Hudson's Bay Company Archives – Common Research Topics

Select a topic below for general research guidance and information on Hudson’s Bay Company Archives records:

Brief History of the Hudson's Bay Company

Introduction

Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was created in another time and another country. Visit HBC's own website for their telling of the company’s history.

HBC was founded on 2 May 1670 when King Charles granted a charter to his cousin Prince Rupert and his associates. The charter created HBC as a corporate entity. Several supplementary charters, which modified the original one, have been granted since, most recently in 1970. HBC's full name was 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). 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 HBC was capitalized by shares publicly traded on the open market.

The charter of 1670 made 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 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 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 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 HBC has changed with the centuries, its history is full of continuities. It is these continuities which make its archives so rich a resource.

back to top

Trading

More than anything else, it is records of the fur trade that draw researchers to Hudson's Bay Company Archives (HBCA). 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 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 HBC into contact with a wide range of people. They traded with the Indigenous people of North America and learned from them about the country. Many fur traders had Indigenous wives and families. 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 HBC into contact with the suppliers of goods and the buyers of furs. In the 1900s 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 HBC's history. The incorporation of its territory of Rupert's Land into the new Dominion of Canada meant that 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 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.

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 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 HBC's merchant fleet. In the 1920s HBC participated in a variety of unlikely businesses—reindeer herding, frozen salmon, even comic films.

back to top

Getting Around

The fur trade connected Britain and North America. This connection was originally made possible by wooden sailing vessels. Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) was founded after the 1668 voyage of the Nonsuch had demonstrated the commercial feasibility of sailing through Hudson Straits and into Hudson Bay in order to acquire furs. Maritime voyages remained an important part of HBC's operations until the sale of its last ship, M.V. Kanguk, in 1987. In the 1800s HBC ships sailed around Cape Horn to the west coast of North America; in the 1900s they sailed to Canada's Arctic and the Russian Far East. In the First World War HBC, as the chief purchasing and shipping agent of the French and other Allied governments, operated a great merchant fleet.

Inland travel on the North American continent tied together the wide-spread posts of the fur trade. HBC men and their families traveled on foot, with snowshoes, on horseback and by dogsled. A variety of water craft—canoes, York boats, sternwheel steamers—plied the water routes. HBC purchased its first aircraft in 1939.

Some of the fur traders travelled in territory that was new to Europeans though well known, of course, to Indigenous people. This elevated what were essentially business trips to the realm of exploration. Men such as David Thompson, Samuel Hearne, Philip Turnor and Peter Fidler became famous as explorers and map makers.

back to top

Settling Down

Hudson's Bay Company (HBC) played an important role in the settlement and urban development of western Canada. In 1811 it granted a vast estate in the Assiniboine Basin to one of its controlling stock-holders, the Earl of Selkirk (1771–1820). Selkirk was a Scottish nobleman who wished to settle displaced Highlanders on the fertile lands surrounding the confluence of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, now the site of Winnipeg. HBC assumed control of the colony at Red River from Selkirk's estate in 1836 and continued to administer it until Red River joined the Canadian Confederation in 1870.

By the terms of the Deed of Surrender, which came into effect in 1870, HBC surrendered its territorial rights in Rupert's Land to the Crown. In compensation it was granted blocks of land around its fur trade posts. Some of these posts developed into important cities such as Victoria, Edmonton and Winnipeg. HBC was also granted almost seven million acres of farm land in the "Fertile Belt" of the southern prairies. Farm land and town lot sales were a major part of their business for some decades.

back to top

Furs and Animal Data

What are some key records related to the sale and acquisition of furs?

Hudson’s Bay Company collected and sold furs for over 300 years throughout a large part of North America. Records of these activities can be found at Hudson's Bay Company Archives (HBCA) and serve as a valuable source for the study of animal populations. Two pioneers in the use and interpretation of HBC records for this purpose were Charles Gordon Hewitt (1885-1920) and Charles Elton (1900-1991). Records that document furs include the following.

Governor and Committee records:

These records list the variety, quantity and price of furs that were sent to London for sale. The records also indicate the factory from which the furs were shipped by the factory's post mark. For example, the initials “MR” indicate that the furs were shipped from Moose River, and “YF” from York Factory.

