Hudson's Bay Company

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Hudson's Bay Company
Compagnie de la Baie d'Hudson
Traded as TSXHBC
Founded 2 May 1670
Headquarters Simpson Tower
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
Key people
Richard Baker,[2] Governor & Executive Chairman[3]
Bonnie Brooks, Vice Chairman[4]
Elizabeth 'Liz' Rodbell, President[4][5]
Revenue Increase $5.223 billion CAD (2014)
Increase $ 258.1 million CAD (2014)
Total assets Increase $7.943 billion CAD (2014)
Owner NRDC Equity Partners
Divisions Galeria Kaufhof
Hudson's Bay
Home Outfitters
Lord & Taylor
Saks Fifth Avenue
Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH
Heraldic achievement of Hudson's Bay Company: Argent, a cross gules between four beavers passant proper. Crest: On a chapeau gules turned up ermine a squirrel sejant proper. Supporters: Two bucks proper. Latin Motto: pro pelle cutem ("skin for leather")[6] apparently a play on Job, 2:4: Pellem pro pelle[7] "skin for skin".[8][9][10]

The Hudson's Bay Company (HBC; French: Compagnie de la Baie d'Hudson), commonly referred to as "The Bay" ("La Baie" in French),[11] is a Canadian retail business group. A fur trading business for much of its existence, today Hudson's Bay Company owns and operates retail stores throughout Canada, Germany, Belgium and the United States with Galeria Kaufhof, Hudson's Bay, Home Outfitters, Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Saks Fifth Avenue OFF 5TH. HBC's head office is in the Simpson Tower in Toronto, Ontario.[12] The company is listed on the Toronto Stock Exchange under the symbol "HBC".

The company was incorporated by English royal charter in 1670 as The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay and functioned as the de facto government in parts of North America before European states and later the United States laid claim to some of those territories.[13] It was at one time the largest landowner in the world, with the area of the Hudson Bay watershed, known as Rupert's Land, having 15% of North American acreage. From its long-time headquarters at York Factory on Hudson Bay, the company controlled the fur trade throughout much of the English and later British controlled North America for several centuries. Undertaking early exploration, its traders and trappers forged early relationships with many groups of aboriginal peoples. Its network of trading posts formed the nucleus for later official authority in many areas of Western Canada and the United States. In the late 19th century, with its signing of the Deed of Surrender, its vast territory became the largest portion of the newly formed Dominion of Canada, in which the company was the largest private landowner.

By the mid 19th century the company evolved into a mercantile business selling everything from furs to fine homeware. They "quickly introduced a new type of client to the HBC – one that shopped for pleasure and not with skins"; the retail era had begun as the HBC began establishing stores across the country.[14] In July 2008 HBC was acquired by NRDC Equity Partners, who also owns U.S. luxury department store Lord & Taylor.[15] From 2008 to 2012, the HBC was run through a holding company of NRDC, Hudson's Bay Trading Company, which was dissolved on 23 January 2012.[16] Since 2012, the HBC directly oversees its Canadian subsidiaries Hudson's Bay (formerly The Bay) and Home Outfitters, in addition the operations of Lord & Taylor in the United States.

On 29 July 2013, the HBC announced its takeover of Saks, Inc., operator of upmarket American department store operator Saks Fifth Avenue. The merger was completed on 3 November 2013.[17][18] On June 15, 2015, HBC agreed to buy German department store chain Galeria Kaufhof and its Belgium subsidiary from Metro Group for $3.2 billion U.S. dollars.[19] The deal closed Q3/2015.


17th century[edit]

Flag of the Hudson's Bay Company which originated from its days as a British trading company.

In the 17th century the French had a de facto monopoly on the Canadian fur trade with their colony of New France. Two French traders, Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers (Médard de Chouart, Sieur des Groseilliers), Radisson's brother-in-law, learned from the Cree that the best fur country lay north and west of Lake Superior and that there was a "frozen sea" still further north.[20] Assuming that this was Hudson Bay, they sought French backing for a plan to set up a trading post on the Bay, to reduce the cost of moving furs overland. According to Peter C. Newman, "concerned that exploration of the Hudson Bay route might shift the focus of the fur trade away from the St. Lawrence River, the French governor", Marquis d'Argenson (in office 1658-1661), "refused to grant the coureurs de bois permission to scout the distant territory".[20] Despite this refusal, in 1659 Radisson and Groseilliers set out for the upper Great Lakes basin. A year later they returned from their expedition with premium furs, evidence of the potential of the Hudson Bay region. Subsequently they were arrested for trading without a licence and fined, and their furs were confiscated by the government.[21]

