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1991: Hudson’s Bay Company ends its fur trade

The Story

After more than three centuries, the Hudson's Bay Company is getting out of the fur trade. The company was created in 1670 to trade animal pelts for goods at remote outposts across North America. But by 1991 the appetite for fur has pretty much dried up and The Bay is cutting its losses. It's a sad day for some 100,000 Canadians employed in the fur industry, but the anti-fur lobby is claiming a huge victory.

Medium: Television
Program: The National
Broadcast Date: Jan. 30, 1991
Guest(s): Bill Abercrombie, Barry Agnew, Clair Flewitt, Peter C. Newman
Host: Peter Mansbridge
Reporter: Kevin Newman
Duration: 2:07
Photo: National Archives of Canada/C-001229

Did You know?

• The Hudson's Bay Company was formed when England's King Charles II granted a royal charter to "The Company of Adventurers" on May 2, 1670. The charter gave the company rights to "sole trade and commerce" over all lands that drained into Hudson's Bay -- almost four million square kilometres. That's 10 per cent of the earth's surface and more than 40 per cent of modern Canada plus much of Minnesota and North Dakota.

• The Hudson's Bay Company began as a simple fur-trading enterprise, but evolved into a huge trading and exploration company with agents around the world. Its numerous trading posts were fought over by English and French battleships until the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713. As Canada became settled, the company gave up control of its land in the 1869 Treaty of Surrender and sold off much of the land it owned over the next 85 years.

• In the late 1800s the Hudson's Bay Company started opening department stores. The original six were founded in Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Victoria and Saskatchewan. By 1978 the Bay had become the largest chain store in Canada. In 2003 it operates more than 500 stores, led by the Bay and Zellers chains.

• By the 1920s, beavers were becoming scarce in the Canadian north and west and independent fur farms began to provide much of the fur stock, squeezing the Hudson's Bay Company out of the business. The Bay then got involved in conservation efforts and ran fur farms of its own. It also warehoused, auctioned and sold furs on consignment around the world.

• During the recession of the 1980s, the Hudson's Bay Company was forced to save money by making the unpopular decision to sell off its northern stores and fur auction houses. This process was completed in 1991.
• In 1997, the Bay retraced its steps on selling fur and once again opened fur salons in several stores. Animal rights groups responded with calls for a boycott of the company, but the Bay countered that it was simply trying to meet customer demand.

• The Hudson's Bay Company is said to be the oldest company in the world. Several other companies also lay claim to this distinction, including Japanese manufacturing giant Sumitomo Corporation (over 400 years old), Swedish paper company Stora (first documented in 1288 AD), and the Royal Mint in Llantrisant, Wales (287 AD).

• In 2006, South Carolina businessman Jerry Zucker bought Hudson's Bay Co. for more than $1 billion and became its first American president. Zucker's company, Maple Leaf Heritage Investments, paid $15.25 a share to take over controlling interest.

Also on January 30:
1911: The Canadian Naval Service becomes the Royal Canadian Navy. In 1968, the three Canadian armed services are unified to form the Canadian Armed Forces.
1923: The Grand Trunk Railway is taken over by the Canadian government, beginning the organization of what is now CN Rail.
1948: A Hindu fanatic assassinates Indian leader Mohandas Gandhi on his way to prayer in New Delhi. Also known as Mahatma Gandhi, the 78-year-old leader had led his country to independence from British rule the previous year.


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