An influential part of Canada’s past and the oldest incorporated joint-stock merchandising company in the world, Hudson’s Bay continues to play a dominant role in Canada and its retail sector.
Two Frenchmen, Médard Chouart des Groseilliers and Pierre-Esprit Radisson reached out to an interested English Prince Rupert after failing to garner the necessary support from France. They proposed a trading company in Canada to benefit from the rich fur resources found in the interior Hudson Bay basin.
Prince Rupert was granted ownership of a million and a half square miles (over 40% of modern day Canada) surrounding Hudson Bay by his cousin King Charles. It was aptly named Rupert’s Land.
The Hudson’s Bay Company was founded in 1670, with exclusive trading rights. Beaver fur was largely in demand due to the exceeding popularity of fur hats in Europe. As such, the chief focus of HBC between 1670 and 1870 was fur trade.
Local aboriginals participated in fur hunting, trading in their spoils for European goods and tools. One popularly traded commodity was the now iconic point blanket.
In 1869 HBC traded Rupert’s Land back to the English crown, in return for large sums of money and significant land holdings. By 1870 Rupert’s Land was incorporated into the newly independent Canada.
By 1913 the company’s focus had moved towards retail and they opened the first of the original six department stores, in Calgary. To this day, the Hudson’s Bay Company remains an iconic driving force in Canada’s retail sector, with over 90 department stores across the country.