1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Hudson's Bay Company

HUDSON’S BAY COMPANY, or “the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay,” a corporation formed for the purpose of importing into Great Britain the furs and skins which it obtains, chiefly by barter, from the Indians of British North America. The trading stations of the Company are dotted over the immense region (excluding Canada proper and Alaska), which is bounded E. and W. by the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and N. and S. by the Arctic Ocean and the United States. From these various stations the furs are despatched in part to posts in Hudson Bay and the coast of Labrador for transportation to England by the Company’s ships, and in part by steamboat or other conveyances to points on the railways from whence they can be conveyed to Montreal, St John, N.B., or other Atlantic port, for shipment to London by Canadian Pacific Railway Company’s mail ships, or other line of steamers, to be sold at auction.

In the year 1670 Charles II. granted a charter to Prince Rupert and seventeen other noblemen and gentlemen, incorporating them as the “Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay,” and securing to them “the sole trade and commerce of all those seas, straits, bays, rivers, lakes, creeks and sounds, in whatsoever latitude they shall be, that lie within the entrance of the straits commonly called Hudson’s Straits, together with all the lands and territories upon the countries, coasts and confines of the seas, bays, &c., aforesaid, that are not already actually possessed by or granted to any of our subjects, or possessed by the subjects of any other Christian prince or state.” Besides the complete lordship and entire legislative, judicial and executive power within these vague limits (which the Company finally agreed to accept as meaning all lands watered by streams flowing into Hudson Bay), the corporation received also the right to “the whole and entire trade and traffic to and from all havens, bays, creeks, rivers, lakes and seas into which they shall find entrance or passage by water or land out of the territories, limits or places aforesaid.” The first settlements in the country thus granted, which was to be known as Rupert’s Land, were made on James Bay and at Churchill and Hayes rivers; but it was long before there was any advance into the interior, for in 1749, when an unsuccessful attempt was made in parliament to deprive the Company of its charter on the plea of “non-user,” it had only some four or five forts on the coast, with about 120 regular employés. Although the commercial success of the enterprise was from the first immense, great losses, amounting before 1700 to £217,514, were inflicted on the Company by the French, who sent several military expeditions against the forts. After the cession of Canada to Great Britain in 1763, numbers of fur-traders spread over that country, and into the north-western parts of the continent, and began even to encroach on the Hudson’s Bay Company’s territories. These individual speculators finally combined into the North-West Fur Company of Montreal.

The fierce competition which at once sprang up between the companies was marked by features which sufficiently demonstrate the advantages of a monopoly in commercial dealings with savages, even although it is the manifest interest of the monopolists to retard the advance of civilization towards their hunting grounds. The Indians were demoralized, body and soul, by the abundance of ardent spirits with which the rival traders sought to attract them to themselves; the supply of furs threatened soon to be exhausted by the indiscriminate slaughter, even during the breeding season, of both male and female animals; the worst passions of both whites and Indians were inflamed to their fiercest (see Red River Settlement). At last, in 1821, the companies, mutually exhausted, amalgamated, obtaining a licence to hold for 21 years the monopoly of trade in the vast regions lying to the west and north-west of the older company’s grant. In 1838 the Hudson’s Bay Company acquired the sole rights for itself, and obtained a new licence, also for 21 years. On the expiry of this it was not renewed, and since 1859 the district has been open to all.

The licences to trade did not of course affect the original possessions of the Company. Under the terms of the Deed of Surrender, dated November 19th, 1869, the Hudson’s Bay Company surrendered “to the Queen’s Most Gracious Majesty, all the rights of Government, and other rights, privileges, liberties, franchises, powers and authorities, granted or purported to be granted to the said Government and Company by the said recited Letters Patent of His Late Majesty King Charles II.; and also all similar rights which may have been exercised or assumed by the said Governor and Company in any parts of British North America, not forming part of Rupert’s Land or of Canada, or of British Columbia, and all the lands and territories within Rupert’s Land (except and subject as in the said terms and conditions mentioned) granted or purported to be granted to the said Governor and Company by the said Letters Patent,” subject to the terms and conditions set out in the Deed of Surrender, including the payment to the Company by the Canadian Government of a sum of £300,000 sterling on the transfer of Rupert’s Land to the Dominion of Canada, the retention by the Company of its posts and stations, with a right of selection of a block of land adjoining each post in conformity with a schedule annexed to the Deed of Surrender; and the right to claim in any township or district within the Fertile Belt in which land is set out for settlement, grants of land not exceeding one-twentieth part of the land so set out. The boundaries of the Fertile Belt were in terms of the Deed of Surrender to be as follows:—“On the south by the United States’ boundary; on the west by the Rocky Mountains; on the north by the northern branch of the Saskatchewan; on the east by Lake Winnipeg, the Lake of the Woods, and the waters connecting them,” and “the Company was to be at liberty to carry on its trade without hindrance, in its corporate capacity; and no exceptional tax was to be placed on the Company’s land, trade or servants, nor any import duty on goods introduced by them previous to the surrender.”

An Order in Council was passed confirming the terms of the Deed of Surrender at the Court of Windsor, the 23rd of June 1870.

In 1872, in terms of the Dominion Lands Act of that year, it was mutually agreed in regard to the one-twentieth of the lands in the Fertile Belt reserved to the Company under the terms of the Deed of Surrender that they should be taken as follows:—

“Whereas by article five of the terms and conditions in the Deed of Surrender from the Hudson’s Bay Company to the Crown, the said Company is entitled to one-twentieth of the lands surveyed into Townships in a certain portion of the territory surrendered, described and designated as the Fertile Belt.

“And whereas by the terms of the said deed, the right to claim the said one-twentieth is extended over the period of fifty years, and it is provided that the lands comprising the same shall be determined by lot, and whereas the said Company and the Government of the Dominion have mutually agreed that with a view to an equitable distribution throughout the territory described, of the said one-twentieth of the lands, and in order further to simplify the setting apart thereof, certain sections or parts of sections, alike in numbers and position in each township throughout the said Territory, shall, as the townships are surveyed, be set apart and designated to meet and cover such one-twentieth:

“And whereas it is found by computation that the said one-twentieth will be exactly met, by allotting in every fifth township two whole sections of 640 acres each, and in all other townships one section and three quarters of a section each, therefore—

“In every fifth Township in the said Territory; that is to say: in those townships numbered 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50 and so on in regular succession northerly from the International boundary, the whole of sections Nos. 8 and 26, and in each and every of the other townships the whole of section No. 8, and the south half and north-west quarter of section 26 (except in the cases hereinafter provided for) shall be known and designated as the lands of the said Company.”

See G. Bryce, Remarkable History of the Hudson’s Bay Company (London, 1900); and A. C. Laut, Conquest of the great Northwest; being the story of the adventurers of England known as Hudson’s Bay Co. (New York, 1909).