Determined to establish trade in the Hudson Bay, Radisson and Groseilliers approached a group of business men in Boston, Massachusetts to help finance their explorations. The Bostonians agreed on the plan's merits but their speculative voyage in 1663 failed when their ship ran into pack ice in Hudson Strait. Boston-based English commissioner Colonel George Cartwright learned of the expedition and brought the two to England to raise financing.[20] Radisson and Groseilliers arrived in London in 1665 at the height of the Great Plague. Eventually, the two met and received the sponsorship of Prince Rupert. Prince Rupert also introduced the two to his cousin, King Charles II.[22] In 1668 the English expedition acquired two ships, the Nonsuch and the Eaglet, to explore possible trade into Hudson Bay. Groseilliers sailed on the Nonsuch, commanded by Captain Zachariah Gillam, while the Eaglet was commanded by Captain William Stannard and accompanied by Radisson. On 5 June 1668, both ships left port at Deptford, England, but the Eaglet was forced to turn back off the coast of Ireland.[21][23]

Nonsuch continued to James Bay, the southern portion of Hudson Bay, where its explorers founded, in 1668, the first fort on Hudson Bay, Charles Fort (later Rupert House, now Waskaganish, Quebec),[24] at the mouth of the Rupert River. Both the fort and the river were named after the sponsor of the expedition, Prince Rupert of the Rhine, one of the major investors and soon to be the new company's first governor. After a successful trading expedition over the winter of 1668–1669, Nonsuch returned to England on 9 October 1669 with the first cargo of fur resulting from trade in Hudson Bay.[21] The bulk of the fur - worth £1,233 - was sold to Thomas Glover, one of London's most prominent furriers. This and subsequent purchases by Glover made it clear that the fur trade in Hudson Bay was indeed viable.[25]

Rupert's Land, the drainage basin of Hudson Bay, the company's grant.

The Governor and Company of Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson's Bay was incorporated on 2 May 1670, with a royal charter from King Charles II.[13] The charter granted the company a monopoly over the region drained by all rivers and streams flowing into Hudson Bay in northern Canada. The area gained the name "Rupert's Land" after Prince Rupert, the first governor of the company appointed by the King. This drainage basin of Hudson Bay constitutes 1.5 million square miles (3.9×10^6 km2), comprising over one-third of the area of modern-day Canada and stretches into the present-day north-central United States. The specific boundaries were unknown at the time. Rupert's Land would eventually become Canada's largest land "purchase" in the 19th century.

The HBC established six posts between 1668 and 1717. Rupert House (1668, southeast), Moose Factory (1673, south) and Fort Albany, Ontario (1679, west) were erected on James Bay; three other posts were established on the western shore of Hudson Bay proper: Fort Severn (1689), York Factory (1684) and Fort Churchill (1717). Inland posts were not built until 1774. After 1774, York Factory became the main post because of its convenient access to the vast interior waterway systems of the Saskatchewan and Red rivers. Called "factories" (because the "factor," i.e., a person acting as a mercantile agent did business from there), these posts operated in the manner of the Dutch fur trading operations in New Netherlands.

During the fall and winter, First Nations men and European trappers did the vast majority of the animal trapping and pelt preparation. They travelled by canoe and on foot to the forts to sell their pelts. In exchange they typically received popular trade goods such as knives, kettles, beads, needles, and the Hudson's Bay point blanket. The arrival of the First Nations trappers was one of the high points of the year, met with pomp and circumstance. The highlight was very formal, an almost ritualized "Trading Ceremony" between the Chief Trader and the Captain of the aboriginal contingent who traded on their behalf.[26] During the initial years of the fur trade, prices for items varied from post to post. With the adoption of Standard of Trade in the 18th century, the HBC ensured consistent pricing throughout Rupert's Land. A means of exchange arose based on the Made Beaver (MB); a prime pelt, worn for a year and ready for processing: "the prices of all trade goods were set in values of Made Beaver (MB) with other animal pelts, such as squirrel, otter and moose quoted in their MB (made beaver) equivalents. For example, two otter pelts might equal 1 MB".[27]

Logo on old fur trading fort.

The early coastal factory model contrasted with the system of the French, who established an extensive system of inland posts at native villages and sent traders to live among the tribes of the region. In March 1686, the French sent a raiding party under the Chevalier des Troyes over 1,300 km (810 mi) to capture the HBC posts along James Bay. The French appointed Pierre Le Moyne d'Iberville, who had shown great heroism during the raids, as commander of the company's captured posts. In 1687 an English attempt to resettle Fort Albany failed due to ruses and deceptions by d'Iberville. After 1688 England and France were officially at war. D'Iberville raided Fort Severn in 1690 but did not attempt to raid the well-defended local headquarters at York Factory. In 1693 the company recovered Fort Albany; d'Iberville captured York Factory in 1694, but the company recovered it the next year.

In 1697, d'Iberville again commanded a French naval raid on York Factory. On the way to the fort, he defeated three ships of the Royal Navy in the Battle of Hudson's Bay (5 September 1697), the largest naval battle in the history of the North American Arctic. D'Iberville's depleted French force captured York Factory by a ruse; they laid siege to the fort while pretending to be a much larger army, the French held all of the outposts except Fort Albany until 1713. (Fort Albany was again unsuccessfully attacked in 1709 by a small French and Indian force.) The economic consequences of the French possession to the company were significant; it did not pay any dividends for more than 20 years. See Anglo-French conflicts on Hudson Bay.

