Hudson’s Bay Company Archives – About HBCA

Hudson’s Bay Company Archives History

From its founding by Royal Charter in 1670 and throughout its history, HBC has kept careful and detailed records of its activities, growth and expansion. Many of these records have survived, leaving a legacy of information of great significance. In the 1920s HBC’s head office in London, England, began to arrange and describe its records to make them more accessible for company and scholarly use. In 1970, HBC’s head office was moved to Canada. In 1974 the company put its records on loan with the Archives of Manitoba and twenty years later, on 27 January 1994, the records were officially donated to the Province.

The vault at the HBC Archives in London
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The vault at the
HBC Archives in London
An HBCA vault in Winnipeg today
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An HBCA vault in
Winnipeg today

Suggested reading about the Hudson's Bay Company Archives

  • Briggs, Elizabeth and Anne Morton. Biographical Resources at the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, Volumes 1 & 2. Winnipeg: Westgarth, 1996-2003.
  • Craig, Joan. "Three Hundred Years of Records." The Beaver, Autumn 1970, pp. 65-70.
  • Harris, Geraldine Alton. "An Archival Administrative History of the Northern Stores Department, Hudson’s Bay Company, 1959-1987." MA thesis, University of Manitoba, 1994.
  • Leveson Gower, R. H. G. "The Archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company." The Beaver, December 1933, pp. 40-42, 64.
  • Koppel, Tom. "Treasure-trove of History." Canadian Geographic, 111 (5), Oct.-Nov. 1991, pp. 70-76.
  • Martin, Jean. "Canadian Chronicles." Imperial Oil Review, Spring 1998, pp. 22-27.
  • Ross, Alex, and Anne Morton. "The Hudson’s Bay Company and Its Archives." Business Archives, no. 51, 1985, pp. 17-39.
  • Simmons, Deidre. Keepers of the Record: the History of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. McGill-Queen’s University Press: Montreal & Kingston, 2007.
  • Simmons, Deidre. "The Archives of the Hudson’s Bay Company," Archivaria, no. 42, Fall 1996, pp. 68-78.
  • Simmons, Deidre. "The Hudson’s Bay Company Archives: The Role of the Hudson’s Bay Record Society". Epilogue Volume II, No. 1, 1996, pp. 1-13.
  • Simmons, Deidre. "Custodians of a Great Inheritance": An Account of the Making of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, 1920-1974." MA thesis, University of Manitoba, 1994.
  • Simmons, Deidre. "Annals of the Fur Trade: The Making of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives." The Beaver, June/July 1994, pp. 4-12.

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Arrangement and Description of Hudson’s Bay Company Archives

Corporate records arrangement - series system

Beginning in the early 2000s, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives adopted a series system of arrangement and description based on a combination of the Australian series system and the Canadian series approach developed at the Archives of Ontario. The system is built into a descriptive database called Keystone and has required the re-description of many existing Hudson’s Bay Company Archives records. A significant aspect of the series system is that it provides a way to capture how records are created by whom, in what context and for what reason because information about the records is kept separately from information about the creators of records. As a result, the series system more accurately captures the complex administrative histories, organizational relationships and records creation processes of Hudson’s Bay Company.

For record creators at each level of Hudson’s Bay Company’s hierarchy, such as post, district and department, authority records are created which explain the history, dates of existence and function of each entity. Authority records are also linked to predecessor and successor bodies as well as to controlling and subordinate entities. As a result, it is possible to identify where a record-creating entity fits within Hudson’s Bay Company’s corporate structure and to see how that structure evolves over time. This knowledge is essential to understanding how the company operated as well as how records were created.

The records created by each entity are described by “series” – i.e. records which result from a common activity or function or are of a similar form. Descriptions of series are linked to descriptions of record creators within Hudson’s Bay Company and include details such as quantity, media, dates of creation, and information about the ‘scope and content’ including why records were created, for what purpose, and what they contain. Within each series, records are further described at the item-level, where information such as location code and microfilm number is identified.

Non-corporate records arrangement – fonds/collection system

The private records (i.e. non-corporate records) held in Hudson’s Bay Company Archives are described as "fonds" or "collections." The term "fonds" is used to indicate all of the records created or acquired by a particular creator. The term "collection" is used to describe materials gathered purposefully on the basis of some criteria (subject, age, geographic interest, etc.). As with the corporate records, information about record creators and information about the records is kept separately and linked.

Previous classification schemes

During the 1920s–1930s a classification scheme was developed for the records kept by the Hudson's Bay Company Archives in London. Records were organized by section, class, type and piece which were represented as an alpha-numeric document reference number.