District Fur Returns

District fur returns were kept and compiled by the departmental headquarters in Rupert’s Land. District headquarters submitted information on the types and quantity of fur consignments, as well as the size and weight of each animal. The returns also list the number of animals that were traded at particular posts in the districts for each outfit year.

Other records of furs shipped from York Factory include Northern Department fur invoice books, 1829-1865 and Fur invoice books and ledgers, 1819-1820, 1877-1878, 1882.

Records of fur trade posts:

Records of furs collected at posts can be found in the account books created by the posts and district headquarters. For some posts, records of furs are also in various miscellaneous records series.

Post account books are arranged chronologically rather than by the type of book. Records of furs are noted in a variety of ways such as “Fur Returns”, “Fur Packing Accounts”, and “Fur Receipt Books”.

Fur returns for posts from 1925 to 1931 are available in the schedules attached to the series entitled Fur trade accounts sent to the Governor and Committee. For the years 1932-1950, fur returns for posts are available in the series entitled Fur Trade Department history record sheets (summarized accounts).

back to top

Can I find additional information in books and articles?

  • Elton, Charles. Voles, Mice and Lemmings: Problems in Population Dynamics. The Clarendon Press: Oxford, 1942.
  • Elton, Charles, with Mary Nicholson. “The ten-year cycle in numbers of the lynx in Canada.” The Journal of Animal Ecology, Vol. 11, No. 2, Nov. 1942.
  • Hammond, Lorne. “Any Ordinary Degree of System”: The Columbia Department of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the Harvesting of Wildlife, 1825-1849. Master’s thesis, University of Victoria, 1988.
  • Hewitt, C. Gordon. The Conservation of the Wild Life of Canada. Charles Scribner’s Sons: New York, 1921.
  • Morton, Anne. “Charles Elton and the Hudson’s Bay Company”. The Beaver, Spring 1985: 22-29.

* Note: many of these publications can be found in the HBCA Library.

back to top

Hudson's Bay Company Farm Land Sales

What land did HBC own?

Hudson’s Bay Company gave up its territorial rights in Rupert’s Land so that the region could become part of the new Dominion of Canada. Under the terms of the Deed of Surrender, which took effect in 1870, HBC was compensated by the payment of £300,000, blocks of land around its trading posts to a maximum of 50,000 acres, and 1/20th of the land in the ‘Fertile Belt’ in the southern prairies.

This land was allocated to HBC in a checkerboard pattern. The Dominion Lands Act of 1872 provided that HBC received all of section 8 in each township, all of section 26 in each township with a number divisible by 5, and the southern half and north-west quarter of section 26 in all other townships. In some townships where the Dominion Government required the land for its own purposes it gave HBC sections other than 8 and 26. Land that was not allocated to HBC remained Crown land which was to be administered by the Dominion Government.

back to top

What is the Dominion Lands Survey System?

The survey is based on a system of square townships, each containing 36 sections. Each section is divided into quarters, designated as NW, NE, SW and SE. The townships are numbered northerly from the 49th parallel, which is the boundary between western Canada and the USA. The ranges are numbered west from the meridians, which run north from the boundary. The Principal Meridian is just west of Winnipeg. The Fifth Meridian runs through Calgary. Note that in Manitoba there are also ranges numbered east of the Principal Meridian. A legal description such as SW8-10-3 WPM means the southwest quarter of section 8 in township 10 in range 3 west of the Principal Meridian.

back to top

How do I search for HBC land records?

It is necessary to know the legal description of the land before you can search for specific HBC land records.

With this information, you can search for HBC land in the series Registers of Hudson’s Bay Company land, 1873-ca. 1961. These records contain details of land sold, surrendered or otherwise disposed of by HBC, including the contract numbers and/or conveyance numbers, which are necessary to find additional records about specific pieces of land.

Search the Keystone Archives Descriptive Database to find the location of the register that includes the land you are researching:

  1. Enter “Registers of Hudson’s Bay Company land” in the Keyword search.
  2. Select the search results for “Descriptions of Archival Records”.
  3. Select the series Registers of Hudson’s Bay Company land, 1873-ca.1961.
  4. Scroll to the bottom of the descriptive record and click “View an online list of these records” to see the list of registers. The registers are organized by Range, from East to West. The first 17 registers in this series cover an area from Township 1, Range 1, East of the Principal Meridian to Township 35, Range 24 West of the Fifth Meridian. Volumes 18 and 19 list the ‘extra’ sections, that is, those other than sections 8 and 26.
  5. Select the register that covers the area that includes the land you are researching. Note location code.

