A sailing ship; a magazine; a medal; a scholarship; a cookbook. Wondering what, if anything, these different items may have in common? Well, if you guessed it has something to do with the anniversary of the granting of HBC’s Royal Charter, you’d be right. We mark the passage of the years to track time, to link ourselves to our individual pasts and histories and to recognize longevity and accomplishments. And these reasons are all equally true for Hudson's Bay Company.
Flotilla on the Red River during the 250th Anniversary Celebrations of the Hudson's Bay Company, Winnipeg, May 3, 1920.
The year 1920 saw the Company reach its 250th anniversary. This occasion was marked by major celebrations both in England and in Canada. Governor Sir Robert Molesworth Kindersley visited Canada with his wife and family in order to participate in a series of events. The highlight of the tour was a ceremonial flotilla from Winnipeg down the Red River to Lower Fort Garry. Accompanied by natives in birchbark canoes and York boats, and witnessed by thousands of people lining the banks of the Red, the pageant was a memorable spectacle.
At this and other events across the country selected individuals received a specially commissioned anniversary medal. A total of 1560 medals were distributed. Made of bronze they depicted the coat of arms on one side with the legend “in commemoration of the 250th anniversary”. The reverse depicted the HBC flag surrounded by a wreath of maple leaves. Medals were again struck for the 300th anniversary in 1970 and distributed to every employee and shareholder. This medal, designed by Canadian sculptor Dora de Pedery-Hunt, depicted the sailing vessel Nonsuch on the obverse and the specially designed 1670/1970 anniversary logo on the reverse.
Commemorative medal, presented to staff on the 300th anniversary of Hudson’s Bay Company.
Cover of the first issue of The Beaver, October 1920.
The Beaver magazine was launched in 1920 as the Company’s first corporate newsletter – another way of marking the 250th anniversary. The inaugural issue of the publication, subtitled “A Journal of Progress”, featured a portrait of Governor Kindersley on its cover. Readers were eagerly invited to submit ideas for articles as well as gather local news from posts and stores for circulation. The first issue included a comprehensive round up of news about anniversary celebrations across the country. By 1934 The Beaver’s scope was expanded to become a “magazine of the North” and its appeal broadened to the wider public. In 1994 publication of The Beaver was turned over to Canada’s National History Foundation (CNHS). HBC remains a major sponsor of CNHS today.
In 1945 HBC established a series of scholarships. Awarded to four students, two in England for study in Canada, and two in Canada for study in England, the scholarships commemorated the Company’s 275th anniversary while encouraging academic excellence in administrative and commercial subjects.
The replica Nonsuch, 1970. Photo by Jim Flynn.
300th anniversary souvenirs, 1970
HBC’s 300th anniversary in 1970 saw several major events. Among these was the Royal visit of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to Canada and the last occurrence of the Rent Ceremony. In anticipation of the tercentenary HBC had commissioned the building of a replica of the sailing ketch Nonsuch, with a view to having the little ship visit Canada to participate in festivities. Launched in England in 1968, 300 years after the departure of her namesake for the Hudson Bay, the Nonsuch spent the following summer visiting south coast ports and sailing resorts. In 1970 she appeared at various venues in Eastern Canada before being shipped west. And later that year she was donated to the Manitoba Museum where she became the core of the museum’s HBC Collection. All sorts of anniversary merchandise, from models of the Nonsuch to posters and prints, were made available to the general public as well.
1995 silver dollar marking the 325th anniversary of the founding of the Hudson's Bay Company. Coin image © courtesy of the Royal Canadian Mint.
The most recent “significant” anniversary, the 325th, took place in 1995. This landmark was commemorated by the Royal Canadian Mint, which struck a silver dollar depicting Pierre-Esprit Radisson and Médart Chouart, Sieur des Groseillers. HBC also published a cookbook which was offered for sale to associates as well as the public. Over the years individual stores have found interesting ways to mark the Company’s birthday as well – from giving a one pound birthday cake to anyone sharing the May 2nd birthday to presenting a full layette to the first baby born in a particular city on that day.