18th century[edit]

Trading at a Hudson's Bay Company trading post.

The war ended in 1713 with the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht. Among its many provisions, the Treaty required France to relinquish all claims to Hudson Bay, which again became a British possession.[28] The Kingdom of Great Britain had been established (following the union of Scotland and England in 1707). After the treaty, the company built Prince of Wales Fort, a stone star fort at the mouth of the nearby Churchill River. In 1782, during the American Revolutionary War, a French squadron under Jean-François de Galaup, comte de Lapérouse captured and demolished York Factory and Prince of Wales Fort in support of the American rebels.

In its trade with native peoples, Hudson's Bay Company exchanged wool blankets, called Hudson's Bay point blankets, for the beaver pelts trapped by aboriginal hunters. By 1700, point blankets accounted for over 60% of the trade.[29] The number of indigo stripes (a.k.a. points) woven into the blankets identified its finished size. A long-held misconception is that the number of stripes is related to its value in beaver pelts.[30]

A parallel may be drawn between the HBC's control over Rupert's Land with the trade monopoly and government functions enjoyed by the Honourable East India Company over India during roughly the same period. Viewed as a major competitor, the HBC invested £10,000 in the East India Company in 1732.[31]

Hudson's Bay Company's first inland trading post was established by Samuel Hearne in 1774 in Cumberland House, Saskatchewan.[32][33]

In 1779, the North West Company (NWC) was founded in Montreal as a seasonal partnership to provide more capital and to continue competing with the HBC. It became operative for the outfit of 1780 and was the first joint stock company in Canada and possibly North America. The agreement lasted one year. A second agreement established in 1780 had a three-year term. The company became a permanent entity in 1783.[34] By 1784, the NWC had begun to make serious inroads into the HBC's profits.[35]

19th century[edit]

In 1821, the North West Company of Montreal and Hudson's Bay Company were forcibly merged by intervention of the British government to put an end to often-violent competition. A total of 175 posts, 68 of them the HBC's, were reduced to 52 for efficiency and because many were redundant as a result of the rivalry and were inherently unprofitable.[36] Their combined territory was extended by a licence to the North-Western Territory, which reached to the Arctic Ocean in the north and, with the creation of the Columbia Department in the Pacific Northwest, to the Pacific Ocean in the west. The NWC's regional headquarters at Fort George (Fort Astoria) was relocated to Fort Vancouver, which became the HBC base of operations on the Pacific Slope.

Before the merger, the employees of the HBC, unlike the North West Company, did not participate in its profits. After the merger, with all operations under the management of Sir George Simpson (1826–1860), the company had a corps of commissioned officers, 25 chief factors and 28 chief traders, who shared in the profits of the company during the monopoly years. Its trade covered 7,770,000 km2 (3,000,000 sq mi), and it had 1,500 contract employees.[37]

The progression for officers, together referred to as the Commissioned Gentlemen, was to enter the company as a fur trader. Typically, they were men who had the capital to invest in starting up their trading. They sought to be promoted to the rank of Chief Trader. A Chief Trader would be in charge of an individual post and was entitled to one share of the profits of the company. Chief Factors sat in council with the Governors and were the heads of districts. They were entitled to two shares of the profits or the losses of the company. The average income of a Chief Trader was £360 and that of a Chief Factor was £720.[38]

A Hudson's Bay Company post on Lake Winnipeg, c.1884.

Although the HBC maintained a monopoly on the fur trade during the early to mid-19th century, there was competition from James Sinclair and Andrew McDermot (Dermott), independent traders in the Red River Colony. They shipped furs by the Red River Trails to Norman Kittson[39] a buyer in the United States. In addition, Americans controlled the Maritime fur trade on the Northwest Coast until the 1830s.[40]

Throughout the 1820s and 1830s, the HBC controlled nearly all trading operations in the Pacific Northwest, based at the company headquarters at Fort Vancouver on the Columbia River. Although claims to the region were by agreement in abeyance, commercial operating rights were nominally shared by the United States and Britain through the Anglo-American Convention of 1818, company policy, enforced via Chief Factor John McLoughlin of the company's Columbia District, was to discourage U.S. settlement of the territory. The company's effective monopoly on trade virtually forbade any settlement in the region. It established Fort Boise in 1834 (in present-day southwestern Idaho) to compete with the American Fort Hall, 483 km (300 mi) to the east. In 1837, it purchased Fort Hall, also along the route of the Oregon Trail, where the outpost director displayed the abandoned wagons of discouraged settlers to those seeking to move west along the trail.

Sketches of Hudson Bay Life: Running them down, by Harry Bullock-Webster

The company's stranglehold on the region was broken by the first successful large wagon train to reach Oregon in 1843, led by Marcus Whitman. In the years that followed, thousands of emigrants poured into the Willamette Valley. In 1846, the United States acquired full authority south of the 49th parallel; the most settled areas of the Oregon Country were south of the Columbia River in what is now Oregon. McLoughlin, who had once turned away would be settlers as company director, then welcomed them from his general store at Oregon City and was later proclaimed the "Father of Oregon". The company retains no presence today in what is now the United States portion of the Pacific Northwest.