Once you have the location and ordering information, contact Hudson’s Bay Company Archives to view the records.

back to top

How do I search for HBC farm land agreements?

Records in the series Hudson’s Bay Company farm land agreements, 1879-1961, document the name, address and occupation of individuals who purchased farm land from HBC, and details of the sale. These records are arranged by contract number and not by legal description. There is no index of the names of the people who signed the contracts. To find a farm land agreement, you first need to find the contract number by searching the series Registers of Hudson’s Bay Company land. Once you know the contract number, you can search the Keystone Archives Descriptive Database to find the location of the file that may contain the farm land agreement: 

  1. Enter “Hudson's Bay Company farm land agreements” in the Keyword search.
  2. Select the search results for “Descriptions of Archival Records”.
  3. Select the series Hudson's Bay Company farm land agreements, 1879-1961.
  4. Scroll to the bottom of the descriptive record and click View an online list of these records to see the list of files.
  5. Select the file that includes the contract number you are researching. Note location code.

Once you have the location and ordering information, contact Hudson’s Bay Company Archives to view the records.

back to top

How do I search for land conveyances?

A land conveyance documents the formal transfer of a legal title of land from HBC to another owner. To search for a conveyance, you first need to find the conveyance number and date by searching the series Registers of Hudson’s Bay Company land. The conveyance number and date are located in these registers under the heading “Final Disposition.”

Before August 1893, the conveyances were recorded in the series Fair copies of the Governor and Committee minutes and Foul copies of the Governor and Committee minutes. The date of the conveyance is the date of the committee meeting at which title was formally transferred to the new owner.

From August 1893 until 1922, the transfer of title is recorded in the series Hudson’s Bay Company deed copy books, 1893-1922. After 1922, the transfer of title is recorded in the series Duplicates of Hudson’s Bay Company land conveyances, 1922-1967. In some cases, it may be necessary to consult ledger cards found in the series Record of payments for Hudson’s Bay Company land sales and leases, 1921-1961 for the number of a conveyance in the Duplicates.

Entries in the Registers of Hudson’s Bay Company land often include a reference to the series in which the conveyance was recorded. For example, “DB1 F.312,” is a reference to the first Deed Book and the page on which it is found, that is folio (or sheet) number 312. Note that the Hudson’s Bay Company deed copy books and Duplicates of Hudson’s Bay Company land conveyances were formerly considered one series and the volumes were numbered continuously. A reference to DB21 means the first volume of the Duplicates, and so on.

To find land conveyances, search the Keystone Archives Descriptive Database for the appropriate series identified above and consult the listings to find the location of the record that includes the conveyance you are researching.

Once you have the location and ordering information, contact Hudson’s Bay Company Archives to view the records.

back to top

Employee Records

Do you have records relating to HBC employees?

Hudson’s Bay Company Archives is an excellent source of information for those searching for individuals who were at some point employed by Hudson’s Bay Company. Depending on the period and location of employment, researchers may be able to find a variety of information on specific employees, including age, parish of origin, locations where employed, positions held and occasionally photographs. It is important to keep in mind, however, that the records created by HBC reflect its business operations and therefore, personal information is usually limited.

Descriptions of various types of records relating to HBC employees can be found in the Keystone Archives Descriptive Database. Many of these records are available for borrowing on microfilm and can be ordered through our Microfilm Program. Microfilm reel numbers are included in record listings found in the Keystone Database.

Search Keystone to learn more about records that contain information relating to HBC employees, such as:

back to top

Do you have records relating to North West Company employees?

Yes, Hudson’s Bay Company Archives also contains some records of the former North West Company, which united with HBC in 1821.

Some examples of records that contain information relating to North West Company employees include:

Search “North West Company” in the Keystone Archives Descriptive Database to find records created by or about the North West Company. Records that are available for borrowing on microfilm can be ordered through our Microfilm Program. Microfilm reel numbers are included in record listings found in the Keystone Database.

back to top

Do you have records relating to the Bay, Zellers or Simpsons department store employees?

Hudson’s Bay Company Archives does not hold any personnel files for former Zellers or Simpsons employees, and employment information for The Bay department store personnel is very limited. The only large department store for which HBCA holds employment records is the Bay, Downtown Winnipeg.

