HBC Archives: An Expert Overview Transcript


For the first three hundred years of its history the Hudson’s Bay Company kept their own records in London and then shortly after the company moved its headquarters to Winnipeg in 1970, they made the decision to deposit their records for a long-term loan in the archives of Manitoba. And so they were shipped to Winnipeg and open for public research in 1975 and for the first 20 years the records were on deposit and were owned by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

In 1994, the company made the most extraordinary gift to Canadians and to Manitobans, and they donated their records to the Archives of Manitoba. And they used the tax proceeds of that gift to set up a foundation, the Hudson’s Bay Company History Foundation, which today provides ongoing financial support for the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, as well as the Manitoba Museum and Canada’s National History Society. And so this is a wonderful sort of partnership with the company and with the archives and an ongoing means to sustain a world-class collection of records.

The records comprise some 3,000 linear meters of records, spanning the time of the inception of the company in 1670 right up to the twentieth century, so it’s quite a long stretch of time and we have an ongoing relationship with the Hudson’s Bay Company. They continue to transfer and donate records to us.

The last large donation of records happened in 2007. They donated about 1,400 linear feet of records, which we are currently processing and, as they are processed, make available for research purposes. So it’s a wonderful growing archival collection.

The Memory of the World Program was established in 1992 and its goals are to ensure the preservation of documentary heritage. And their values are to make sure that it’s widely accessible to everyone, that they’re important to be preserved, properly preserved, and made available to everyone.

And in 1997 was when the first register was established but no Canadian Canadian collections had been listed on the register. And so in 2007 we learned, after a lengthy application process, that the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives were successfully added to the register, and the records from the first 250 years of the company’s history from 1670 to 1920 were listed on the register and at the same time the Quebec seminary records.

So these are the very first records from Canada to be listed on an international register. It’s a great honour to be recognized and as an international resource to that this documentary heritage is important not only to Canadians, not only to Manitobans, but to the world. They document early communities, the fur trade, exploration, the development of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s retail empire, land and settlement, and so many things that are the foundation of Canada.

And we showed examples of how it also has some international significance. That the Hudson’s Bay Company actually, during the First World War, was a shipping agent for the Allied countries and they had a fleet of ships that provided the Allied countries with troops, supplies, and various things during the First World War and so it that was sort of a multinational kind of scope for the company. That it was not just fur trade, not just retail, but it had this special purpose during the First World War as well.

The records include minutes of the London committee, account books recording daily transactions at posts, as well as the people who worked at them, daily records of journals kept at each post, maps showing the areas that they explored, as well as photographs — a tremendous collection. 130,000 photographs in the collection which document the company’s operation in the Canadian north. We have 12,000 fur trade maps, probably the largest collection of fur trade maps in the world.

One of the stipulations of the register is that the collection that is now made has to be finite and since the Hudson’s Bay Company archives are dynamic and growing they’re not finite. So we had to either choose a selection or an individual record for the register or a finite collection of records.

And we’ve always felt that the whole is greater than the sum of its individual parts and that was actually the argument to get the monetary appraisal 260 million was what it was when it was appraised in 1993 and we do feel it’s but it’s it’s the collection of those records and how they show the various workings of the company that make it special it’s not one individual record.