From the Ar­chives

Canada's History - - CONTENTS - — Phil Koch

On the hunt for a his­toric Hud­son Bay is­land, plus more sto­ries from the Spring 1971 is­sue of The Beaver.

The Spring 1971 is­sue of The Beaver be­gins with two ar­ti­cles about the an­i­mal that was the im­pe­tus for the Cana­dian fur trade and thereby for the mag­a­zine’s pub­lisher, Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany. The first ar­ti­cle, “Cas­tor the Beaver: A Mis­cel­lany,” quotes trader, ex­plorer, and sur­veyor David Thomp­son as say­ing that be­fore Euro­peans ar­rived the land was “in the pos­ses­sion of two dis­tinct races of be­ings, Man and the Beaver.” Of­ten-fan­ci­ful his­toric il­lus­tra­tions of com­mu­ni­ties of beavers, and care­fully made pho­to­graphs of the an­i­mals in their habi­tat, are ac­com­pa­nied by fac­tual in­for­ma­tion, his­tor­i­cal im­pres­sions, and re­ports of en­coun­ters, such as from the May 13, 1966, edi­tion of the Hal­i­fax Chron­i­cle Her­ald, which re­ported: “A lo­cal woman to­day killed a forty-pound beaver in the field near her home, after it at­tacked her.”

An ar­ti­cle by an­thro­pol­o­gist Charles F. Merbs tells of the 1631 jour­ney in Hud­son Bay by Luke Foxe in search of the North­west Pas­sage. Foxe named a small is­land in hon­our of his bene­fac­tor, Sir Thomas Rowe, but its lo­ca­tion eluded fu­ture ex­plor­ers. Merbs’ ar­ti­cle also doc­u­ments his own 1967 trip the same area with the hope of iden­ti­fy­ing the is­land upon which Foxe had landed. After a process of elim­i­na­tion, Merbs con­cluded that it was the is­land Si­lu­miut, which con­tains many his­toric Inuit graves.

“The Years of No Div­i­dend,” by K.G. Davies, ex­plains twenty-eight years early in the his­tory of Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany — from 1690 to 1718 — when its stock­hold­ers, in­clud­ing King Wil­liam, re­ceived no pay­ments. After in­vest­ing most of its early prof­its in forts, trad­ing posts, ships, and goods, the com­pany had de­liv­ered fat div­i­dends be­tween 1688 and 1690. But war be­tween Eng­land and France, as well as a pro­longed de­pres­sion in the years after the large pay­outs, led to a div­i­dend freeze that his­to­rian Dou­glas MacKay called “an al­most un­par­al­leled ex­pe­ri­ence in any com­pany story!”

In the same is­sue, Terry Smythe tells of a con­tin­gent of Bud­dhist nuns who in 1791 trav­elled from Cey­lon to Mon­treal. From there they jour­neyed by ca­noe, ar­riv­ing the next sum­mer at Île-à-la-Crosse in what is now north­west Saskatchewan, where they founded a con­vent. Part of their jour­ney was made with trader and ex­plorer Alexander Mackenzie, for whom, Smythe spec­u­lates, the nuns’ “de­mands that the ca­noes be stopped thirteen times a day for prayers must have been ex­as­per­at­ing.”

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Top: Charles Joslin painted the Hud­son Bay is­land Si­lu­miut as it might have ap­peared to ex­plorer Luke Foxe in 1631. Mid­dle: The ob­verse and re­verse of the great seal on the Hud­son’s Bay Com­pany’s char­ter. The seal was some­times used as se­cu­rity for...

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