During the 1820s and 1830s, HBC trappers were deeply involved in the early exploration and development of Northern California. Company trapping brigades were sent south from Fort Vancouver, along what became known as the Siskiyou Trail, into Northern California as far south as the San Francisco Bay Area where the company operated a trading post at Yerba Buena (San Francisco). These trapping brigades in Northern California faced serious risks, and were often the first to explore relatively uncharted territory.

Coming in for Christmas (H. Bullock Webster)

Between 1820 and 1870, the HBC issued its own paper money. The notes, denominated in pounds sterling, were printed in London and issued at the York Factory, Fort Garry and the Red River Colony.[41]

The Guillaume Sayer Trial in 1849 contributed to the end of the HBC monopoly. Sayer, a Métis trapper and trader, was accused of the illegal trading of furs. The Court of Assiniboia brought Sayer to trial, before a jury of HBC officials and supporters. During the trial, a crowd of armed Métis men led by Louis Riel, Sr. gathered outside the courtroom. Although Sayer was found guilty of illegal trade, having evaded the HBC monopoly, Judge Adam Thom did not levy a fine or punishment. Some accounts attributed that to the intimidating armed crowd gathered outside the courthouse. With the cry, Le commerce est libre! Le commerce est libre! ("Trade is free! Trade is free!"), the Métis loosened the HBC's previous control of the courts, which had enforced their monopoly on the settlers of Red River.

Another factor was the findings of the Palliser Expedition of 1857 to 1860, led by Captain John Palliser. Although he recommended against settlement of the region the report sparked a debate. That ended the myth publicized by Hudson's Bay Company that the Canadian West was unfit for agricultural settlement. In 1863, the International Financial Society became the majority shareholders of the HBC.

A rough and tumble with a grizzly (Harry Bullock-Webster)

In 1869, after rejecting the American government offer of CA$10,000,000,[42] the company approved the return of Rupert’s Land to Britain which in turn gave it to Canada and loaned the new country the £300,000 required to compensate HBC for its losses. The deal, known as The Deed of Surrender, came into force the following year. The resulting territory, now known as the Northwest Territories, was brought under Canadian jurisdiction under the terms of the Rupert's Land Act 1868, enacted by the Parliament of the United Kingdom. The Deed enabled the admission of the fifth province, Manitoba, to the Confederation on 15 July 1870, the very same day that the deed itself came into force.[43]

During the 19th century the Hudson Bay's Company was going through a lot of change such as growth and settlement, ongoing pressure from Britain, and the future of the West seemed unlikely to remain in the hands of the company.[44]

Rent obligation under charter[edit]

Under the charter establishing Hudson's Bay Company, the company was required to give two elk skins and two black beaver pelts to the English king, then Charles II, or his heirs, whenever the monarch visited Rupert's Land. The exact text from the 1670 Charter reads:

...Yielding and paying yearly to us and our heirs and successors for the same two Elks and two Black beavers whensoever and as often as We, our heirs and successors shall happen to enter into the said Countries, Territories and Regions hereby granted."[13]

The ceremony was first conducted with the Prince of Wales (the future Edward VIII) in 1927, then with King George VI in 1939, and last with his daughter, Queen Elizabeth II in 1959 and 1970. On the last such visit, the pelts were given in the form of two live beavers, which the Queen donated to the Winnipeg Zoo in Assiniboine Park.[10] However, when the company permanently moved its headquarters to Canada, the Charter was amended to remove the rent obligation.[11] Each of the four "rent ceremonies" took place in or around Winnipeg.[45]

Notable HBC explorers, builders, and associates[edit]

