A Mini History Lesson: Hudson’s Bay Company

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Blacksmiths Only PleaseI’ve never really been much into Canadiana, but I seem to have a knack for locating vintage Hudson’s Bay Company wares. This knack of mine has stirred in me an interest in Canadian history that has laid quite dormant since Grade 4 Social Studies.

I’ve yet to discover vast stores of 19th century furs, or anything on that level, but I have amassed quite a collection of 20th century Hudson’s Bay wool and fur coats. When I had the opportunity to visit the original Hudson’s Bay Company fort earlier this week, I surprised myself at how excited I was. The Fort Langley National Heritage Site is the very spot where the Hudson’s Bay Company built its first trading post out here, and it eventually led to the proclamation of British Columbia as a Crown Colony of Britain in 1858.

HBC BarrelsnameplacesStore RoomBoth the servants’ residences and the main house are outfitted with antique furnishings, and more Hudson’s Bay blankets than you can imagine. If you have a heart for rustic decor, you might begin scheming up ways to move in to the place. I was starting to picture myself hiding the family inside barrels in the attic, waiting for the last employee to leave, then raiding the veggie garden and cuddling up in those HBC blankets. I’m like, really into those blankets.

HBC BlanketsHBC BlanketpotatoesThe furrier’s building was quite fascinating. I’m slightly embarrassed to say that the treasure hunter in me was making a quick tally of the value of all the furs and antique point blankets in there. Then I noticed the cameras and security devices… pah, how terribly inauthentic!

FurrierHBC BlanketsWhile the salmon and cranberries that were harvested here were sent to Alaska and California, the furs were sent to Europe. The beaver pelts were the most coveted, and if you’ve ever snuggled in to a beaver fur coat, you’ll appreciate part of the reason why. Traders needed to bring several minks, or a sizable salmon catch if they wanted a beaver pelt.

Taxidermy Beaver BearOver in the corner, they had some weaving and leather goods on display. Here I am, looking at styles that are 150 years old, and thinking about how I would go absolutely bonkers if I could have them to wear today. Alas, I had left all my pelts in the car and had nothing to trade.

boots
zodiacAnd thus, my love for vintage Canadian clothing was rekindled. The Bay, as we call it in the now-times, is where we go for TopShop, Proenza Schouler, and KitchenAid mixers. Much has changed in 150 years, but you can still get those classic Hudson’s Bay blankets, and modern styles inspired by the days of yore. Me, I’m partial to the old stuff.
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