When a prestigious New York City-based publishing house contacted Winnipeg journalist Mark Reid last year – they explained they were looking for a Canadian writer with a background in history and a special interest in the Hudson’s Bay Company.
What Assouline books didn’t know was that our friend is a published author and the editor-in-chief of Canada’s History magazine which, fittingly, was first launched in 1920 as an internal Hudson’s Bay Company newsletter called The Beaver.
“They were asking if I knew anyone who could do the job,” Reid says with a laugh from his Winnipeg home.
Of course, Reid was a shoe in. Shortly after this phone conversation – and along with Vanity Fair’s Canadian-born editor Graydon Carter and HBC’s corporate historian Joan K. Murray – Reid would find himself creating the text for the newly-released “Hudson’s Bay Company,” which covers more than 300 years of the corporation’s history.
“This is a different type of book. It’s very high concept. It’s about letting images, archival paintings and photographs, speak for themselves – sumptuous images from the entire gamut of HBC’s history. Beautiful spreads showing everything from far flung fur trading outposts where men are bartering over the price of fox pelts to glamorous shots of high society balls at Toronto’s Hudson’s Bay headquarters,” Reid tells us.
“In the end, we wanted to put together a book that captured the essence of the business but also of the Hudson’s Bay Company’s connection to Canadians,” says Reid.
“Imagine early Canadian travellers after a long, dusty journey by horse. Seeing that towering stone building when they arrived in town. Back then, HBC buildings were considered skyscrapers and the architecture of these stores was phenomenal. Your jaw would drop when you saw all the ‘luxury’ items. Think of the women saying ‘Look Ralph, we don’t have to darn our socks.’ Or, ‘Look at that beautiful fabric. I can make myself a dress.’ These are touchstone moments in our history.”
Given the store’s iconic place in Canada’s history (some will argue there wouldn’t be a Canada without it) and its place in the hearts of Canadians everywhere (who doesn’t get all sentimental when they’re curled up beneath one of the company’s signature Point Blankets?) – Assouline’s take on the HBC will be a welcome addition to personal libraries everywhere.
How about you? What comes to mind when you think of the Hudson’s Bay Company? Any personal stories or anecdotes you care to share with us? Best comment wins his or her own copy (courtesy of Assouline) of what promises to be a much-coveted book! Contest ends November 2/11.
***Contest update: Congrats to Vanessa for her great anecdote about “Stripey” – her favourite fort-building blanket that happened to be one of the first items her parents bought when they emigrated to Canada. And thanks to all of our commenters. What a great and varied response!!! We hope to see you back on our pages soon.