  • James Knight (ca. 1640 – ca. 1721) was a director of Hudson's Bay Company and an explorer who died in an expedition to the Northwest Passage.[46][47][48]
  • Henry Kelsey (c. 1667 – 1 November 1724), a.k.a. the Boy Kelsey, was an English fur trader, explorer, and sailor who played an important role in establishing Hudson's Bay Company in Canada. In 1690, Henry Kelsey embarked on a 2-year exploration journey that made him the first white man to see buffalo.[49]
  • Thanadelthur (c. 1697—5 February 1717) was a woman of the Chipewyan nation who served as a guide and interpreter for Hudson's Bay Company.[50]
  • Samuel Hearne (1745 – 1792) was an English explorer, fur-trader, author, and naturalist. In 1774, Hearne built Cumberland House for the Hudson’s Bay Company, its first interior trading post and the first permanent settlement in present Saskatchewan.[32][33]
  • David Thompson (30 April 1770 – 10 February 1857) was a British-Canadian fur trader that worked for both the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Trading Company. He is best known for his extensive explorations and map-making activities. He mapped almost half of North America between the 46th and 60th parallels, from the St.Lawrence and Great Lakes all the way to the Pacific.[51]
  • Thomas Douglas, Lord Selkirk (20 June 1771 — 8 April 1820) was a Scottish peer. He was a Scottish philanthropist who, as HBC’s majority shareholder, arranged to purchase land at Red River to establish a colony for dispossessed Scottish immigrants.[52]
  • Isobel Gunn or Isabella Gunn (c. 1780? – 7 November 1861), also known as John Fubbister or Mary Fubbister, was a Scottish labourer employed by Hudson's Bay Company (HBC), noted for having passed herself as a man, thereby becoming, not just a pioneer of feminism, but the first European woman to travel to Rupert's Land, now part of Western Canada.[53]
  • George Simpson (1787 – 7 September 1860) was the Canadian governor of Hudson's Bay Company during the period of its greatest power, a period which began in 1821 following the company’s merger with the North West Trading Company.[54][55]
  • Dr. John Rae (Inuktitut Aglooka ᐊᒡᓘᑲ English: "long strider") (30 September 1813 – 22 July 1893) was a Scottish doctor who explored Northern Canada, surveyed parts of the Northwest Passage and reported the fate of the Franklin Expedition.[56][57]
  • William Keswick and grandson Sir William Johnstone Keswick served at HBC; the former as a director and later as Governor from 1952 to 1965. The Keswick family are the Scottish business dynasty that controls Hong Kong-based Jardine Matheson, one of the original British trading houses or Hongs in British Hong Kong.

HBC sternwheelers and steamships[edit]

  • Beaver (1835–1874)
  • Otter (1852-1895)[58]
  • Anson Northup (1859-1860)[59]
  • Caledonia (1891–1898) -- She ran aground on rocks at Port Simpson during a storm and her hull was destroyed. Her engines were put into the Caledonia 2
  • Caledonia (2) (1898–1909) -- Her machinery was from the Caledonia 1.
  • Mount Royal (1902–1907)
  • Princess Louise (1878–1883)
  • Strathcona (1900)
  • Port Simpson (1907–1912)
  • Hazelton (1907–1912)
  • Distributor (1920-1948)[60]


The HBC is the only European trading company to have survived and outlived all its rivals.

Years Company Fate
1551–1917 Muscovy Company taken over by the Soviet Union
1581–1825 Levant Company dissolved
1600–1874 Honourable East India Company dissolved
1602–1800 Dutch East India Company went bankrupt
1621–1791 Dutch West India Company bought by the Dutch government
1672–1752 Royal African Company replaced by the African Company of Merchants
1711–1850s South Sea Company abolished by bankruptcy and the Louisiana Purchase
1779–1821 North West Company merged with the HBC
1799–1867 Russian-American Company folded with the sale of Russian America to the U.S. and commercial assets in North America sold to Hutchinson, Kohl & Company (now as the Alaska Commercial Company)
1808–1842 American Fur Company folded

Store operations[edit]

Simpson Tower, headquarters

Department stores and diversification[edit]

The iconic department store today evolved from trading posts at the start of the 19th century, when they began to see demand for general merchandise grow rapidly. HBC soon expanded into the interior and set-up posts along river settlements that later developed into the modern cities of Winnipeg, Calgary and Edmonton. In 1857, the first sales shop was established in Fort Langley. This was followed by other sales shops in Fort Victoria (1859), Winnipeg (1881), Calgary (1884), Vancouver (1887), Vernon (1887), Edmonton (1890), Yorkton (1898), and Nelson (1902). The first of the grand "original six" department stores was built in Calgary in 1913. The other department stores that followed were in Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg.[61][62]

The First World War interrupted a major remodelling and restoration of retail trade shops planned in 1912. Following the war, the company revitalized its fur-trade and real-estate activities, and diversified its operations by venturing into the oil business.[14][63] Today, the department store business is the only remaining part of the company's operations, in the form of department stores under the Hudson's Bay brand.[64]

Oil and gas operations[edit]

The company co-founded Hudson's Bay Oil and Gas Company (HBOG) in 1926 with Marland Oil Company (which merged with Conoco in 1929). HBOG expanded during the 1940s and 1950s, and in 1960 began shipping Canadian crude through a new link to the Glacier pipeline and on to the refinery in Billings, Montana. The company became the sixth-largest Canadian oil producer in 1967.[65] In 1973, HBOG acquired a 35% stake in Siebens Oil and Gas, and, in 1979, it divested that interest. In 1980, it bought a controlling interest in Roxy Petroleum. In the 1980s, sales and oil prices slipped, while debt from acquisitions piled up which led to Hudson's Bay Company selling its 52.9% stake in HBOG to Dome Petroleum in 1981.[66]

Retail expansion[edit]

HBC's coat of arms logo

In 1960, the company acquired Morgan's allowing it to expand into Montreal, Toronto, Hamilton, and Ottawa. In 1965, HBC rebranded all its department stores as The Bay. The Morgan's logo was changed to match the new visual identity. But by 1972 the last of the former Morgan’s stores had been rebranded to Bay stores.[67]

In 1970, on the 300th anniversary of the company, as a result of punishing new British tax laws, the company relocated to Canada, and was rechartered as a Canadian business corporation under Canadian law,[68] Head Office functions were transferred from London to Winnipeg. By 1974, as the company expanded into eastern Canada, head office functions were moved to Toronto.