Some information relating to department store employees may be found in the staff newsletters that were published by the Governor and Committee, the Canadian Committee, Zellers, and many of the individual Bay department stores. Search “staff newsletter” in the Keystone Archives Descriptive Database to see what newsletters are available, and add the name of a city if you would like to narrow down your search geographically.

back to top

How do I search for people in the Hudson's Bay Company Archives?

You can begin by conducting a Keyword Search in the Keystone Archives Descriptive Database for the name of the person you are researching. A Keyword Search will help you find certain types of records about employees, such as officers’ and servants’ wills and some 20th century personnel files. You may also find records that were created by an individual in the course of their employment with the company, such as post journals or correspondence. Other record descriptions may mention individuals by name, even if they were not the record creator. In many of these cases, the individual’s name may not appear in the file title, but in other sections of the description or listing (creator, key people, notes, photograph captions, etc.). Be sure to look at the Search Results for both Listings and Descriptions of Archival Records.

Many Hudson’s Bay Company records include information about employees that is not captured in the Keystone descriptions. In some cases these records have been indexed or the information has been summarized elsewhere. You can try searching Hudson’s Bay Company Archives Name Indexes and Biographical Sheets, but please note that these resources do not include all past HBC employees.

If you do not find the individual you are researching using the above methods, there may still be information about them available in HBCA records. Search Keystone to learn more about records relating to HBC and North West Company employees. Some of the series that may be helpful are listed in the sections above; however, these lists are not exhaustive.

back to top

Are there any other records?

Yes, researchers should note that records created at fur trading posts and stores (especially account books) can also contain valuable information about employees. Post and store records can be found in the Keystone Archives Descriptive Database by searching for the names of specific locations where an individual may have worked. Records that are available for borrowing on microfilm can be ordered through our Microfilm Program. Microfilm reel numbers are included in record listings found in the Keystone Database.

back to top

Indian Status

Can Hudson’s Bay Company Archives provide proof of Indian Status?

We cannot advise on questions related to status of individuals. Please contact Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada for information about Indian Status.

back to top

HBC Fur Trade Tokens – Currency of the Fur Trade

What are fur trade tokens?

Trade tokens were the earliest currency used in the fur trade. Early examples were made of wood, ivory or shell. They were used as markers with an assigned value and then supplied to trappers in exchange for furs. The tokens were exchanged for goods and supplies carried at the post. The standard used to establish the unit of value was based on the contemporary value of beaver pelts; beaver being the most sought after and prevalent fur caught during the majority of the fur trade. The unit was equal to the value of an adult beaver pelt in prime condition and was called a Made Beaver. (The term “skin” was also commonly used by trappers.) All trade goods were priced in terms of Made Beaver (MB). Eventually beaver pelts themselves were valued relative to Made Beavers so that, for example, several beaver pelts could be valued at one MB token.

back to top

What are Brass Made Beaver tokens?

The earliest metal Made Beaver tokens were issued officially by Hudson’s Bay Company under the direction of Chief Factor George Simpson McTavish for the Eastmain District sometime between 1860 and 1870. In addition to promoting HBC, the distribution of uniform coinage with the company crest provided HBC with a method of structuring trade at their posts. Another advantage was that the tokens came in denominations of fractions of 1 MB allowing change to be given to trappers.

The tokens were made of brass and were stamped with the letters HB (Hudson’s Bay Company), EM (East Main District) and MB (Made Beaver) and the denomination. In fact, instead of MB the letters NB were stamped in the coins due to an error on the die-cutter’s part. The HBC crest was stamped on the reverse side. In total, four denominations were made: 1MB (30 millimeters), ½ MB (27 mm), ¼ MB (25 mm) and 1/8 MB (19 mm).

photo of round HBC brass Made Beaver token, front and back
HBC brass Made Beaver tokens
(HBCA 1987/363-M-39/5)

back to top

What are Aluminum Made Beaver tokens?

Other series of Made Beaver tokens issued by HBC include two sets made of aluminum introduced in the Labrador District in the early 20th Century. The first set was issued in 1914 or 1918 by HBC employee Ralph Parsons (later Fur Trade Commissioner) and were still in use in the early 1920s. Along with the denomination, the words Hudson's Bay Company and Labrador District were stamped on one side. The reverse side was blank. The second set was introduced in 1923 or 1924 following the amalgamation of the St. Lawrence-Labrador District in 1922.

