When a retail company is more than 300 years old it is only natural to expect that it has accepted many different methods of payment throughout its history. Hudson’s Bay Company was chartered before there was a country called Canada. Neither coins nor paper money existed in the wilderness that became known as Rupert’s Land. Instead, trade was based upon a “supply and demand” economy.
"Trading at an inland HBC post in the 1840s" from Ballantyne's Hudson Bay, 1848
The residents of Rupert’s Land were experts at trapping and preparing furs (used in the latest European fashions) and HBC’s “adventurers” had products of the Industrial Revolution in ready supply. By 1748 Beaver pelts were the recognized “Standard of Trade” or the equivalent of money. Trade goods as well as all other furs were evaluated against 1 beaver pelt. For instance 1 beaver pelt purchased a pound of black lead, or two pounds of sugar. Two marten pelts, however, were required as the equivalent of one beaver pelt. In the Pacific Northwest, in places like Fort Langley, B.C., the abundance of salmon made it a natural means of exchange. A trade tariff dating from 1829 gives the price of various trade goods in numbers of fish.
As the western areas of North America became settled and permanent communities arose, a cash economy evolved. This development went hand in hand with HBC’s transition from a fur trading company to a retail enterprise. Again, Fort Langley provides a typical example. The Fraser Gold Rush began in 1857. At the time Langley was the only settlement of any size in the area and naturally became an important staging area supplying miners’ needs. Foodstuffs, gear and prospecting licences, the latter at $5 per head, were sold to the miners for cash – thus beginning the trend away from a barter-based economy. Chief Factor James Douglas reported in 1858:
A considerable cash business is now carried on at Fort Langley, the sales are averaging about $1500 a day. The articles sold are principally Flour, Bacon and Beans, and mining tools which we import form San Francisco, together with blankets and woollen clothing …
HBC trade tokens, ca. 1946
Convenience for both retailer and customer has always been a key component of HBC’s service delivery. As a result cash-based business led naturally to credit-based business. Henry Morgan & Company of Montreal was offering credit sales to their best customers by the late 19th century – along with quarterly payment options. Meanwhile posts in the far north servicing the fur trade developed their own currency – fur trade tokens. Trappers could bring in all their pelts for exchange at a single time and receive any “change” in trade tokens applicable to subsequent purchases. Tokens were issued by various districts in various denominations, e.g. ½, 1, 2, 5 beaver pelts. Credit accounts, complete with first generation “charge plates”, were widely available by the mid 1960s. Gift certificates, essentially a form of prepaid currency, were the next type of tender to be accepted by HBC and grew to be very popular with customers. Today this trend of changing with the times continues with the introduction of the HBC Gift Card.
2005 HBC Gift Card with a wedding themed design
Available at any of the Hudson’s Bay Company family of stores – Hudson's Bay, Home Outfitters and hbc.com. – and as a redemption reward in the HBC Rewards loyalty program, the HBC Gift Card replaces pre-denominated paper gift certificates. The HBC Gift Card works like a debit card that can be loaded and re-loaded at any time with any amount from $5.00 to $1500.00. The HBC Gift Card is part of HBC’s ongoing mission to meet the majority of Canadians needs by providing customers seamless access to a spectrum of retail formats carrying over 60% of what they shop for everyday. It is another element in HBC’s strategy to link the customer with the HBC family of stores, enabling an easier, more pleasant shopping experience. With the introduction of the Gift Card program, HBC continues its historic tradition of changing to meet the demands of the marketplace – and accepting “ the right currency for the right time”.