HBC was founded on May 2, 1670, with the granting of the Royal Charter by King Charles II to “The Governor and Company of Adventurers Trading into Hudson Bay.”
No. There are many companies that have been operating for longer than HBC. However, Hudson’s Bay Company, which was founded in 1670, is North America’s oldest company.
The Latin motto on the HBC coat of arms is Pro Pelle Cutem and translates roughly as “a skin for a skin,” but there are several interpretations of this phrase. One suggests that HBC traders risked their own skins to procure furs. This interpretation derives from the Book of Job, Chapter 2, verse 4: “And Satan answered the Lord and said: Skin for skin; yea all that a man hath, will he give for his life.”
Historian E.E. Rich proposes a different interpretation: “The Company wanted the pelt so as to get the wool from it; it wanted the skin, cutem, for the sake of the fleece, pro pelle. Such an explanation of the motto does not exclude literary and Biblical derivations, nor the possibility that the risks of a fur-trading life were in mind.” Beaver fur in the 17th century was used in its natural state, or “in the pelt.” Its primary value was as a source of fibres for felt-making, and to that end, the more valuable part of the fur was the short, close “wool” which lay under the long silky guard hairs.
None. Hudson sailed into what would become known as Hudson Bay in 1610. His crew mutinied and set him adrift with his son and a few loyal men the following year.
HBC Heritage is interested in the history of our Company — that means from about 1655 onward, roughly the time that Radisson and des Groseilliers made their first trips inland into the fur country north of Lake Superior. Henry Hudson’s life and explorations in North America pre-date this.
Yes. The Charter, which currently resides in our executive offices in downtown Toronto, consists of five pages of vellum (sheepskin) parchment, hand-lettered and embellished with elaborate calligraphy. Although certain provisions of the Charter have been superseded by subsequent amendments, legally it remains the founding document of HBC’s existence as a corporate body.
You can find a copy of our most recent Annual Report and other financial information on our corporate website: http://investor.hbc.com/financials.cfm.
You can also find all the Company’s public documents since 1997, including previous Annual and Quarterly Reports, online at SEDAR. SEDAR, the System for Electronic Document Analysis and Retrieval, was developed in Canada for Canadian Securities Administrators (CSA) and lists all public document filings online.
No. In 1987, HBC sold off its Northern Store Division, which was the home of the fur trade business. By so doing, HBC ceased purchasing raw fur.
Today, Hudson’s Bay does retail fur through carefully selected licensees.
The Hudson’s Bay Fur Salon carries the finest quality fur garments and accessories in nine stores: Vancouver Downtown, Calgary Downtown, Edmonton Southgate, Edmonton Centre, Saskatoon, Winnipeg, Queen Street (Toronto Downtown), Montreal Downtown, and Winnipeg Polo Park (October–January only). These locations also offer after-sales service including cleaning, insurance, repair, and restyling. All Hudson’s Bay stores can also arrange fur cold storage. In addition, trunk shows and restyling events are held seasonally in Hudson’s Bay stores across Canada.
Hudson’s Bay Company does not hold this kind of information. Hudson’s Bay Company Archives (HBCA) in Winnipeg maintains extensive records about people who worked during the fur trade era. Descriptions of HBCA’s holdings and some digitized records are available through the Keystone Database on the Archives of Manitoba website. Biographical sheets compiled by archives staff for various HBC employees have also been made available online. To assist the Archives staff, please provide any information you have about your ancestor, including his/her name, approximate dates when he/she was involved with the Company, and where he/she might have been living.
You can reach HBCA at:
This set of 14 prints was produced to commemorate Hudson’s Bay Company’s 300th anniversary in 1970. Thousands of them were produced and sold on the open market. HBC Heritage is not in a position to advise on the value of any item. If you have questions about the value of an item in your possession, we suggest that you contact a professional appraiser, like the American Society of Appraisers.
Two other portfolios of prints have been produced by HBC over the years: a set of five colour reproductions of famous ships by Melbourne Smith, was published in 1970, and a set of eight colour reproductions of HBC’s famous historical calendar series of paintings was published in the fall of 2003.
There are three major types of HBC medals. The first was issued to commemorate the Company’s 250th anniversary in 1920. At various events across the country, selected individuals received a specially commissioned anniversary medal. A total of 1,560 medals were distributed. Made of bronze, they depict the HBC coat of arms with the legend “IN COMMEMORATION OF THE 250TH ANNIVERSARY” on one side. The reverse depicts the HBC flag surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves.