The tokens were made of aluminum and stamped with the words Hudson's Bay Company along with the denomination on one side. The denomination was repeated on the reverse side and accompanied by the words St. Lawrence Labrador District and the initials MB. The tokens came in denominations of 1 MB (22 mm), 5 MB (25 mm), 10 MB (28 mm) and 20 MB (31 mm).

photo of 4 round aluminum tokens, in descending sizes and dominations, showing front and back of tokens
HBC aluminum trade tokens introduced in 1923 or 1924
(HBCA 1987/363-M-39/36)

back to top

What are Aluminum Arctic Fox tokens?

In 1946 HBC issued a new set of trade tokens based on the decimal monetary system in place in the rest of the country instead of the traditional Made Beaver token trade system of the fur trade. There were five tokens with a value given in cents and a sixth token valued at one arctic fox skin. The beaver market was by this point in decline; furthermore, fox was much more relevant to the Arctic, the new fur trade hub. A trapper would bring his furs to the post where the value was calculated in fox skins and he was given the equivalent value in square tokens. These were then exchanged for the round tokens which had a dollar value and the trapper would purchase, rather than trade for, his supplies from the post. These were the last fur trade tokens issued by Hudson's Bay Company.

These tokens were round, made of a thick aluminum and came in five denominations: 5, 10, 25, 50 and 100 cents. They measured, respectively; 20 mm, 26 mm, 32mm, 39mm, and 46 mm. The sixth token, the Arctic fox token, was square and stamped with a 1 and measured 46 mm. All tokens had the denomination and HBC stamped on one side while the reverse was blank.

photo of 6 Arctic aluminum tokens in different dominations and sizes
Arctic aluminum tokens in use from 1946 to 1961
(HBCA 1987/363-M-39/1)

The above represent a sample of tokens used by HBC. There were also various tokens created by individuals and posts. For example, Ralph Parsons also created a set of tokens in 1909 made of scrap metal and marked with his name. Beaver Preserve tokens were issued by the Rupert's House Beaver Preserve: one token for each live beaver accounted for. Additionally, HBC issued trade tokens for purposes other than the fur trade, such as commercial use in retail stores. There were also fur trade tokens in circulation issued by institutions other than HBC, most notably the 1820 beaver token issued by the North West Company.

back to top

HBC Liquor Sales

Can you tell me about HBC liquor sales?

Hudson’s Bay Company has been involved in the trade and sale of liquor for centuries. The first record that we have found of liquor being shipped to North America was a parcel of French brandy sent in 1692; there is a record of Scotch whisky being shipped as early as 1701 and rum in 1775.
By the mid 1890s, HBC had established a wholesale business in Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Victoria that sold many different brand name luxury products, including liquor, tea and coffee, cigarettes and tobacco, and confectionery. These products were sold in HBC stores and fur trade posts, but also to hotels, restaurants, and other retailers who carried the stock in outlets and small town general stores across the country. Liquor operations were controlled by the Winnipeg wholesale branch from 1915 until 1935, when the Wine and Spirit Division was formed. Hudson's Bay Co., Inc. was a U.S. wholesale subsidiary that sold liquor and other products to the American market from 1925 until 1976.
HBC also bottled and sold liquor under its own label, and at one point had a full line of spirits - scotch, rye, brandy, rum, and gin. HBC brands have included:

  • Scotch – Best Procurable, F.O.B. (Fine Old Blend), Royal Charter, 1670
  • Rye – Very Old, Special
  • Brandy – Three Star, Special, 50 Years Old, Royal Charter, 1670
  • Rum – Jamaica, Demerara, Ye Old Hudson’s Bay
  • Gin – Triple Distilled

In 1987 Hudson's Bay Distillers was sold to Seagram's and as a result HBC spirits became unavailable in Canada. However, Hudson's Bay Company Blended Scotch Whiskey continues to be sold in the U.S. thanks to special licensing arrangements with Sidney Frank Importing.

back to top

Do you have images of HBC liquor bottles?

