HBC Trading Posts in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia


HBC Trading Posts in Canada

From 1670 until 1987, the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) operated hundreds of trading posts in various parts of Canada and the northwestern US. During the fur trade, Indigenous trappers visited trading posts to exchange furs for valued goods produced by Europeans, including metal objects, weapons and glass beads. In 1870, the HBC’s vast territory of northern wilderness (see Rupert’s Land and North-Western Territories) was transferred to the Canadian government, and the HBC gradually transitioned from a fur trading company to a retail establishment. The HBC maintained posts in Northern Canada, however, until 1987. Some settlements that remained in and around the old trading posts developed into cities, such as Winnipeg (Fort Garry), Edmonton (Fort Edmonton) and Victoria (Fort Victoria). Some First Nations that had established themselves near HBC posts also have names that reflect their fur trading history, including Fort Albany First Nation in Ontario and Fort McKay First Nation in Alberta.

HBC Trading Post near Kugluktuk

Terminology: Fur Trade Posts, Factories and Forts

A trading post was a place where manufactured goods from Europe were traded for furs harvested by Indigenous peoples. Some posts were also known as factories, such as Moose Factory in Ontario and York Factory on Hudson Bay. The chief trader of the area lived there and was known as the factor.

Some posts were also called forts because their architecture typically followed that of military fortifications. The nature of the fur trade was highly competitive and, at times, involved armed conflicts between competing companies. This necessitated a well-fortified post to protect the goods and the people within.

History of HBC Trading Posts

In 1670, King Charles II signed a charter that gave the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) complete control of a territory known as Rupert’s Land. The charter didn’t recognize the sovereignty of the Indigenous peoples that had occupied those lands for centuries. Consequently, fur trading posts and forts were established on Indigenous territory. Many of these lands were transferred to the federal government after the signing of various treaties with Indigenous peoples in the 19th and 20th centuries.

During its first 100 years in operation, the HBC established posts in and around James Bay and Hudson Bay. Fort Charles was the first HBC trading post, built in 1668 on lands of the James Bay Cree Nation of Waskaganish (see Cree and First Nations in Quebec). In 1774, the HBC expanded westward, creating more posts in what later became the provinces of Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta and British Columbia. The HBC’s first inland trading post, Fort Cumberland, was established in 1774 by Samuel Hearne in Saskatchewan.

Throughout the fur trade, the HBC competed fiercely with rival fur trading companies, such as the Montreal-based North West Company. ​ During global conflicts between England and France — such as King William’s War (1689–97), Queen Anne’s War (1702–13), King George’s War (1744–48) and the Seven Years’ War (1756–63) — fur trading posts and forts were attacked by enemy forces. The conflict between HBC and NWC came to a head during the Pemmican War (1812–21). The NWC and Métis traders opposed what they saw as an HBC monopoly on trade. The war ended in 1821, when the NWC merged with the HBC.

After having eliminated its competitors in the west, the HBC set its sights on Eastern Canada. While the HBC had asserted its claim to Labrador as early as 1752, it didn’t establish a fur trading post there until 1836, in Rigolet. Over the following decades, the HBC expanded its reach throughout Labrador and northern Quebec.

In 1870, the HBC surrendered its territory, including Rupert’s Land and the North-Western Territory, to the Canadian government. As white settlement spread north and west, the HBC intensified the northward push of the trade and eventually established enduring trade contacts with the Inuit. Fur traders moved into the Arctic territories of whalers, who had abandoned their posts as the whaling economy declined. Beginning in 1912, the HBC established a series of trading posts in Northern Canada.

Gradually, as the fur trade began to dwindle, the HBC shifted its focus from trading posts to retail shops. In the north, trading posts gradually expanded into general merchandising. In 1959, the company’s Fur Trade Department became the Northern Stores Department. By that point, the northern posts functioned as stores, selling general merchandise while retaining an interest in furs. The department operated more than 200 northern stores between 1959 and 1987, when they were bought out by a group of investors and senior management (the new company eventually operated as The North West Company).