A fur trading business for much of its existence, HBC now owns and operates retail stores in Canada, the United States and parts of Europe, including Belgium and Germany.
The company was incorporated by English royal charter in as The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay and functioned as the de facto government in parts of North America before European states and later the United States laid claim to some of those territories.
From its long-time headquarters at York Factory on Hudson Bay , the company controlled the fur trade throughout much of the English and later British controlled North America for several centuries. Undertaking early exploration, its traders and trappers forged relationships with many groups of aboriginal peoples. Its network of trading posts formed the nucleus for later official authority in many areas of Western Canada and the United States. In the late 19th century, with its signing of the Deed of Surrender, its vast territory became the largest portion of the newly formed Dominion of Canada , in which the company was the largest private landowner.
By the midth century, the company evolved into a mercantile business selling everything from furs to fine homeware. They "quickly introduced a new type of client to the HBC — one that shopped for pleasure and not with skins"; the retail era had begun as the HBC began establishing stores across the country. The merger was completed on 3 November In the 17th century the French had a de facto monopoly on the Canadian fur trade with their colony of New France.
According to Peter C. Newman , "concerned that exploration of the Hudson Bay route might shift the focus of the fur trade away from the St. Lawrence River , the French governor", Marquis d'Argenson in office —61 , "refused to grant the coureurs de bois permission to scout the distant territory".
A year later they returned with premium furs, evidence of the potential of the Hudson Bay region. Subsequently, they were arrested for trading without a licence and fined, and their furs were confiscated by the government. Determined to establish trade in the Hudson Bay, Radisson and Groseilliers approached a group of businessmen in Boston, Massachusetts to help finance their explorations.
The Bostonians agreed on the plan's merits but their speculative voyage in failed when their ship ran into pack ice in Hudson Strait. Boston-based English commissioner Colonel George Cartwright learned of the expedition and brought the two to England to raise financing. Eventually, the two met and received the sponsorship of Prince Rupert. On 5 June , both ships left port at Deptford , England, but the Eaglet was forced to turn back off the coast of Ireland. Both the fort and the river were named after the sponsor of the expedition, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, one of the major investors and soon to be the new company's first governor.
After a successful trading expedition over the winter of —69, Nonsuch returned to England on 9 October with the first cargo of fur resulting from trade in Hudson Bay. This and subsequent purchases by Glover made it clear the fur trade in Hudson Bay was viable. The area gained the name " Rupert's Land " after Prince Rupert, the first governor of the company appointed by the King.
This drainage basin of Hudson Bay constitutes 1. The specific boundaries were unknown at the time. Rupert's Land would eventually become Canada's largest land "purchase" in the 19th century. The HBC established six posts between and Rupert House  , southeast , Moose Factory  , south and Fort Albany,  Ontario , west were erected on James Bay; three other posts were established on the western shore of Hudson Bay proper: Inland posts were not built until After , York Factory became the main post because of its convenient access to the vast interior waterway systems of the Saskatchewan and Red rivers.
Called "factories" because the " factor ," i. A means of exchange arose based on the Made Beaver MB ; a prime pelt, worn for a year and ready for processing: For example, two otter pelts might equal 1 MB".
During the fall and winter, First Nations men and European trappers did the vast majority of the animal trapping and pelt preparation. They travelled by canoe and on foot to the forts to sell their pelts. In exchange they typically received popular trade goods such as knives, kettles, beads, needles, and the Hudson's Bay point blanket.
The arrival of the First Nations trappers was one of the high points of the year, met with pomp and circumstance. The highlight was very formal, an almost ritualized "Trading Ceremony" between the Chief Trader and the Captain of the aboriginal contingent who traded on their behalf. The early coastal factory model contrasted with the system of the French, who established an extensive system of inland posts at native villages and sent traders to live among the tribes of the region.
The French appointed Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville , who had shown great heroism during the raids, as commander of the company's captured posts. In an English attempt to resettle Fort Albany failed due to ruses and deceptions by d'Iberville. After England and France were officially at war. D'Iberville raided Fort Severn in but did not attempt to raid the well-defended local headquarters at York Factory.
In the company recovered Fort Albany ; d'Iberville captured York Factory in , but the company recovered it the next year. In , d'Iberville again commanded a French naval raid on York Factory. On the way to the fort, he defeated three ships of the Royal Navy in the Battle of Hudson's Bay 5 September , the largest naval battle in the history of the North American Arctic.
D'Iberville's depleted French force captured York Factory by a ruse; they laid siege to the fort while pretending to be a much larger army, the French held all of the outposts except Fort Albany until Fort Albany was again unsuccessfully attacked in by a small French and Indian force.