The Tercentenary Anniversary Medal was issued to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Company’s founding on May 2, 1670. The medal depicts Nonsuch, which made the first crossing to Hudson’s Bay in 1668. If you look closely at the date underneath the representation of the ship, you will see that the second number is a hybrid — a 6 and a 9 conjoined. This 1670/1970 device was used throughout the anniversary year. The reverse of the medal depicts the HBC coat of arms. These medals are quite common. They were given to all shareholders as well as to all employees working for the Company in 1970 — literally thousands of people.
The third type of medal is long service medals. These were routinely given to staff to mark special anniversaries and are relatively rare. For more information about HBC medals, read “Medals and Tokens of The HBC” by Larry Gingras from The Beaver, Summer 1968.
HBC Heritage is not in a position to advise on the value of any item. If you have questions about the value of an item in your possession, we suggest that you contact a professional appraiser, like the American Society of Appraisers.
Over the years, HBC has sold all manner of objects under its own name — sewing machines, golf clubs, china, tea, coffee, liquor, medicine, furniture, and toys, as well as apparel. Items such as these were never manufactured by the Company, but were made by third parties to our specifications and sold as private brands — a practice that continues to this day.
Unfortunately, we do not have records about these objects. In fact, unless we possess advertising for a particular item, we know little if anything about it. Therefore, we’d like to hear about your item and its history. Please contact us for details.
Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) is the parent company of Hudson’s Bay. In 2013, HBC launched the new banner name and logo for Hudson’s Bay, which was formerly known as The Bay. HBC is one of the fastest growing department store retailers in the world and has multiple banners in North America and in Europe, including Hudson’s Bay, Lord and Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue, Gilt, Saks OFF 5TH, Home Outfitters, GALERIA Kaufhof, Galeria INNO, and Sportarena. Hudson’s Bay Company is a public company which trades on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol “HBC”.
The historic HBC flag is essentially the Red Ensign of the British Royal Navy with some modification. The Red Ensign features a red field with the Union Jack in the upper left hand corner. To the lower right hand of the central field are the letters HB and C in white; the H and B are joined together as a single character. Prince Rupert, first Governor of HBC, was also Vice Admiral of England. By a special warrant dated July 21, 1682, Rupert granted the Company permission to use the modified Ensign at its forts and on its ships entering Hudson Strait.
A second HBC flag known as the Governor’s Standard has been in use since at least 1779. This flag comprises the Company’s coat of arms on a field of white and is meant to be hung where the Governor of HBC sits.
This is likely a commemorative item produced to celebrate the 325th anniversary of Hudson’s Bay Company in 1995. Although the shape is reminiscent of a traditional caddy for loose tea, the size, material (electroplated nickel silver or EPNS), and velvet lining would indicate that the object was intended to be used for jewellery. Over 50,000 were made, and they were distributed to every employee. We believe that others were given externally as corporate gifts.
Hudson’s Bay Company bought Morgan’s, a Montreal-based retailer, in 1960. All ten stores in the Morgan’s chain became Hudson’s Bay Company stores except those in the immediate Montreal area. These were finally renamed and re-branded as The Bay stores in 1972.
HBC’s earliest retail operations were in western Canada, and evolved naturally in places where fur trade posts already existed. Starting in 1910, HBC embarked on a major expansion and renovation of its retail operations. The Calgary department store at the corner of 7th Avenue SW and 1st Street would be the first of the modern HBC department stores to be built, opening on August 18, 1913.
It should be noted that HBC “Saleshops,” a term used to describe HBC’s retail operations until the second decade of the 20th century, preceded HBC department stores. According to this definition, HBC’s retail trade began at Fort Langley, British Colombia, the Company’s first post on the B.C. coast.
HBC Heritage holds minimal information about the fur trade in its Corporate Collection. Instead, you should contact the Hudson’s Bay Company Archives in Winnipeg. HBCA has extensive files on hundreds of posts which the Company used to operate.
You can reach HBCA at:
Simpsons was acquired by HBC in 1978, but the stores in the chain continued to operate under the Simpsons banner for over a decade. In 1989, the Montreal area stores were folded into The Bay, with Toronto following suit in 1991.
HBC Heritage maintains an extensive collection of images as part of our Corporate Collection. Our collection is primarily of HBC’s retail business and also includes photographs of acquired companies such as The Robert Simpson Company. The collection can be discovered throughout this website as well as on our Twitter and Instagram feeds. If you want to request a specific image, you can do this through our website at:
At its peak in about 1840, HBC’s territory covered one 12th of the Earth’s surface — nearly 7,770,000 square kilometres (3,000,000 square miles).
