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Trading on Hudson Bay

Gallery 1: Early Canada ⟶ Transatlantic Rivals ⟶ The Beaver Pelt

The beaver pelt was northeastern North America’s main contribution to Atlantic trade. French and English traders competed for access to this internationally valuable commodity.

In 1670, English investors received a royal charter for “The Company of Gentlemen Adventurers of England Trading into Hudson’s Bay” — the Hudson’s Bay Company. Rather than following the French strategy of establishing posts in the interior, the English chose to build company forts along the Hudson Bay coast and wait for Indigenous traders to bring furs to them. English traders in these remote forts might see one English ship a year. Theirs was a lonely, isolated life.


A Vital Link

Hudson’s Bay Company employees relied on the company’s ships to bring supplies. The musket side plate below names one such ship, the Seahorse.

Objects from Fort Severn
Fort Severn, Ontario, late 1600s to early 1700s


Simple Pleasures

Simple pleasures comforted lonely fur traders. The inscription inside the ring below — perhaps a sweetheart’s farewell present — comes from a Scottish love poem. It reads: “Love is all.”

Objects from Fort Severn
Fort Severn, Ontario, late 1600s to early 1700s


A Canadian Institution

The Hudson’s Bay Company is still in business, making it Canada’s oldest company. The branding in its department stores recalls its history. The company’s coat of arms, for example, appears on its packaging and advertising. The beavers and elk are a reminder of the terms of the 1670 charter: the company was to pay the king an annual rent in beaver and elk hides in return for its trading monopoly.


Note: This interactive feature is presented in the Canadian History Hall and is provided here online, as-is.


Interactive Feature

Charter of the Hudson’s Bay Company

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Photo at top of page:
Pipe, clay, GlIw-2:8
Fort Severn, Ontario, late 1600s to early 1700s