Yes, we have images of some, but not all. The following are reference to some images of HBC liquor bottles:

  • Photos:
    • Wholesale, HBC Wine & Spirit Operations, 1899, 1965, 1967 (HBCA 1987/363-W-110/1-10)
    • Wholesale, HBC - Wine & Spirits Advertisements, 1930-1970 (HBCA 1987/363-W/111/1-111)
  • The Beaver Magazine:
    • Advertisements for brands of HBC Whisky and other spirits ran regularly in issues of The Beaver Magazine between 1935 and 1988.
  • Wine and Spirit Division advertising materials, 1935-1956 (HB2007/101)
  • HBC Fall and Winter Catalogue, 1910-1911 (FC 3207.2 A8, p. 217)
  • Spirits of Tradition, by the Hudson’s Bay Company, published by the Wine and Spirits Department, Beaver House, Great Trinity Lane, London, 8 pp. (HBCA E.255/17).

back to top

HBC ‘Point’ Blankets

What are ‘point’ blankets?

Hudson’s Bay Company has been trading ‘point’ blankets since 1780 and blankets for a century before that. The multi-striped blankets were introduced in 1798. The blankets have always been made in England.

The points are the narrow black lines at one corner of the blanket. It is often stated that the points represent the number of beaver pelts required to obtain the blanket in the fur trade days. This is not so. The points indicate the size and weight of the blanket. The larger and heavier the blanket, the more it cost, of course, but the one-to-one ration was not often in effect. Nobody had to cut a beaver skin in half to get a 2 ½ point blanket! The value of one prime beaver pelt, known as a ‘made beaver’, was the unit of exchange used in the fur trade. All trade goods and all pelts (not just beaver) exchanged for trade goods were valued as worth so many ‘made beaver’. When HBC first borrowed the idea of ‘point’ blankets from the North West Company, HBC rate for a 2 point blanket was 4 made beaver. HBC briefly introduced a one-to-one rate soon after but because of the fluctuating value of furs this was not maintained.

The blankets originally came in sizes from 1 point to 3 point. This was because they were made to fit men, women and children as wearing blankets. Today, since they are used on beds, 3 ½ point blankets are the smallest available. The 6 point (Queen size) and 8 point (King size) were introduced in the 20th century to suit modern beds.

Blankets were provided in pairs until the 20th century. The pair could simply be folded over to give a blanket of double thickness, or a small cut could be made and the pair neatly torn into two separate blankets.

The blankets and blanket coats could resist wind and water and yet still be breathable. When they got really wet they could be dried without becoming stiff, as skin garments tend to do. They could—and did—last for years. The predominantly white colour of many of the blankets made them excellent camouflage for winter hunting. Highly versatile, blankets were put up as sails for boast and sleds or used as burial shrouds. Strips could be torn off them to make wadding for bullets.

For more detailed information on the history of point blankets, as well as for answers to common questions, please visit HBC Heritage’s website.

back to top

Select bibliography on HBC blankets

  • Forest, Alison and Jill Oakes. “The Blanket Coat: Unique Canadian Dress.” Canadian Home Economics Journal, 41 (3), Summer 1991, pp. 121-127.
  • Hanson, Charles E. Jr. “Some Additional Notes on Trade Blankets.” The Museum of the Fur Trade Quarterly, 24 (4), Winter 1988, pp. 5-11.
  • “Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets.” Moccasin Telegraph, Spring 1963, pp. 10 & 15.
  • “Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets.” Moccasin Telegraph, Summer 1979, pp. 60-61.
  • Mackay, Douglas. “Blanket Coverage.” The Beaver, June 1935, pp. 44-52.
    “The Manufacturing Process of HBC Point Blankets.” Moccasin Telegraph, Spring 1963, pp. 11-13.
  • Plummer, I. Alfred and Richard E. Early. The Blanket Makers: A History of Charles Early & Marriott (Witney) Ltd. London, 1969.
  • Ross, Lester A. Hudson’s Bay Company Suppliers: An Illustrated Directory of British Commercial Suppliers who provided Manufacturers, Products and Provisions shipped to the Hudson’s Bay Company Columbia Department, 1821-52. Parks Canada, Manuscript Report Number 381, Volume 1.
  • Rich, E.E., ed. McLouglin’s Fort Vancouver Letters, First Series, 1825-38. Volume IV, Hudson’s Bay Record Society, London, 1941.
  • Rich, E.E., ed. McLoughlin’s Fort Vancouver Letters, Second Series, 1839-44. Volume VI, Hudson’s Bay Record Society, London, 1941.
  • Tichenor, Harold. The Blanket: An Illustrated History of the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket. Toronto: Madison Press Books, 2002.
  • Tichenor, Harold. The Collectors’ Guide to Point Blankets of the Hudson’s Bay Company and other companies trading in North America. Bowen Island, B.C.: Cinetel Film Productions Ltd., 2002.

