A Nod to “The Bay”

New book toasts North America's oldest company

photo courtesy of the canadian canoe museum

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.

photo courtesy of assouline

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.

Comment here

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Lynn commented:

    Conjures up very fond memories of going to the Hudson Bay Restaurant with my Grandparents. Always a fun outing. The Bay was the only shop in town way back then in Kelowna. I think the same restaurant is still there, I’m going to have to go check that out.


  2. David Tetrault commented:

    It’s always the blanket, which comes in different weights. Blanket parkas look strange (with all due respect to those who own them). If you are ever have been in Montreal and saw the Morgan’s Store, you might have noticed that it was the same typestyle as The Bay uses. They owned this store. My grandmother shopped there. Of course the old Bay buildings are to Canada what the Fairmont castles are to the mountains. In a good way.


  3. Liz Tompkins commented:

    I can’t help it. The first thing I think of is their iconic blankets. I’ve never owned one or even used one but I love them and think if I were to ever own a log cabin the first thing I would buy would be a Bay blanket.


  4. Mark Reid commented:

    I can’t help but to be drawn to the centuries of history, and to think of the thousands of men and women who, over tens of decades, worked for the HBC, and step by slow step, built this country we call Canada.


    • toque & canoe commented:

      Nice to see you on our pages! And thanks for the great interview. I know you had a crazy busy week so we appreciate you making time. Of course, you don’t qualify for our contest because something tells me you already have a copy in hand. Cheers…


  5. Doug O'Neill commented:

    Two images spring to mind at the mere mention of Hudson’s Bay Co.:

    #1. Those rainbow-striped off-white winter coats.

    #2. And what my friends used to call “Scratch and sniff” days: those unforgettable scratch and save card discount Saturdays at the Bay in Toronto.



  6. B Fellows commented:

    When I was a kid it was the biggest department store in downtown Calgary and full of history from my Social Studies classes and the HB blankets and coats just just seemed to ooze that history. It was also a great place just to hang out on Saturday taking the #1 bus down from Parkdale. Best bacon and cheeseburger in town (after Woolworths shut down of course) at the cafeteria and the malt store they used to have, those were simply to die for. It just seemed to have everything including a big part of the country’s history, no other store offered that…..


  7. PATTI commented:

    Going downtown Montreal at Christmas to “Morgans” to see all the decorative department store windows. Always looked like a winter wonderland. Also the wonderful blanket coats (which always added at least 10 lbs) And last but not least Canada’s history fur trading and settling in desolate corners of Canada.


  8. Dave Neufeld commented:

    Bold, heroic adventurers crossing a rugged, unchartered continent in birch bark canoes and on sinew snowshoes at great personal risk and peril. All in the elusive yet highly rewarding search for a fat, buck-toothed rodent that made fine dams… and even better hats.


  9. Ron Fellows commented:

    When I was a kid the population of Calgary was less than 100,000 and there were few, if any, suburbs all of which are now called ‘inner city’. ‘The Bay’ was, and still is, one of the most attractive buildings in the city. I left Calgary in 1953, never returning to live but coming back almost every year since. On every visit I invariably go back to ‘The Bay’, I’m not really sure why, perhaps because it’s in a Calgarians DNA.


  10. Kelly commented:

    2 things come to mind:
    1. Great Grandfather was a Hudson’s Bay factor (based initially in Fort Macleod, Alberta)
    2. The Bay Teen Council (Victoria, BC store). Ah, the pride of my teens, being selected to be a member of the teen council, wearing my uniform proudly when I worked in the store on Saturdays (blazer and tartan skirt) and putting together the fashion shows in the store.


  11. Vanessa commented:

    My favourite memory of Hudson’s Bay Company is my family’s point blanket that I referred to as “Stripey” when I was young. It was one of the first things my parents bought when they first immigrated to Canada, one of the first family items I would repeatedly claim for myself when I was small in building forts and when we went up to our cottage, and one of the select items that has joined my family with each move around the world. It is a part of Canada’s fabric, and has become a part of my family’s as well.


  12. Elyse Mailhot commented:

    Hudson’s Bay? Cold apres-ski at the cabin, in front of the fireplace rapped in the amazing HB wool blanket. I will always remember how bad I felt when I spilled a glass of red wine on it. It was such a sad and very embarassing moment!!
    It also reminds me of a moment in my Canadian history class where I understood what trading meant.


  13. Tanya McFerrin commented:

    Hudson Bay Blankets….the coveted prize for attending summer camp for five full summers (8 weeks each) (if you were a boy….turned out the girls camp gift was a little throw pillow, hmm) So…I went to the camp director when I became aware of this huge discrepancy. No, no history of girls camp ever being given a Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket, and no, it wouldn’t be happening. At this point I went and bought my own, I had been envisioning having one in my possession for years. Starting camp at age 9 and attending for single sessions (4 weeks each), I had been so sure that this, my tenth summer, I too would have a Hudson’s Bay Blanket grace my bed. Years later when I married my summer camp canoe guide counterpart from boys camp I would finally receive a king-size Hudson’s Bay Blanket as a wedding gift from the boys camp director from long ago, the camp emblem stitched in heavy felt in the center of the blanket.


  14. Samantha Rideout commented:

    It’s funny — the HBC evokes connotations in me that are quite different than those described in other comments:
    I grew up in a small town where we had only Zellers, not the flagship store. I associate it with muzak, shopping for cheap underwear and the bored-looking faces of the employees.
    I remember being very surprised to learn in school of the company’s former land empire and role in history.


  15. Linda commented:

    The first thing that strikes me is the lovely familiar image of the Hudson’s Bay blanket on the cover of the book – as a weaver I appreciate the finishing process which not only softens the blanket but blurs the pattern images.

    I also appreciated the highlighted references Point Blankets – a mere click and the point blanket is defined and explored. And there are other interesting references such as Barry Friedman’s Chasing Rainbows: Collecting American Indian Trade & Camp Blankets published in 2002 (unfortunately now out of print). However, click onto his website (http://www.barryfriedmanblankets.com/) and feast your eyes on some other absolutely beautiful historical blankets.

    Thanks, Toque and Canoe, for a different kind of journey – one that is part of our Canadian history and one that sends us off into so many different directions.

    I look forward to reading The Hudson’s Bay Company and learning more about its birth and development in our country. Linda


Related Stories