When the Hudson's Bay Company said farewell to furs

The Hudson's Bay Company decided to forego the fur business after finding that furs weren't flying off the shelves.

'It's certainly not the business it used to be a decade ago'

In January 1991, the Hudson's Bay Company announced it was exiting the fur business. 0:54
It was big news when the Hudson's Bay Company decided to leave the fur business behind almost 30 years ago.
This is the graphic CBC's The National used to introduce a Jan. 30, 1991, story about the Hudson's Bay Company leaving the fur trade. (The National/CBC Archives)

After all, the historic company had been formed as a fur-trading business three centuries earlier.

But by the start of 1991, Hudson's Bay was apparently finding that fur was not flying off its shelves as it used to.

And on Jan. 30 of that year, it announced it would be selling off its remaining stock and saying farewell to the fur trade.

On The National, viewers saw images of fur coats hanging on racks at Hudson's Bay with signs hung around them showing deep discounts.

"Whether it's fashion-driven or otherwise, it's certainly not the business it used to be a decade ago," said Barry Agnew, a Hudson's Bay vice president, when explaining the decision.

The company denied that pressure to forego fur from anti-fur activists had influenced its decision.

'Public opinion has spoken'

The anti-fur lobby, however, saw a hard-fought victory that had come from pushing for ordinary Canadians to change their minds on fur.

Claire Flewitt said a decision by Hudson's Bay to leave the fur business was not a surprise, given a shift in opinion about furs among consumers in the United States and Europe. (The National/CBC Archives)

"It's clearly an indication that public opinion has spoken loudly and clearly," said Liz White of Animal Alliance, in remarks printed in the Toronto Star.

Animal advocate Claire Flewitt told The National "it was just a matter of time" for such a decision to occur, given a changing tide of public opinion in the United States and Europe.

The Bay's decision also meant a smaller retail market for the 100,000-plus people who still made a living from the fur trade.

Trapper Bill Abercrombie told The National the decision "makes it hard for a trapper to remain optimistic, to see 300 years of tradition go down the drain."

Yet sales at Hudson's Bay accounted for just a small portion of the overall fur market in Canada at the time of the company's decision to make an exit.

Del Haylock of the Fur Council of Canada told The Canadian Press that Canada had seen an estimated $350 million in retail fur sales over a recent 12-month period. Sales by Hudson's Bay totalled $7 million in the previous year, according to the council.