No. We do not manufacture anything ourselves; we are strictly retailers. That being said, for centuries we have retailed exclusive products manufactured to our own specifications — particularly our famous Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets. Over the years, our house or “private” brands have included a variety of products such as china, tobacco, liquor, tea, and coffee. Today, these products are primarily apparel and housewares.
Beaver pelts were such a valuable commodity that HBC preferred to trade for what was known as Made Beaver. This unit represented the estimated value of a prime beaver pelt — flesh removed, stretched, properly tanned and ready for trade — on the London market, and it served as a standard accounting unit.
This is a fur trade token, which was used by HBC as a means of indicating credit against future purchases held by an individual trapper. The denomination of a token — such as 5 MB — means it was equivalent in value to five Made Beaver. One prime beaver skin, flesh removed, stretched, properly tanned and ready for trade, was called a Made Beaver. During the later fur trade, Hudson’s Bay Company began to issue copper tokens in denominations of Made Beaver. A trapper would present all his furs at once, and if he did not purchase their full equivalent in trade goods, he would be issued tokens as change. Tokens came in varying denominations and were in use as late as 1955 in the eastern Arctic. Hudson’s Bay Company Archives has additional information about trade tokens.
HBC Heritage is not in a position to advise on the value of any item. If you have questions about the value of an item in your possession, we suggest that you contact a professional appraiser, like the American Society of Appraisers.
The Beaver was an in-house newsletter of HBC established in 1920 as a unique way of celebrating the Company’s 250th anniversary. For years, it was much like any other internal newsletter, featuring a lot of material on sales events, marriages, births, store happenings, and news. It also always contained articles about HBC history.
By the 1950s, The Beaver had expanded to embrace Canadian history as a whole, with a particular focus on the north. After 90 years in print, it is still published today by Canada’s National History Society (CNHS). With the April–May 2010 issue, the magazine was rechristened Canada’s History. You can find Canada’s History in most public libraries and on newsstands throughout Canada.
Since 1970, Hudson’s Bay Company has not had an official presence in England. In that year, the head office of HBC was transferred to Winnipeg, Manitoba in Canada. In 1974, the Corporate Office relocated to Toronto, while the Registered Office remained in Winnipeg until 1990, when it was also relocated to Toronto.
Points are the short lines woven into the side of each blanket just above the bottom bar or set of stripes. They are about 10 centimetres (4 inches) in length, unless they are half points, in which case they are 5 centimetres (2 inches) in length. The “point” system was invented by French weavers in the mid-18th century as a means of indicating the finished size (area) of a blanket. The word point derives from the French empointer, meaning “to make threaded stitches on cloth.” HBC’s first pointed blankets were made in 1780, although we had been selling unpointed blankets since our founding in 1670.
The sizes of blankets have shifted over time, particularly during the 20th century as beds became larger. Blankets of 2.5, 3, 3.5, and 4 points were most common during the fur trade era. Today, HBC offers blankets in the following sizes: 3.5 (Twin), 4 (Double), 6 (Queen), and 8 (King).
There is a persistent misconception that the points were originally an indication of the blanket price in beaver pelts. There was, from time to time, given market forces, a congruence of prices and points — whereby a 2-point blanket might “cost” two beaver pelts. However, this was merely coincidental. The larger sized blankets weigh more and thus have always cost more; however, thickness and quality are the same blanket to blanket. This remains true today, except in the case of the caribou throw — a fringed afghan-sized blanket which is of a lighter weight than the bedding blankets. It also has narrower stripes than the blanket, scaled down appropriately for its smaller size.
There is no intentional meaning behind the coloured stripes. The four traditional colours (green, red, yellow, and indigo) were simply colours that were popular and easily produced using good colourfast dyes at the time that the multistripe blanket was introduced around 1800. These four colours are sometimes known as Queen Anne’s colours, since they first became popular during her reign (1702–1714).
The earliest reference to the multistripe pattern is from a 1798 order from the London headquarters to Thomas Empson of Witney, Oxfordshire for “30 pairs of 3 points to be striped with four colours (red, blue, green, yellow) according to your judgment.” The modern order of the stripes — green, red, yellow, and indigo — was not standardized until the mid- to late 19th century.
Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets are made in England by John Atkinson & Sons, a division of A.W. Hainsworth & Sons Ltd.
The blanket label is the best tool to date a blanket: its colour, size, colour of thread, text, and layout of the text all provide useful information regarding the date of manufacture. The colour and size of the blanket are also extremely telling.
