Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Keepers of the Record: The History of the Hudson's Bay Company Archives

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

Keepers of the Record: The History of the Hudson's Bay Company Archives

Article excerpt

Deidre Simmons, Keepers of the Record: The History of the Hudson's Bay Company Archives (Montreal & Kingston: McGill-Queen's University Press, 2007), xvi + 360pp. Cased. $80. ISBN 9780773532915.

Occupying over 3,000 metres of shelf space in the Manitoba Archives, the records of the Hudson's Bay Company constitute one of the largest collections in Canada, and certainly the one spanning the longest period. It is important to remember, as Deidre Simmons explains, that the collection is extensive but not necessarily exhaustive. The Company established its paper trails for its own purposes, not always those of historians. In addition to keeping accounts, good records helped defend the rights conferred by its founding charter of 1670 (challenged as early as 1684) and to resist disaffected employees: even Radisson sued them in 1694. The first minute book dates from 1671, and in the early years the London records were kept in an iron chest and carted around the coffee houses where the directors met. From 1683, Company posts were instructed to keep journals (sometimes lost) which could be used to rebut charges of exploitation of Natives. The Company settled in Fenchurch Street in 1696, but no attempt was made to organise its archives until 1796. The earliest map by an employee dates from 1708, but a cartographer was not appointed until 1778. Lord Selkirk's Red River Settlement added little to the collection, but the 1821 merger with the North-West Company incorporated the written memory of the Montreal traders. The Vancouver Island colony of 1849 and the transfer of sovereignty over Rupert's Land in 1869, generated documentation on land sales. …

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