Why some folks feel weird about Hudson's Bay blankets

To kick off the second season of The Secret Life of Canada, co-hosts Falen Johnson and Leah-Simone Bowen dive into the contentious history of an iconic blanket.
The Secret Life of Canada dives into the history of The Hudson’s Bay Company and unpacks the very complicated story of their iconic striped blanket. (Evan Aagard/CBC)

Why would anyone frown at a warm and fuzzy blanket? 

For many, the Hudson's Bay Company blanket — with its familiar red, green, yellow and indigo stripes — is as iconic as the maple leaf. The classic design, originally commissioned in 1780, is a beloved staple in many Canadian homes. 

But the same blanket is chilling to some Indigenous people for reasons dating back just as far. 

To kick off the second season of The Secret Life of Canada — an unconventional podcast about the country you know and the stories you don't — co-hosts Falen Johnson and Leah-Simone Bowen explore the disputed and contentious story of a Canadian icon. 

The Bay Blanket. These warm blankets are as iconic as Mariah Carey's lip-syncing, but some people believe they were used to spread smallpox and decimate entire Indigenous communities. We dive into the history of The Hudson's Bay Company and unpack the very complicated story of the iconic striped blanket. For books and films referenced in this episode please visit our website at cbc.ca/secretlifeofcanada 37:20

What you'll hear this episode:

  • A brief history of the Hudson's Bay Company, North America's oldest company.
  • Historians and researchers James Daschuk and Carolyn Podruchny and writer, activist and Elder Dr. Duke Redbird on the effects of the fur trade and the history of the HBC blanket.
  • What to do when your boss makes you eat moss.
  • An inquiry into the rumoured "smallpox blanket" and the troubling case of Fort Pitt.
  • A debate: eating while shopping? Gross or great? 
  • What early settlers had in common with the cast of Floribama Shore.

References: 

  • The Other Side of the Ledger: An Indian View of the Hudson's Bay Company. A National Film Board documentary featuring Dr. Duke Redbird, produced by the historic Indian Film Crew.
  • Clearing the Plains: Disease, Politics of Starvation, and the Loss of Aboriginal Life. A book by historian and researcher James Daschuk.​
  • Making the Voyageur World: Travelers and Traders in the North American Fur Trade. A book by professor and Historian Carolyn Podruchny.​
  • A Brief History of HBC. A short historical overview of Hudson's Bay Company by HBC Heritage, an internal department of the Hudson's Bay Company. 
  • The Secret Life of The North. An earlier episode of The Secret Life of Canada referenced in this episode. 

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