While HBC Heritage is not in a position to advise on the age of any blanket, here are a few general guidelines:
Author and Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket collector Harold Tichenor has published a guide for collectors.
In recent years, genuine Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets have become very collectible and may command prices in the hundreds of dollars. Factors affecting value include age, size, colour, rarity, and condition. HBC Heritage is not in a position to advise on the value of any item. Author and Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket collector Harold Tichenor has published a guide for collectors.
Yes, you can wash your blanket. Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets are made of 100% wool and are pre-shrunk as part of the manufacturing process, so you can hand wash your blanket in a gentle detergent like Zero or Woollite. The trick is in the drying: you must gently press or blot the water out by wrapping it in towels — NEVER WRING THE BLANKET. Then lay it out flat to dry, preferably in the shade on your lawn. Since this is pretty difficult to accomplish for most people, dry cleaning is the recommended care. With normal use, your blanket ought not to need dry cleaning very often. But be sure to dry clean:
General Care: Brush your blanket occasionally to raise the nap and dislodge any foreign particles which might be trapped in the fibres. Store it in a cedar chest or closet (preferred) when not in use to protect it from moth damage. If this is not possible, wrap the blanket securely in an old bed sheet or pair of cotton pillowcases; do not store in plastic or vinyl as you risk damage from humidity. Store folded or hung from a hanger, but if storing the blanket for any period of time, be sure to occasionally re-fold it so creases do not become permanent. With proper care, there is no reason why your blanket should not last for decades — or even longer.
Manufacturer A.W. Hainsworth & Sons Ltd. recommends the following process for treating stains:
Apply a small amount of dry cleaning solvent (PB Blaster Aqueous-Based Degreaser or Scotchgard™ Spot Remover & Upholstery Cleaner (Aerosol)) to a white terry towel and blot the stain. Continue until no further transfer of material to the towel is apparent. If the stain remains, proceed to the next step.
Precautions: Never use a stronger concentration than is recommended. Never use laundry detergent or automatic dish washing detergents because they may destroy or dye some fibres. Never use non-volatile solvents as they can cause delamination in synthetic carpets either immediately or over a period of time. Non-volatile solvents do not dissipate at room temperature and will remain in your blanket. Instead apply the solvent to a white terry towel and blot the stained area. Never use highly combustible solvents such as gasoline or paint thinners. As to repair and care, our blanket expert recommends invisible weaving to address small tears. This service is often provided by dry cleaning and tailoring establishments. Fraying is not an uncommon problem, although typically it is more of an issue with older blankets. That being said, it is relatively rare with Hudson’s Bay blankets because of the way they are made. In fact, our blankets are woven about one and a half times their final width and are shrunk to their final size as part of the manufacturing process. This ensures a very tight weave, which not only provides superior warmth and insulation but also resists fraying.
That being said, it does sometimes occur, especially if they have been washed many times. Normally, removing that single thread is sufficient to stabilize the condition and will not contribute to further loss. If you are concerned about it, though, a few fine overcast stitches along the edge will help secure the last bit of yarn. You should use very fine embroidery wool in the same colour as your blanket. Embroidery wool comes in skeins in which multiple strands have been twisted into a single yarn. These are easily separated with the eye of a darning needle. Alternatively, if you do remove a single strand of yarn from the blanket itself, this could be used for overcasting. We recommend hand finishing for this type of repair.
Point Blankets were traditionally made in plain red, white, green, or blue fields with single bars of deep indigo near each end. In the fur trade era, white was by far the most common colour, with bars in indigo, red, or blue. The multistripe pattern was introduced in 1798 and became very popular — so much so that it is sometimes referred to as “traditional.”
The “Pastel Tones” — in sky blue, violet, reseda (green), gold, and rose — were introduced in 1929. Designed to fit in with more modern décor, they were tone-on-tone and featured bars and points in a deeper shade. These were joined by the mid-1930s by the “Imperial Tones” — Coronation Blue (royal blue with red bars and points), Harvest Gold (with indigo), and Highland Heather (royal purple with off white) — and the “Deep Tones,” which included Coraline (vermilion red), Pine Green, Cranberry, and Caramel. Today, blankets are produced in the following colours:
No. What you have is called an “unseparated pair” of Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets, a doubly long blanket that has not been separated into two singles. Blankets are woven on long continuous rolls of about 25 pairs (50 singles) to a bolt. Until the 1970s, they were separated into pairs by the manufacturer, and packaged and shipped as pairs. They were separated only at the point of sale. A small nick or cut in the selvage of the blankets was made and the blankets were literally torn apart along the grain — much to the amusement of staff, who loved to surprise unsuspecting buyers! They were also priced “by the pair” until the late 1950s or early 1960s. Unseparated pairs were particularly useful for campers and other outdoors people. By folding the pair in half, a simple sleeping bag was created. Until the advent of modern outdoor gear, Hudson’s Bay Point Blankets were often used in this fashion. Today, all blankets are separated and packaged as singles during the manufacturing process. Unseparated pairs are highly collectible, so don’t tear them apart!
