HBC Archives: Private Records Transcript


Private records are more likely to be diaries, scrapbooks, research notes, and these would be acquired from individuals as opposed to the company itself. Of course they complement the official records, documenting for instance personal experience at the posts or other areas of the company.

A benefit of private records is not only does it give us a glimpse of the person writing the record, it also gives us a glimpse of or a view of HBC personnel that we generally only know through the filter of reports and accounts and more dry official records, so it's a definite benefit to acquiring private records and a really valuable resource for researchers.

Gertrude Perrin's records are an example of this. She was not an employee of the company. Her only connection is that she traveled aboard the RMS Nascopie on its annual supply run to northern Arctic posts.

Her records include a diary and a scrapbook with photographs and some letters and articles and these are all about the 1936 voyage and they really provide an outsider's view of the HBC and one of its major activities or functions at this time.

The RMS Nascopie was vital to the HBC's operations in the North at that time. It brought really important supplies and personnel and medical aid to the posts and all of the northern communities in fact that it visited.

Gertrude Perrin was one of, I believe, seven passengers in 1936 that paid for the privilege. Actually I should say tourists because there's always been passengers on the Nascopie but this would have been HBC personnel, missionaries, RCMP, members of the Eastern Arctic Patrol, which would be people like doctors and scientists and the postmaster.

So Gertrude Perrin was one of these seven people but being a single woman was really, wasn't all that rare, which is interesting because as I previously mentioned, we're mostly interested in business records and so we have really relatively few records created or written by women or really even directly to them.

So being able to acquire a record written by a woman was immediately attractive to us, but beyond that, the content of the records is itself intriguing and captivating. It really gives us a glimpse of a 1930s woman's view of the world and what she was looking, for what she was interested in.

And she comes across as quite adventure-loving and she really seems captivated by the social aspects of the trip. And I mean this is a working vessel, not a cruise ship, so she still talks about shuffleboard on deck and drinks with so-and-so after meal and drinks with another person after meal and she discovers rum aboard the ship and discovers that she actually quite enjoys rum.

This is one of the brochures advertising the trip. There were also advertisements in The Beaver magazine, I believe usually at the back or the covers of the magazines, talking about what the trip included and what people would see. So you get a little bit of a map about what people would, where people go on the trip, and some of the sights they would see.

The attraction to the north is not something that is limited to Gertrude, obviously. The Nascopie was only open to tourists from 1933 to 1941, and in less than a decade they brought over a hundred people up north. And it was over $300 for Gertrude to do this, and this was during the Depression, so there was obviously a great interest in it.

I think the lure of the unknown Arctic and the romance the fur trade really seems to have been embodied in this little icebreaker and between 1912 and 1947, when she was lost at sea, she went on 34 annual treks through the Hudson Strait bringing much-needed supplies to all the northern communities, really continuing the tradition of the Hudson's Bay of trading into the bay. And for less than ten years, a hundred-plus people, including Gertrude Perrin, were able to be a part of that.