On May 2, 1670, King Charles II granted a charter to the “Merchant Adventurers of England trading into Hudson’s Bay,” which came to be known as the Hudson’s Bay Company. It was a momentous charter in the history of Canada.
The head of the company was the king’s cousin, Prince Rupert, who rated in warfare as Bobby Hull, Gordie Howe and Wayne Gretzky do in hockey. He would go into battle clad in scarlet, adorned with silver lace, and mounted on a black Arabian charger. He was also a good mathematician, understood chemistry and made gunpowder. The trading area granted to the Hudson’s Bay Company was known as Rupert’s Land, which extended from Labrador to the Rocky Mountains (although the Rockies had not then been seen by white men).
The company was given absolute power to control the fur trade, rule the inhabitants, make laws and even go to war. Its duties included finding the Northwest Passage to China, gold, silver and anything precious. It was not required to bring in settlers, or try to convert Indians to Christianity, as was the Company of New France. In fact, 100 years passed before a priest went to the trading posts.
There was a condition that if the king visited the area he must be given two black elks and two black beaver skins. These were given to King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they visited Winnipeg in 1939.
The company nearly always made a good profit, sometimes as high as 200 percent in a single year, but it had its lean years as well, especially when it was in competition with the Northwest Company, a rivalry that came close to civil war.
The activities of the company were also challenged by France. In October, only a few months after it had been formed, Intendant Talon sent a mission to Hudson Bay where the Le Moyne brothers of Montreal captured the Hudson’s Bay Company posts. The most famous Le Moyne of them all, Iberville, won the biggest naval victory in French history in Hudson Bay.
Despite the opposition, the Hudson’s Bay Company was a major force in the development of Canada.
The birth of Hudson’s Bay Company is such an important part of Canada, that I am sure some of you will want to read more about it. So, a few places to start looking is CBC Learning – a People’s History; BC Heritage – Family Album; The Government of Manitoba website; Canada History.com; from the University of Alberta – Hudson’s Bay Company: Incorporated 2nd May 1670: A brief history; and The Canadian Encyclopedia.