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Hudson's Bay Company Archives

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HBCA - Contact Information
Hudson's Bay Company Archives

Arrangement and Description of Records
in HBCA: a brief history

In 2001, the Archives of Manitoba purchased and customized a descriptive database from Minisis, Inc., which is compliant with the Canadian Rules for Archival Description (RAD). At that time, the Hudson's Bay Company Archives (HBCA) decided to arrange and describe the records of the HBC using the series system, building on the Australian series system and the Canadian series approach developed at the Archives of Ontario. At the Archives of Manitoba, this approach is also being applied to the records of the Government of Manitoba. The new Keystone Archives Descriptive Database was customized to facilitate this approach.

Past Practice: Original HBCA Classification Scheme

During the 1920s–1930s, a classification scheme was developed for the records kept by the Hudson's Bay Company Archives in London. Records were divided into sections (broad administrative origin) and further divided by class (or company records keeping system) and piece (individual items). In the 1980s, record group (RG) categories were applied to most twentieth century records.

The following sections and groups were developed for classification purposes. Please note that some categories are now defunct, some have never been used and some represent records still held by the Hudson's Bay Company.

Section A - London Office Records (Governor and Committee)
Section B - Post Records
Section C - Ships' Records
Section D - Governor's Papers and Commissioner's Office Documents
Section E - Private Records
Section F - Subsidiary Companies
Section G - Maps
Section H - Western Department Land Records
Section Z - Miscellaneous

Record Group (RG) 1 - Land Department Records
RG 2 - Canadian Committee Office
RG 3 - Fur Trade Department
RG 4 - Bay Steamship Co.
RG 5 - Retail Stores
RG 6 - Wholesale Department
RG 7 - Northern Stores Department
RG 8 - Hugh Sutherland
RG 9 - Head Office / Corporate Head Office
RG 10 - Henry Morgan
RG 11 - Rupert's Land Trading / Revillon Freres
RG 12 - Central Lands / HBC Real Estates Ltd.
RG 13 - C. M. Lampson / Beaver House Ltd.
RG 14 - Hudson's Bay Record Society
RG 15 - HBC Fur Sales Ltd. / HBC North Russian Trading Co., Hudsons' Bay and Annings
RG 16 - HBC Fur Sales Inc.
RG 17 - Simpsons
RG 18 - Zellers
RG 19 - Markborough Properties Ltd.
RG 20 - Hudson's Bay Company Archives
RG 21 - Sale & Co.
RG 22 - French Government Records
RG 23 - North West Company Inc.
RG 24 - Hudson's Bay Company Inc.

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Arrangement of HBC corporate records: the series system

The decision to apply the series approach to the redescription of HBC records has given HBCA the opportunity to rethink past arrangement and descriptive practices. HBCA developed a system that allows us to demonstrate more accurately how records were created, by whom, in what context and for what reason. This information will provide a better understanding of the contents of the records.

HBCA recognized that the original classifications and subsequent descriptive work did not pay significant attention to record creators or to the complexity of records creation and company organization. These classifications imposed an artificial and sometimes simplified structure on the records. For example, our former Section B: Post Records implied that all posts were at the same level and created similar records. Our authorities will now demonstrate that several very fluid administrative levels existed to carry out the administration of the HBC in the vast regions of Rupert's Land. Related series descriptions will show that the records created by a department are very different to those created by a post and that it is useful to know the hierarchical structure.

How it works

Information about the records is kept separately from information about the record creators. Descriptions of records are linked to the descriptions of record creators within the organization, from posts and outposts to higher levels of administration in London and North America.

The application of the series approach enables us to show the complexity of administrative history, organizational relationships and records creation within the context of one company. Understanding hierarchical relationships helps the researcher see the inter-dependency of record creators and to find the records relevant to a particular administrative body.

Record creators

One of the results of this approach is that we are developing and making available a more detailed record of the administration of the HBC over time. Authority records are created for each level of the hierarchy - posts, districts, departments, North American administration and administration in London. Authority records include administrative history information, dates of existence and a note about the function of the body being described. Authority records are linked to predecessor and successor bodies, where applicable. Notably, they are also linked to the body(ies) to which they report and all bodies over which they are in charge. Because of these links, the user is able to navigate the HBC hierarchy and see its changes over time. This knowledge is essential to understanding the operations and administration of the HBC, as well as the complexity of decision-making, communication and the creation of records.

Record series

HBC corporate records are described by series. A series generally refers to records which have resulted from a common activity or function or are of a similar form. Series may be divided into sub-series, a further sub-grouping which may arise out of a classification or filing system. Descriptions of records include a physical description (how much, what media), dates of creation and some more detailed information on the 'scope and content' of the series (why the records were created, for what purpose, what do they contain). Individual items (of all media) and files are found in the listings database, linked to the appropriate description and containing such information as the location code and microfilm numbers, where applicable.

What this means

The series system has challenged us to be more creative and less restrictive in our categorizations of records. Series formerly classed as York Factory records may now be York Factory or Northern Department, depending on the 'office' and the 'function' for which they were created. Creatorship for the series formerly classed as Ships' Records has been attributed to the Governor and Committee. Series which were divided to fit the classification scheme have been described together and attributed to multiple creators, as applicable. Series which were lumped together in order to fit the classification scheme have, in some cases, been divided into several new series. In all of these instances, the original classification number has been retained (now referred to as the location code) and any significant rearrangement or redescription decisions have been noted in the descriptive record.

Efforts have been made to write less familiarly/colloquially and more precisely. The London office is now referred to as the Governor and Committee (whose offices were located in London until 1970). "The Company" is now referred to as the Hudson's Bay Company or HBC.

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Private records in HBCA

The private records held in HBCA 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 database holds a description of all the records created by a particular entity and held at the Hudson's Bay Company Archives or at the Archives of Manitoba as a whole. 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.

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Transition: redescription in process

HBCA is currently in the process of redescription. It is a big job and will take several years. HBCA is targeting the redescription of its corporate records first. Item-level listings will follow series descriptions. In the interim period, descriptions of records will be available increasingly in Keystone. The use of paper based finding aids in the Archives Research Room and the Online Finding Aid, which are grounded in the original classification scheme, will continue to be both useful and necessary.

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