In the 1980s, many twentieth century records were organized by record group (RG) categories. These categories were developed to be assigned to 20th century records, but in the end not all of them were used.

For more information about the original classification scheme and the record group categories, consult Deidre Simmon’s publication entitled Keepers of the Record: the History of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (McGill-Queen’s University Press: Montreal & Kingston, 2007).

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Glossary of fur trade era Hudson’s Bay Company business records

Many types of business records were created at Hudson’s Bay Company posts, districts, departments, and ships. This list provides some of the keywords that will support successful searches for records in Keystone. To search for records created by a particular Hudson’s Bay Company post, district, department, or ship, enter its name in the keyword field in Keystone.

  • Abstracts of servants' accounts - Abstracts provide separate lists of officers, clerks and postmasters, and servants, including a general statement of each employee's account with the Hudson’s Bay Company.
  • Account books - Account books of various posts, including bills payable, bills receivable, cash accounts, inventories, debt books, provision shed accounts, invoices, bills of lading, standards of trade, lists of servants.
  • Bills of lading - Bills of lading for goods or furs carried to or from inland posts
  • Cash advances to officers and servants - Cash advances to officers and servants kept by outfit year
  • Correspondence books - Contemporary and letterpress copies of incoming and outgoing letters between various posts covering a broad range of subjects, such as matters relating to orders and instructions from the district officers, forwarding of pelts, settling of accounts, and quality of provisions and supplies
  • Crew Lists – Lists of ship crew members sent to the London office by the captain of the ship immediately before setting sail
  • District fur returns - Lists of the fur consignments from the major posts in Rupert's Land, noting the kind and quantity of furs returned for a designated year
  • District statements - Annual statements of servants' accounts of the HBC and various subsidiary enterprises under its control, including names of servants, wage, gratuities, balance of book debts, capacity (i.e. position in the Hudson’s Bay Company)
  • Expenditure books - Accounts of goods distributed to Northern Department Districts in a designated year including an inventory, the total stock and total outfit of the Northern Department
  • Freight books - Accounts of freight shipped from Great Britain recording number, package, contents, dimensions, volume, weight, freight charges, and often consignor and consignee
  • Fur invoice books - Invoices of furs shipped to London on various HBC vessels, listing quantity and kinds of furs and goods shipped
  • Indent books - Requisitions for the outfit two years in advance (e.g. orders made out in 1840 were shipped in 1841 for outfit 1842)
  • Inventories - Inventories of goods on hand in the Northern Department listing commodities according to districts within the department
  • Inward correspondence - Originals and contemporary copies of letters received at posts relating to a wide variety of business and personal matters
  • Lists of servants - Enumeration of employees detailing names, parish, capacity (i.e. position in the HBC), wages, winter residence, expiry date of contract, age, stature, person (i.e. physique), number of years of service, and character
  • Minutes of council - Minutes of the annual meetings of the Governor of Rupert's Land, Chief Factors and Chief Traders of each district include discussions of major policy decisions affecting the disposition of men and supplies, resolutions and recommendations of the Governor and Committee in London, organization of the annual outfit, and standing rules and regulations
  • Portledge books - Accounts of advances made to ship crew members
  • Post journals - Journals of the fur trade posts recording weather, daily activities, occurrences of note, arrivals and departures of visitors and expeditions into the hinterland
  • Provision shed balance books - A daily account of the kind and quantity of provisions issued
  • Reports on districts - Annual district reports commenting on social and economic conditions of the district
  • Scheme indents - Estimates of indent for the Northern Department two years in advance (i.e. indent 1833 for outfit 1835)
  • Seamen's wages books - Account books of wages paid to officers and seamen
  • Servants' engagement registers - The servants' engagement registers list the particulars of a servant's contract
  • Servants' ledgers - Statement of credit and debit with a given post in the Northern Department for goods and monies advanced to or paid by the HBC servants
  • Ship logs - Logs of HBC ships recorded weather, sea conditions, ship's location, progress, and the activities of the crew, and frequently include crew and passenger lists
  • Ships’ movements book – Record of the disposition and movement of the HBC's ships, including a list of dates of arrivals and departures to and from posts in the Bay and the Pacific Northwest
  • Store balance books - Lists of stores distributed among the various districts of the Northern Department, containing an inventory and an account of imports from various districts and departments
  • Store invoice books - Invoices of stores from York Factory depot to various districts in the Northern Department, including the quantity and kind of goods, unit price and the total value of the shipment

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