HUDSON BAY COMPANY and the FUR TRADE..

Information from the curator, Joan Murray, of the HBC historical dept in Toronto.

In 1994 HBC donated its archival records to the province of Manitoba Archives where they comprise the HBC Archives collection (HBCA). If you are looking for information about former staff you will need to contact HBCA directly. You should provide the full names of your nephews, when they may have worked for the London Office and when you think they came to Canada. I am assuming that you believe they came to Canada to continue working for HBC.

You can reach HBCA at:

HBC Archives
200 Vaughan St.
Winnipeg, MB R3C 1T5
Tel. : 204-945-4949
Fax: 204-948-3236
URL: www.gov.mb.ca/chc/archives/hbca/ Email: hbca@gov.mb.ca

January 2010 email response:

Thank you for your inquiry dated 6 December 2009 regarding information on Stephen James Lyons and James M. Lyons and I apologize for the delay in response.

 I have searched several sources for information related to these individuals including: biographical sheets; HBCA index of names (which includes indexed employee information); the HBCA photograph card catalogue index in the reference room; HBCA RG3/41A Fur Trade Department general personnel dossiers; and other personnel records including HBCA A.102/2833a-3056, A.92/37/1-39 British Apprentice correspondence files, A.102/147-208 British Apprentice Dossiers, RG3/40C/1-2 and RG3/40D/1-2 Staff Records of Service, but have been unable to find any information on these particular members of the Lyons family.

 If you are able to uncover any additional specific information regarding their employment with the HBC (for example what position either men held, exact location of employment) we may be able to do a more concentrated search in a particular district or department’s records. Conversely, as the HBCA is only able to conduct a limited amount of research for remote inquiries, you may also be interested in hiring a local researcher to look into your question in more depth. Below is a link to a list of researchers available on a fee-for-service basis. The Archives of Manitoba and Hudson's Bay Company Archives do not recommend individual researchers, nor can we accept any form of responsibility for their performance. Inquiries concerning services and charges should be addressed directly to the researcher of your choice.

If you have any other questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

 

Further correspondence received by JL:from the HBC archivist
As for your first question, as a skin broker or dealer you grandfather was essentially a client of HBC's in London. The fur business - from its inception - has always been 2 businesses. The first and better known involves the acquisition of furs. It is this end of the business that is so intertwined with the history of Canada and includes the exploration and development of this country by the French and English. From the early days of course this business involved the exchange of consumer goods such as knives, blankets, beads etc. for pelts. In the 20th c. the acquisitions of furs evolved into a cash business whereby trappers were paid cash for furs either through straight sale or on consignment.

The other business is what I like to call the retail fur trade. Until the 20th c. furs were shipped to London for eventual auction. In the 20th c. Montreal (later Toronto) and New York were also locales of the retail fur trade. At HBC this business was an entirely separate entity with its own corporate structures, processes and clients. Typically raw furs were (if need be) prepared, graded and sold at auction in lots of similar size and quality. Brokers or dealers would attend auctions which were usually held twice a year over several days. Beaver House, which formerly stood on Garlick Hill in the City, was purpose built and opened as HBC's London HQ and fur auction house in 1924. It was famous for its huge auction hall lit with large windows with a preferred northern exposure, the better to allow for natural light to assist with the inspection of the goods on offer. Beaver House was torn down and the site redeveloped in 1987. Today it is home to the London head office of the Royal Bank of Canada.

beaverhall

This area of London is the traditional hart of the fur trade and remains so today. A few blocks away - down Skinners Lane - is the home of the Skinners Livery Company - one of the original London Guilds whose mission today is largely one of charitable good works but which, in its day, served as a sort of industry organization for people involved in all aspects of the fur trade - from acquisition to processing to sales. A broker such as your grandfather would have acquired furs from HBC or any other number of sources and functioned as a middleman selling them on to others who more than likely would have been the ones fashioning the furs into their final finished products. Today's furs travel all over the world. Europe is no longer the major finisher of furs into retail goods: that role has been assumed by China, India and Russia.

Montreal was the centre of the Fur Trade Dept. of HBC for many years. All new recruits to that part of the service were sent there to the Fur Trade School for training. (http://www.hbc.com/hbcheritage/collections/oralhistory/audiotranscript/default.asp#Jean) In 1924 the Eastern Buying Agency and Fur Trade Buying Office was reorganized and amalgamated under the designation Montreal Wholesale Department. Offices were housed at 56 McGill St., with Wholesale on the ground floor, Fur Trade Office on the 2nd floor and new Fur Sales Office on the 3rd floor. In 1949 HBC opened its Auction House in Montreal at 465 Dorchester Blvd. This is Company's first auction house outside of London.

 

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