More than anything else, it is records of the fur trade that draw researchers to the Hudson's Bay Company Archives (HBCA). The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was involved in this multi-faceted business from the voyage of the Nonsuch in 1668 until it sold its Northern Stores and Fur Sales in 1987 and 1988. It operated fur trade posts and agencies from Newfoundland to Vancouver Island and from the St. Lawrence to the Arctic. In the 1800s the HBC also traded in the American Pacific Northwest; its Snake Country Expeditions may have reached as far south as Spanish territory in what is now Texas. It also had posts in Alaska and Hawaii. In the 1920s there were HBC posts in the Russian Far East.
The fur trade brought the HBC into contact with a wide range of people. They traded with the Aboriginal people of North America and learned from them about the country. Many fur traders had Aboriginal wives and families. The HBC was also involved with other fur trade companies such as the North West Company, the American Fur Company, the Russian American Company and Revillon Freres.
Since the fur trade was the exchange of goods for furs, the essential role of fur-bearing animals should not be forgotten. The trade also brought the HBC into contact with the suppliers of goods and the buyers of furs. In the 1900s the HBC began to sell furs on consignment from all over the world in addition to furs collected at its posts. It became one of the greatest fur auction houses in the world, rivalled only by the Soviet government.
The year 1870 was a major watershed in the HBC's history. The incorporation of its territory of Rupert's Land into the new Dominion of Canada meant that the HBC had to adapt as agricultural settlement began to transform western Canada. HBC retail stores began to appear in towns and cities across the prairies and British Columbia, leading to their slogan "The Great Traders of the Great West." From the 1960s to the early 1990s the HBC expanded across Canada, acquiring other retail companies such as Morgans, Freimans, Zellers, Simpsons, Towers and Woodward's. Wholesaling and a mail-order liquor business during Prohibition were other 20th century enterprises.
The HBC was also involved in the sale of farm lands and town lots. Its mineral rights in its properties across the west were the basis of its venture into the oil business, which lasted from the 1920s to the 1980s.
During the First World War the HBC acted as the chief shipping and purchasing agent for the governments of France, Belgium, Russia and Romania. The "French Government Business," as it was called, was on such a huge scale that a subsidiary, The Bay Steamship Co. Ltd., had to be created to handle the HBC's merchant fleet. In the 1920s the HBC participated in a variety of unlikely businesses—reindeer herding, frozen salmon, even comic films.
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