* Note: many of these publications can be found in the HBCA Library

back to top

HBC Commemorative Art

Can you tell me about the collection called Five Ships in Canadian History?

The portfolio, Five Ships in Canadian History, is a boxed set of colour reproductions of paintings depicting five different historic ships. Hudson’s Bay Company commissioned well-known marine artist Melbourne Smith to paint the original watercolours and had the portfolio printed in commemoration of HBC's tercentenary in 1970. The five ships featured are Mathew, Grande Hermine, Nonsuch, Resolution, and Gjøa.

The prints are full colour reproductions, 16 inches x 20 inches, printed on high quality art stock. There are bilingual (English and French) descriptions of each of the prints detailing the type of ship depicted and its significance in Canadian history. The set was printed by Bulman Brothers Limited, Winnipeg.

HBC had 3000 of the commemorative sets printed, which were sold for $8.00 each. An additional 2000 copies of the Nonsuch print were also produced and sold separately for $2.25 each.

back to top

Can you tell me about the collection called Historical Paintings of the Hudson's Bay Company?

The portfolio, Historical Paintings of the Hudson's Bay Company, is a boxed set of 14 reproductions of calendar paintings depicting events and persons associated with the history of Hudson's Bay Company. It was printed for HBC's tercentenary in 1970. The original paintings were specially commissioned for the company and are the works of well-known Canadian and British artists. The prints are full colour reproductions, 16 inches x 20 inches, printed on high quality art stock. They were packaged in a special grey hinged box with a reproduction of the first page of HBC’s charter inside the lid. There are bilingual (English and French) descriptions of each of the prints explaining the events and persons depicted. Each print is also bilingually captioned. The set was printed by Bulman Brothers Limited, Winnipeg.

HBC had 10,000 of the commemorative sets printed. Of these some were distributed for public relations purposes, the remainder being sold in the Bay's retail stores. Some sets were later broken up and prints sold individually on request. The portfolios were still available in 1975 but by 1979, the company's supply was exhausted. The sets initially sold for 7.98, were reduced to $6.98 and later to $3.95 in 1971.

back to top

HBC Artifacts

I own an artifact (a blanket, gun, token, etc.) that I believe to be connected with Hudson's Bay Company. Who should I contact?

If you want to know the monetary value of the item, or if you are considering donating it to a public institution, please contact The Manitoba Museum or a reputable dealer. HBCA can provide general information about HBC trade goods (blankets, guns, etc.) and direct you to sources for further research.

back to top

How old is my Hudson's Bay Company blanket and is it valuable?

HBCA staff are unable to assess the age and value of point blankets. We suggest contacting a dealer or searching online auction websites for information on potential market value.

For detailed information on the history of point blankets, as well as for answers to common questions, you can visit HBC Heritage's website.

back to top

I have a set of prints or a calendar that I believe was created by Hudson's Bay Company. Can you tell me if it's valuable?

HBCA is unable to give information as to the current market value of documentary art. We suggest contacting a local used/rare book or print dealer, or gallery. Internet auction sites might provide insight into potential market value.

back to top

Hudson's Bay Record Society Publications

What was the Hudson's Bay Record Society (HBRS)?

The Hudson’s Bay Record Society (HBRS) was incorporated on April 29, 1938 in order to publish select records of the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives. These include minutes, correspondence and journals of trade and exploration. The volumes were published annually. The first twelve volumes were published by the Champlain Society with E.E. Rich as general editor. Under an agreement reached in 1936, the Champlain Society published a limited number of volumes for distribution to HBRS members, as off-prints of the Champlain Society’s “Hudson’s Bay Company series.” In 1949, due to postwar increase in printing costs, this double printing became impossible for the Champlain Society and its agreement with the HBRS ended. Thereafter the publications became the sole responsibility of HBC.