In 1972, the company acquired the four-store Shop-Rite chain of catalogue stores. The chain was quickly expanded to 65 stores in Ontario, but closed in 1982 due to declining sales.[69] In these stores, little merchandise was displayed; customers made their selections from catalogues, and staff would retrieve the merchandise from storerooms. The HBC also acquired Freimans department stores in Ottawa and converted them to The Bay.[70]

In 1978, the Zellers discount store chain made a bid to acquire the HBC, but the HBC turned the tables and acquired Zellers instead. Also in 1978, Simpson's department stores were acquired by Hudson's Bay Company, and were converted to Bay stores in 1991. (The related chain Simpsons-Sears was not acquired by the Bay, but became Sears Canada in 1978.) By 1991, Simpsons, originally operated as a stand-alone premium retail banned, had disappeared, having been folded into the Bay.

In 1979, Canadian billionaire Kenneth Thomson won control of the company in a battle with George Weston Limited, and acquired a 75% stake for $400 million.[71] Thomson sold the company's oil and gas business, financial services, distillery, and other interests for approximately $550 million, transforming the company into a leaner, more focused operation. In 1997, the Thomson family sold the last of its remaining shares.[71]

Hudson's Bay Company reversed a formidable debt problem in 1987, by shedding non-strategic assets such as its wholesale division and getting completely out of the oil and gas business. HBC also sold its Canadian fur-auction business to Hudson's Bay Fur Sales Canada (now North American Fur Auctions). The Northern Stores Division was sold that same year to a group of investors and employees, which adopted The North West Company name three years later.[72]

The HBC acquired Towers Department Stores in 1990, combining them with the Zellers chain, and Woodward's stores in 1993, converting them into Bay or Zellers stores. Kmart Canada was acquired in 1998 and merged with Zellers.[72]

In 1991, the Bay agreed to stop retailing fur in response to complaints from people opposed to killing animals for this purpose. In 1997, the Bay reopened its fur salons to meet the demand of consumers. Animal rights groups, such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) and Freedom for Animals, continue to try and induce retailers like HBC to stop selling furs, with varying success.

The Hudson's Bay Company building in Montreal, originally the Morgan's flagship store

From 2004 to 2008, the HBC owned and operated a small chain of off-price stores called Designer Depot. Similar to the Winners and HomeSense retail format, Designer Depot did not meet sales expectations, and its nine stores were sold.[73] Another HBC chain, Fields, was sold to a private firm in 2012.[74] Established in 1950, Fields was acquired by Zellers in 1976. When Zellers was acquired by HBC in 1978, Fields became part of the HBC portfolio.[75] Zellers is still owned by HBC but as been reduced to a chain of two liquidation stores following the successful sale of its lease portfolio to Target in 2011.[76]

On 29 July 2013, Hudson's Bay Company announced that it would buy Saks Incorporated for USD 2.9 billion.[77]

Purchase by American interests, 2003[edit]

In December 2003, Maple Leaf Heritage Investments, a Nova Scotia-based company created to acquire shares of Hudson's Bay Company, announced that it was considering making an offer to acquire all or some of the common shares of Hudson's Bay Company.[78] Maple Leaf Heritage Investments is a subsidiary of B-Bay Inc. Its CEO and chairman is American businesswoman, Anita Zucker, widow of Jerry Zucker. Zucker had previously been the head of the Polymer Group, which acquired another Canadian institution, Dominion Textile.

On 26 January 2006, the HBC's board unanimously agreed to a bid of $15.25 CAD/share from Jerry Zucker whose original bid was $14.75 CAD/share, ending a prolonged fight between the HBC and Zucker. The South Carolina billionaire financier was a longtime HBC minority shareholder. In a 9 March 2006 press release,[79] the HBC announced that Zucker would replace Yves Fortier as Governor and George Heller as CEO, becoming the first US citizen to lead the company. After Jerry Zucker's death the board named his widow, Anita Zucker, as HBC Governor and HBC Deputy-Governor Rob Johnston as CEO.[78]

Hudson's Bay downtown store in Winnipeg

On 16 July 2008, the company was sold to NRDC Equity Partners, a private equity firm based in Purchase, New York which already owned Lord & Taylor, the oldest luxury department store chain in the United States.[15][80] The Canadian and U.S. holdings were transferred to NRDC Equity Partners' holding company, Hudson's Bay Trading Company, as of the fall of 2008.