The economic consequences of the French possession to the company were significant; it did not pay any dividends for more than 20 years. See Anglo-French conflicts on Hudson Bay. With the ending of the Nine Years' War in , and the War of the Spanish Succession in with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht , France had gotten the short end of the stick.
Among the treaty's many provisions, it required France to relinquish all claims to Hudson Bay, which again became a British possession. After the treaty, the company built Prince of Wales Fort , a stone star fort at the mouth of the nearby Churchill River. In its trade with native peoples, Hudson's Bay Company exchanged wool blankets, called Hudson's Bay point blankets , for the beaver pelts trapped by aboriginal hunters. A long-held misconception is that the number of stripes is related to its value in beaver pelts.
A parallel may be drawn between the HBC's control over Rupert's Land with the trade monopoly and government functions enjoyed by the Honourable East India Company over India during roughly the same period.
It became operative for the outfit of and was the first joint-stock company in Canada and possibly North America. The agreement lasted one year. A second agreement established in had a three-year term.
The company became a permanent entity in In , the North West Company of Montreal and Hudson's Bay Company were forcibly merged by intervention of the British government to put an end to often-violent competition. After the merger, with all operations under the management of Sir George Simpson —60 , the company had a corps of commissioned officers, 25 chief factors and 28 chief traders, who shared in the company's profits during the monopoly years.
The progression for officers, together referred to as the Commissioned Gentlemen, was to enter the company as a fur trader. Typically, they were men who had the capital to invest in starting up their trading. They sought to be promoted to the rank of Chief Trader. A Chief Trader would be in charge of an individual post and was entitled to one share of the company's profits.
Chief Factors sat in council with the Governors and were the heads of districts. They were entitled to two shares of the company's profits or losses. In addition, Americans controlled the Maritime fur trade on the Northwest Coast until the s.
Throughout the s and s, the HBC controlled nearly all trading operations in the Pacific Northwest , based at the company headquarters at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. The company's effective monopoly on trade virtually forbade any settlement in the region.
In , it purchased Fort Hall, also along the route of the Oregon Trail , where the outpost director displayed the abandoned wagons of discouraged settlers to those seeking to move west along the trail. The company's stranglehold on the region was broken by the first successful large wagon train to reach Oregon in , led by Marcus Whitman. In the years that followed, thousands of emigrants poured into the Willamette Valley. In , the United States acquired full authority south of the 49th parallel ; the most settled areas of the Oregon Country were south of the Columbia River in what is now Oregon.
McLoughlin, who had once turned away would be settlers as company director, then welcomed them from his general store at Oregon City and was later proclaimed the "Father of Oregon ". During the s and s, HBC trappers were deeply involved in the early exploration and development of Northern California. These trapping brigades in Northern California faced serious risks, and were often the first to explore relatively uncharted territory, among the lesser known Peter Skene Ogden , Samuel Black.
Between and , the HBC issued its own paper money. Some accounts attributed that to the intimidating armed crowd gathered outside the courthouse. With the cry, Le commerce est libre! Le commerce est libre! Another factor was the findings of the Palliser Expedition of to , led by Captain John Palliser. Although he recommended against settlement of the region the report sparked a debate.
That ended the myth publicized by Hudson's Bay Company that the Canadian West was unfit for agricultural settlement. The deal, known as The Deed of Surrender, came into force the following year. The resulting territory, now known as the Northwest Territories , was brought under Canadian jurisdiction under the terms of the Rupert's Land Act , enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom.
The Deed enabled the admission of the fifth province, Manitoba , to the Confederation on 15 July , the very same day that the deed itself came into force. During the 19th century the Hudson Bay's Company was going through a lot of change such as growth and settlement, ongoing pressure from Britain, and the future of the West seemed unlikely to remain in the hands of the company.
The iconic department store today evolved from trading posts at the start of the 19th century, when they began to see demand for general merchandise grow rapidly. HBC soon expanded into the interior and set-up posts along river settlements that later developed into the modern cities of Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. In , the first sales shop was established in Fort Langley.
This was followed by other sales shops in Fort Victoria , Winnipeg , Calgary , Vancouver , Vernon , Edmonton , Yorkton , and Nelson The first of the grand "original six" department stores was built in Calgary in The other department stores that followed were in Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, Saskatoon , and Winnipeg.
The First World War interrupted a major remodelling and restoration of retail trade shops planned in Following the war, the company revitalized its fur-trade and real-estate activities, and diversified its operations by venturing into the oil business. HBOG expanded during the s and s, and in began shipping Canadian crude through a new link to the Glacier pipeline and on to the refinery in Billings, Montana.More...