From 1960 to 1983, volumes were published biennially and were available only to the approximately 1150 members. In 1983, the Hudson’s Bay Record Society was dissolved. Its last publication was Volume XXXIII, Letters of Charles John Brydges, 1883-89, published in 1981.

back to top

What did HBRS publish?

  1. Journal of Occurrences in the Athabasca Department by George Simpson, 1820 and 1821, and Report. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1938.
  2. Colin Robertson’s Correspondence Book, September 1817 to September 1822. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1939.
  3. Minutes of Council, Northern Department of Rupert Land, 1821-1831. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1940.
  4. The Letters of John McLoughlin from Fort Vancouver to the Governor and Committee, First Series, 1825-1838. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1941.
  5. Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1671-1674. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1942.
  6. The Letters of John McLoughlin from Fort Vancouver to the Governor and Committee, Second Series, 1839-1844. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1943.
  7. The Letters of John McLoughlin from Fort Vancouver to the Governor and Committee, Third Series, 1844-1846. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1944.
  8. Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1679-1684, First Part: 1679-1682. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1945.
  9. Minutes of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1679-1684, Second Part: 1682-1684. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1946.
  10. Part of Dispatch from George Simpson Esqr Governor of Ruperts Land to the Governor & Committee of the Hudson’s Bay Company London, March 1, 1829. Continued and Completed March 24 and June 5, 1829. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1947.
  11. Copy Book of Letters Outward & c. Begins 29th May, 1680 ends 5 July, 1687. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1948.
  12. James Isham’s Observations on Hudsons Bay, 1743 and Notes and Observations on a Book entitled A Voyage to Hudsons Bay in the Dobbs Gallery, 1849. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1949.
  13. Peter Skene Ogden’s Snake Country Journals, 1824-1825 and 1825-1826. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1950.
  14. Cumberland House Journals and Inland Journal, 1775-1782, First Series: 1775-1779. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1951.
  15. Cumberland House Journals and Inland Journal, 1775-1782, Second Series: 1779-1782. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1952.
  16. John Rae’s Correspondence with the Hudson’s Bay Company on Arctic Exploration, 1844-1855. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1954.
  17. Moose Fort Journals, 1783-1785. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1954.
  18. Black, Samuel. A Journal of a Voyage from Rocky Mountain Portage in Peace River to the Sources of Finlays Branch and North West Ward in the Summer 1824. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1955.
  19. London Correspondence Inward from Eden Colvile, 1849-1852. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1956.
  20. Hudson’s Bay Copy Booke of Letters Commissions Outward, 1688-1696. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1957.
  21. The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870, Vol. I: 1670-1763. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1958.
  22. The History of the Hudson’s Bay Company, 1670-1870, Vol. II: 1763-1870. E. E. Rich, ed. London, 1959.
  23. Peter Skene Ogden’s Snake Country Journal, 1826-1827. K. G. Davies, ed. London, 1961.
  24. Northern Quebec and Labrador Journals and Correspondence, 1819-1834. K. G. Davies, ed. London, 1963.
  25. Letters from Hudson Bay, 1703-1740. K. G. Davies, ed. London, 1965.
  26. Saskatchewan Journals and Correspondence, Edmonton House, 1795-1800, Chesterfield House, 1800-1802. Alice M. Johnson, ed. London, 1967.
  27. Andrew Graham’s Observations on Hudson’s Bay, 1767-1791. Glyndwr Williams, ed. London, 1969.
  28. Peter Skene Ogden’s Snake Country Journals, 1827-1828 and 1828-1829. Glyndwr Williams, ed. London, 1971.
  29. London Correspondence Inward from Sir George Simpson, 1841-1842. Glyndwr Williams, ed. London, 1973.
  30. Hudson’s Bay Miscellany, 1670-1870. Glyndwr Williams, ed. Winnipeg, 1975.
  31. The Letters of Charles John Brydges, 1879-1882, Hudson’s Bay Company Land Commissioner. Hartwell Bowsfield, ed. Winnipeg, 1977.
  32. Fort Victoria Letters, 1846-1851. Hartwell Bowsfield, ed. Winnipeg, 1979.
  33. The Letters of Charles John Brydges, 1883-1889, Hudson’s Bay Company Land Commissioner. Hartwell Bowsfield, ed. Winnipeg, 1981.

* Note: many of these publications can be found in the HBCA Library.

back to top