading rights of the Hudson Bay watershed to “the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson Bay.”

The fledgling company entered into a complex and ancient trade system established by Indigenous peoples throughout the continent, and the enterprise flourished as European and Indigenous traders embarked on an unprecedented period of social, economic, and cultural exchange.

Over the next three centuries, the HBC grew into a fur-trading giant and a global fashion retailer. Today it remains the oldest corporation in North America.

Yet the real wealth of this daring endeavour lies not in land, and forts, and furs. The true bounty lies in the community of people whose legacy of insight, communication, courage and unyielding determination helped to shape our country.

You can hear their voices in the company records, ship logs, newsletters, and correspondence, now carefully preserved at the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg.

You can find traces of their lives in the objects and artifacts in the Hudson’s Bay Company Gallery at the Manitoba Museum in the same city.

Canada’s History Society carries on the tradition of publishing Canada’s History magazine, successor to The Beaver, an employee journal established by the HBC in 1920 to commemorate the company’s 250th anniversary. While the magazine now operates independently, it remains committed to honouring its origins.

Together, these historical legacies are the HBC’s gift to Canada and a window into our country’s past.

From the earliest voyageurs, trappers, and traders, to governors, clerks, and conservationists, the HBC saga includes a storehouse of individual journeys, mapping an adventure of opportunity and change, of loneliness and hardship, of optimism and endurance.

Young George Fowlie, who joined the HBC in 1923 as an apprentice clerk, made the journey from Scotland to York Factory, where he worked with dogsled teams in the Nelson River district. Fowlie carefully preserved the handmade objects he acquired during his six years in the community, which were passed down to his daughter, Marjorie Medford.

Since 2018, the pieces have been part of the Hudson’s Bay Company Museum Collection.

In 1904, when Athabasca, in what is now Alberta, was struck by severe flooding, HBC mailman Billy Loutit was dispatched to Edmonton to get help. The Métis man ran more than 150 kilometres over flooded roads and undeveloped terrain to deliver the message.

His great-granddaughter, Shannon Loutit, shared his story with us and relayed news of an annual reenactment of the run that takes place in Alberta.

As we mark 350 years of the HBC, we encourage you to share your personal historic connections to the company. Send us your HBC-related memories or family photos, and we will share them online at

Help us to commemorate the people of the HBC, whose contributions created richer and deeper connections among so many Canadians.

Help share the stories that make Canada strong

At Canada’s History, we highlight our nation’s past by telling stories that illuminate the people, places, and events that unite us as Canadians, while understanding that diverse past experiences can shape multiple perceptions of our history.

Canada’s History is a registered charity. Generous contributions from readers like you help us explore and celebrate Canada’s diverse stories and make them accessible to all through our free online content.

Please donate to Canada’s History today. Thank you!

Janet Walker is President and CEO of Canada’s History Society.

Send your recollections and/or digital photographs, plus contact information, to Please do not send original or valuable materials.

This article originally appeared in the February-March issue of Canada’s History.

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