In September 2011, the HBC began downsizing the Zellers chain with the announcement that it would sell the majority of the leases for its locations to the U.S.-based retailer Target Corporation and close all of their remaining locations by early 2013. Target used the acquisition of this real estate as a means to enable its entry in the Canadian market. HBC used the proceeds to allow it to pay down debt and to invest in growing its Hudson's Bay and Lord & Taylor banners. In January 2013, it was confirmed that only three of the remaining Zellers locations would remain open.[81][82][83][84]

On 24 January 2012, the Financial Post reported that Richard Baker (owner of NDRC and governor of Hudson's Bay Company) had dissolved Hudson's Bay Trading Company and that the HBC would now also operate the Lord & Taylor chain. The company is run by President Bonnie Brooks.[85] Baker remained governor and CEO of the business and Donald Watros stayed on as chief operating officer.[16]

Public offering, 2012 to present[edit]

In October 2012, the HBC announced a $1.6 billion initial public offering (IPO); Baker planned to use the IPO to allow Canadian ownership to return to the company, and to help pay off debts with other partners. Additionally, the company also announced that it would re-brand The Bay department store chain as 'Hudson's Bay'.[84]

The new Hudson's Bay brand was launched in March 2013; incorporating a new logo with an updated rendition of the classic Hudson's Bay Company coat of arms, designed to be modern and better reflect the company's heritage. Following the IPO, HBC had also introduced a new corporate logo of its own (reviving a wordmark from the original HBC flag), but the new logo was not intended to be a consumer-facing brand.[86][87][88]

In July 2013, the HBC announced its intent to purchase New York's Saks, Inc. for $2.9 billion (USD), or $16 per share. The company also stated that as a result of the purchase, Canadian consumers would see Saks stores arriving in their country soon.[89] After the purchase was finalized, HBC had a net loss of $124.2 million in the 2013 3Q due to the cost of the purchase and promotions.[90]

Current operations[edit]

The HBC is diversified into joint ventures and other types of business products. The HBC has credit card, mortgage, and personal insurance branches. These other products and services are joint partnerships with other corporations. The HBC also has other HBC Rewards corporate partners such as: Imperial Oil/Esso, M&M Meat Shops, Chapters/Indigo Books, Kelsey's/Montana's Restaurants, Thrifty Car Rental, Cineplex Entertainment Theatres, etc. HBC Rewards points can be redeemed in house or into corporate partners' gift cards and certificates. Points can also be converted to Air Miles.

The HBC is involved in community and charity activities. The HBC Rewards Community Program raises funds for community causes. The HBC Foundation is a charity agency involved in social issues and service. The HBC used to sponsor the annual HBC Run for Canada, a series of public-participation runs and walks held across the country on Canada Day to raise funds for Canadian athletes. The company discontinued this event in 2009.[91]

Olympic outfitter[edit]

The HBC was the official outfitter of clothing for members of the Canadian Olympic team in 1936, 1960, 1964, 1968, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2012, and 2014. The sponsorship has been renewed through 2020. Since the late 2000s, HBC has used its status as the official Canadian Olympics team outfitter to gain global exposure, as part of a turnaround plan that included shedding underperforming brands and luring new high-end brands.[92]

The red Olympic mittens first sold for the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

On 2 March 2005, the company was announced as the new clothing outfitter for the Canadian Olympic team, in a $100 million deal, providing apparel for the 2006, 2008, 2010, and 2012 Games, having outbid the existing Canadian Olympic wear-supplier, Roots Canada, which had supplied Canada's Olympic teams from 1998 to 2004.[93][94] The Canadian Olympic collection is sold through The Bay (and Zellers until 2013 when the Zellers leases were sold to Target Canada).

HBC's 2006 Winter Olympics and 2008 Summer Olympics uniforms and toques received a mixed reception for their multicoloured stripes (green, red, yellow, blue) which seemed to be not-so-subtle advertising for HBC rather than representing the Canadian Olympic team's traditional colours of red and white (with black as a secondary), in contrast to well-received Root's 1998 collection with its trendy red letter jackets and Poor Boy caps. HBC produced 80% to 90% of their Olympic clothes in China which was criticized, as Roots ensured that the Olympic clothes were made in Canada using Canadian material.[95]

HBC's apparel for the 2010 Winter Olympics held in Vancouver proved to be extremely successful, in part because Canada was the host country and their athletes had a record medal haul. The "Red Mittens" (red-and-white mittens featuring a large maple leaf) that were sold for $10 CAD, with one-third of the proceeds going to the Canadian Olympic Committee, proved very popular, as were the "Canada" hoodies. Lord Sebastian Coe, chairman of the 2012 London Olympic Games Organizing Committee, who attended the Vancouver Olympics, noted that the Canadians were passionate in embracing the Games with 'their "Canada" hoodies and their red mittens (of which 2.6 million pairs sold that year).[96][97] HBC has continued to produce these red mittens for subsequent Olympic Games.[98]


The legacy of the HBC has been maintained in part by the detailed record-keeping and archiving of material by the company. Before 1974, the records of the HBC were kept in the London office headquarters. The HBC opened an Archives department to researchers in 1931. In 1974, Hudson's Bay Company Archives (HBCA) were transferred from London and placed on deposit with the Manitoba archives in Winnipeg. The company granted public access to the collection the following year.

