Hudson Bay map
The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was created in another time and another country. There is no company in modern Canadian history like it.
The HBC was founded on 2 May 1670 when King Charles granted a charter to his cousin Prince Rupert and his associates. The charter created the HBC as a corporate entity. Several supplementary charters, which modified the original one, have been granted since, most recently in 1970. The HBC's full name is the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay. The governor was the chairman; the Company of Adventurers were those who owned stock, as they were adventuring or risking their money. The stock holders were called proprietors and their meetings were called general courts. They elected the governor, deputy governor and committee (board of directors). The HBC was set up as a joint-stock company and the permission of the Governor and Committee was needed for the sale of stock. In 1863 there was a major re-organization as a result of which the HBC was capitalized by shares publicly traded on the open market.
The charter of 1670 made the Hudson's Bay Company 'true and absolute Lordes and Proprietors' of Rupert's Land, the vast drainage area of the Hudson Bay basin. This is equal to almost a million and a half square miles of western and northern Canada, more than 40% of the modern nation. Charles believed that the land was his to give because no other Christian monarch had claimed it.
By the Deed of Surrender in 1869 the HBC agreed to transfer Rupert's Land back to the crown. In 1870 the territory was incorporated into the new Dominion of Canada. In compensation the HBC received a large sum of money and substantial land holdings.
From its founding in 1670 until 1870 the fur trade was the chief focus of the HBC. Its range of activities broadened considerably after that as it took advantage of new opportunities. At the beginning of the 21st century HBC is best known as a general retailer.
Although the HBC has changed with the centuries, its history is full of continuities. It is these continuities which make its archives so rich a resource. For an introduction to the major themes of HBC history, see:
Visit the HBC's own website for their telling of their history.