At this time, Hudson's Bay blankets are only available for purchase in Canada.
Hudson’s Bay Company has been selling blankets, a staple of the fur trade, from the beginning. In 1668, two years before the granting of the Royal Charter, Nonsuch sailed to Hudson Bay on a speculative voyage to prove the feasibility of the northern fur trade route. Among the trade goods carried were woollen blankets.
The capote — a wrap coat made from a Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket — was a common garment among Indigenous peoples throughout the fur trade era. Many versions of the capote were made, and variations in style were common: with or without hood, embroidered, beaded, or with leather fringing. The Métis style became perhaps the best known. Hooded, embellished with fringing, and closed with a bright Assomption sash, the coat became a staple for HBC’s explorers and traders. Easy to make, warm, and water-repellent, the capote was made for the Canadian climate.
For more information, visit the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket page. You may also wish to consult The Blanket: An Illustrated History of the Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket, written by noted Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket collector Harold Tichenor. The Blanket was published in 2002, and is available at selected Hudson’s Bay Company stores. If you are interested in collecting, you should consult The Collector’s Guide to Point Blankets of the Hudson’s Bay Company and other companies trading in North America, also by Harold Tichenor. It is available direct from the author.
In fact, the black bar or stripe is not really black at all but indigo — a very, very dark blue. On solid-coloured blankets, the intense contrast of the background and the stripe makes the indigo appear black, while in the multistripe pattern on the cream background, it is clearly dark blue. Indigo is a natural dye which produces a very inky blue/black. From time to time, HBC has experimented with other dyes for the black — most notably during the First World War — but the results were not at all successful, and since 1923 indigo has been used exclusively.
Lord and Taylor ships to a number of international locations from their website.
No. Hudson’s Bay Company had nothing to do with the use of smallpox blankets as biological warfare.
The story of smallpox blankets comes from letters of General Jeffrey Sir Amherst, commander of the British forces in North America in 1763, during the Seven Years War. In a letter, Amherst, who harboured dislike and contempt for the Indigenous population, made the suggestion to his Colonel, Henry Bouquet, that smallpox might be introduced to the Indigenous population. Bouquet wrote back saying that perhaps blankets and handkerchiefs could be infected. Scholars do not know if these comments about using smallpox as biological warfare were ever acted upon.
Smallpox first emerged in ancient East Asia and spread through the Middle East, India, Africa, and Europe. The mortality rate is around 30 to 35%, but can be much higher. In Canada, smallpox first struck in 1616 in Tadoussac, France’s first North American trading post. The disease was unknown to First Nations people and, unlike Europeans, they had no natural immunity. From Tadoussac, the disease quickly spread through tribes in the Maritimes, James Bay, and Great Lakes region. Around the same time, British settlers arrived with smallpox in the Boston Bay area, wiping out almost 90% of the local Algonquin tribes.
Edward Jenner invented a smallpox vaccination in Britain in 1796, arriving in North America shortly thereafter. Smallpox among First Nations people was often of great concern to HBC traders, who witnessed the devastating impact first-hand. HBC employees did their best to control the spread of the disease through early quarantine and providing care for already infected individuals. After an outbreak on the prairies in 1837, the Company started a vaccination program with a goal to inoculate everyone within its territory. This goal was aided by HBC’s transportation and organizational structures already in place throughout western Canada. The effort limited the presence of the disease in Canada to little more than a toehold for several decades. The last case of smallpox in Canada was in 1962, and it was deemed officially eradicated worldwide in 1980.
Much of this article was taken from Christopher J. Rutty’s article “A Pox in Our Nation” in the February–March 2015 edition of Canada’s History.
For additional information on smallpox see:
HBC Heritage is an internal department of Hudson’s Bay Company. We are committed to the preservation, education, and promotion of Hudson’s Bay Company’s history and the ongoing care and maintenance of the Company’s historical HBC Corporate Art, Artifact, Image, and Reference Collections.Back to Top
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