On 27 January 1994, the company’s archives were formally donated to the Archives of Manitoba.[99]

At the time of the donation, the appraised value of the records was nearly $60 million. A foundation, Hudson's Bay Company History Foundation funded through the tax savings resulting from the donation, was established to support the operations of the HBC Archive as a division of the Archives of Manitoba, along with other activities and programs.,[100] More than two kilometers of filed documents and hundreds of microfilm reels are now stored in a special climate-controlled vault in the Manitoba Archives Building.

In 2007, Hudson's Bay Company Archives became part of the United Nations "Memory of the World Programme" project, under UNESCO. The records covered the HBC history from the founding of the company in 1670. The records contained business transactions, medical records, personal journals of officials, inventories, company reports, etc.

Hudson's Bay Queen Street store in downtown Toronto, the chain's flagship store

Corporate governance[edit]

Current members of the board of directors of Hudson's Bay Company are:[2]

  • Richard A. Baker
  • Robert C. Baker
  • David G. Leith
  • William L. Mack
  • Lee S. Neibart
  • Denise Pickett
  • Wayne Pommen
  • Earl Rotman
  • Matthew Rubel
  • Andrea Wong

Corporate hierarchy[edit]

Hudson's Bay Company operated with a very rigid hierarchy when it came to its employees. This hierarchy essentially broke down into two levels; the officers and the servants. Comprising the officers were the factors, masters and chief traders, clerks and surgeons. The servants were the tradesmen, boatmen, and laborers. The officers essentially ran the fur trading posts. They had many duties which included supervising the workers in their trade posts, valuing the furs, and keeping trade and post records. In 1821, when Hudson's Bay Company and the North West Company merged, the hierarchy became even stricter and the lines between officers and servants became virtually impossible to cross. Officers in charge of individual trading posts had much responsibility because they were directly in charge of enforcing the policies made by the governor and committee (the board) of the company. One of these policies was the price of particular furs and trade goods. These prices were called the Official and Comparative Standards. Made-Beaver, the quality measurement of the pelt, was the means of exchange used by Hudson's Bay Company to define the Official and Comparative Standards. Because the governor was stationed in London, England, they needed to have reliable officers managing the trade posts halfway around the world. Because the fur trade was a very dynamic market, HBC needed to have some form of flexibility when dealing with prices and traders. Price fluctuation was deferred to the officers in charge of the trade posts, and the head office recorded any difference between the company's standard and that set by the individual officers. Overplus, or any excess revenue gained by officers was strictly documented to insure that it wasn't being pocketed and taken from the company. This strict yet flexible hierarchy exemplifies how Hudson's Bay Company was able to be so successful while still having its central management and trade posts located so far apart.[101][102]


Chronological list of Governors of the Hudson's Bay Company:[103]

  1. 1670–1682  Prince Rupert of the Rhine[104][105]
  2. 1683–1685  James Stuart, Duke of York - resign as governor to become James II, King of England.[106]
  3. 1685–1692  John Churchill, Earl of Marlborough[107][108]
  4. 1692–1696  Sir Stephen Evance[109]
  5. 1696–1700  Sir William Trumbull[110]
  6. 1700–1712  Sir Stephen Evance
  7. 1712–1743  Sir Bibye Lake[111]
  8. 1744–1746  Benjamin Pitt[112]
  9. 1746–1750  Thomas Knapp[113]
  10. 1750–1760  Sir Atwell Lake[114]
  11. 1760–1770  Sir William Baker[115]
  12. 1770–1782  Sir Bibye Lake, Jr.[116]
  13. 1782–1799  Samuel Wegg[117]
  14. 1799–1807  Sir James Winter Lake[118]
  15. 1807–1812  William Mainwaring[119]
  16. 1812–1822  Joseph Berens[120]
  17. 1822–1852  Sir John Henry Pelly in 1826, Simpson becomes governor of the Canadian region.[121]
  18. 1852–1856  Andrew Wedderburn Colville[122]
  19. 1856–1858  John Shepherd[123]
  20. 1858–1863  Henry Hulse Berens[124]
  21. 1863–1868  Sir Edmund Walker Head[125]
  22. 1868–1869  John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley
  23. 1869–1874  Sir Stafford Henry Northcote[126]
  24. 1874–1880  George Joachim Goschen[127]
  25. 1880–1889  Eden Colvile[128]
  26. 1889–1914  Donald Alexander Smith[129][130]
  27. 1914–1915  Sir Thomas Skinner[131]
  28. 1916–1925  Sir Robert Molesworth Kindersley
  29. 1925–1931  Charles Vincent Sale
  30. 1931–1952  Sir Patrick Ashley Cooper - first governor to visit HBC operations in Canada.[132]
  31. 1952–1965  William Keswick
  32. 1965–1970  Derick Heathcoat-Amory
  33. 1970–1982  George T. Richardson
  34. 1982–1994  Donald S. McGiverin
  35. 1994–1997  David E. Mitchell
  36. 1997–2006  L. Yves Fortier
  37. 2006–2008  Jerry Zucker
  38. 2008  Anita Zucker - first female governor.
  39. 2008–present  Richard Baker

See also[edit]


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Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]