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The Remarkable History of the Hudson's Bay Company

A great land Company—Fort Garry dismantled—The new buildings —New v. Old—New life in the Company—Palmy days are recalled —Governors of ability—The present distinguished Governor— Vaster operations—Its eye not dimmed.

Relieved of the burden of government, the Hudson's Bay Company threw itself heartily into the work of developing its resources. Mr. Donald A. Smith, who had done so much to undermine the power of Riel, returned to Manitoba as Chief Commissioner of the Company, and proceeded to manage its affairs in the altered conditions of the country. Representing enormous interests in the North-West, Mr. Smith entered the first local legislature at Winnipeg, and soon after became for a time a member of the Canadian House of Commons. One of the most important matters needing attention was the land interests of the Company. The Company claimed five hundred acres around Fort Garry. This great tract of land, covering now one of the most important parts of the City of Winnipeg, was used as a camping-ground, where the traders from the far west posts, even as far as Edmonton, made their "corrals" and camped during their stay at the capital. Some opposition was developed to this claim, but the block of land was at length handed over to the Company, fifty acres being reserved for public purposes.

The allotment of wild land to the Company of one-twentieth went on in each township as it was surveyed, and though all this land is taxable, yet it has become a great source of revenue to the Company. Important sites and parcels of land all over the country have helped to swell its resources.

Hudson's Bay Company Warehouse and Offices in Winnipeg

The great matter of adapting its agencies to meet the changed conditions of trade was a difficult thing. The methods of two centuries could not be changed in a day. The greatest difficulty lay in the officers and men remote from the important centres. It was reported that in many of the posts no thorough method of book-keeping prevailed. The dissatisfaction arising from the sale made by the Company in 1863, and the uncertainty as to the deed poll, no doubt introduced an element of fault-finding and discontent into the Company's business. Some of the most trusted officers retired from the service. The resources of the Company were, however, enormous, its credit being practically unlimited, and this gave it a great advantage in competing with the Canadian merchants coming to the country, the majority of whom had little capital. Ten years after the transfer Fort Garry was sold, and though it came back on the hands of the Company, yet miserabile dictu the fort had been dismantled, thrown down, and even the stone removed, with the exception of the front gate, which still remains. This gate, with a portion of ground about it, has been given by the Hudson's Bay Company to the City of Winnipeg as a small historic park. Since the time of sale, large warehouses have been erected, not filled, as were the old shops, with bright coloured cloths, moccasins, and beads, fitted for the Indian and native trade, but aiming at full departments after the model of Maple and Shoolbred, of the mother city of London. These shops are represented in the plate accompanying this description.

The trade thus modified has been under the direction of men of ability, who succeeded Mr. Donald A. Smith, such as Messrs. Wrigley, Brydges, and a number of able subordinates. The extension of trade has gone on in many of the rising towns of the Canadian West, where the Hudson's Bay Company was not before represented, such as Portage La Prairie, Calgary, Lethbridge, Prince Albert, Vancouver, &c. In all these points the Company's influence has been a very real and important one.

The methods of trade, now employed, require a skill and knowledge never needed in the old fur-trading days. The present successful Commissioner, C. C. Chipman, Esq., resident in Winnipeg, controls and directs interests far greater than Sir George Simpson was called upon to deal with. Present and Past presents a contrast between ceaseless competition and a sleepy monopoly.

The portions of the country not reached, or likely to be reached by settlement, have remained in possession of the Hudson's Bay Company almost solely. The Canadian Government has negotiated treaties with the Indians as far north as Lake Athabasca, leaving many of the Chipewyans and Eskimos still to the entire management of the Company.

The impression among the officers of the Company is that under the deed poll of 1871 they are not so well remunerated as under the former regime. It is difficult to estimate the exact relation of the present to the past, inasmuch as the opening up of the country, the improvement of transportation facilities, and the cheapening of all agricultural supplies has changed the relative value of money in the country. Under this arrangement, which has been in force for twenty-four years, the profits of the wintering partners are divided on the basis of one-hundredth of a share. Of this an inspecting chief factor receives three shares; a chief factor two and a half; a factor two; and a chief trader one and a half shares. The average for the twenty-five years of the one-hundredth share has been 213l. 12s. 2½d. Since 1890 a more liberal provision has been made for officers retiring, and since that time an officer on withdrawing in good standing receives two years' full pay and six years' half pay. Later years have seen a further increase.

A visit to the Hudson's Bay House on the corner of Leaden-hall and Lime Streets, London, still gives one a sense of the presence of the old Company. While in the New World great changes have taken place, and the visitor is struck with the complete departure from the low-ceiling store, with goods in disorder and confusion, with Metis smoking "kinni-kinnik " till the atmosphere is opaque—all this to the palatial buildings with the most perfect arrangements and greatest taste; yet in London "the old order changeth" but slowly. It is true the old building on Fenchurch Street, London, where "the old Lady" was said by the Nor'-Westers to sit, was sold in 1859, and the proceeds divided among the shareholders and officers for four years thereafter. But the portraits of Prince Rupert, Sir George Simpson, and the copy of the Company Charter were transferred bodily to the directors' room in the building on Lime Street. The strong room contains the same rows of minutes, the same dusty piles of documents, and the journals of bygone years, but the business of a vast region is still managed there, and the old gentlemen who control the Hudson's Bay Company affairs pass their dividends as com-fortably as in years gone by, with, in an occasional year, some restless spirit stirring up the echoes, to be promptly repressed and the current of events to go on as before.

Since 1871, however, it is easy to see that men of greater financial ability have been at the head of the councils of the Hudson's Bay Company, recalling the palmy days of the first operations of the Company. After five years' service, Sir Edmund Head, the first Governor under the new deed poll, gave way, to be followed for a year by the distinguished politician and statesman, the Earl of Kimberley. For five years thereafter, Sir Stafford Northcote, who held high Government office in the service of the Empire, occupied this position. He was followed for six years by one who has since gained a very high reputation for financial ability, the Rt. Hon. G. J. Goschen. Eden Colville, who seems to carry us back to the former generation—a man of brisk and alert mind, and singularly free from the prejudices and immobility of Governor Berens, the last of the barons of the old regime—held office for -three years after Mr. Goschen.

For the last ten years the veteran of kindly manner, warm heart, and genial disposition, Lord Strathcona and Mount Royal, has occupied this high place. The clerk, junior officer, and chief factor of thirty hard years on the inhospitable shores of Hudson Bay and Labrador, the Commissioner who, as Donald A. Smith, soothed the Riel rebellion, and for years directed the reorganization of the Company's affairs at Fort Garry and the whole North-West, the daring speculator who took hold, with his friends, of the Minnesota and Manitoba Railway, and with Midas touch turned the enterprise to gold, a projector and a builder of the Canadian Pacific Railway, the patron of art and education, has worthily filled the office of Governor of the Hudson's Bay Company, and with much success reorganized its administration and directed its affairs. The Company's operations are vaster than ever before. The greatest mercantile enterprise of the Greater Canada west of Lake Superior; a strong land Company, still keeping up its traditions and conducting a large trade in furs; owning vessels and transportation facilities; able to take large contracts; exercising a fatherly care over the Indian tribes; the helper and assistant of the vast missionary organizations scattered over Northern Canada, the Company since the transfer of Rupert's Land to Canada has taken a new lease of life; its eye is not dim, nor its natural force abated.

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