The Hudson's Bay Company was founded in 1670 by Prince Rupert, a cousin of the English King Charles II, who had earned distinction through a number of military victories during the English Civil War, for Charles I. He became a member of the royal court when Charles II returned to England.
In 1665, a pair of Frenchmen showed up at the royal court. Pierre Radisson and Médard des Groseilliers had gone on a hunting trip north of Lake Superior. When they got back they had over 100 canoes full of furs.
However, they hadn't obtained a permit from the French authorities, and when they got back the furs were confiscated, and the two were fined.
They said to themselves, "Screw these French bastards," except they said it in French. They decided to work for the English, and headed off to London to convince the King.
The King was reluctant, but Prince Rupert thought it was a grand idea, and convinced him to help out on an expedition. It did well enough that the King granted the Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) a charter on May 2, 1670, giving it exclusive trading rights in all territory which had rivers flowing into Hudson Bay.
That's a *lot* of territory. They had no idea how much there actually was, as no one even reached the Rocky Mountains until (soon to be Sir) Alexander Mackenzie in 1793.
The man put in charge of the company's operations in Canada was Charles Bayley, who sailed there with Radisson to establish the company's first trading post, Fort York, on the shore of the bay.
Radisson and des Groseilliers defected back to the French in 1674, although Radisson came back in 1683 when the French decided to impound some more furs of his. This seems to piss him off.
The young company did well, trading items such as pots and pans and other metal tools for furs with various members of the First Nations. However, profits soon plummeted due to fighting between the French and the English.
French and English ships fought for the company's forts, with the French doing fairly well. In 1713, the French and English signed the Treaty of Utrecht, which determined, amongst other things, exactly who could trap for fur where in Canada. The HBC was allowed to keep all the land originally given to them by Charles II.
Business was brisk until the Seven Years War broke out in 1756.
However, Britain won the battle on the Plains of Abraham, and the French ceded New France to the control of the British. Well, the Hudson's Bay Company no longer had to worry about the French army. What they did have to worry about was a bunch of now out-of-work French people. A bunch of them got together and founded the North West Company, based out of Montreal, in the 1770's.
Competition was fierce, and both companies were forced to expand westward. It was this that enticed Alexander Mackenzie to find the Pacific Ocean, as well as most of Canada between Manitoba and the Pacific. Both sides also fought dirty, with forts burned, and some people killed. In the end, however, the HBC won out, because it was more established and had a better route to get the furs to Europe, via the bay as opposed to the St. Lawrence River.
The HBC merged with the North West Company in 1821, absorbing all their assets, and ending the feud which was driving them both broke. At the same time, the British Parliament gave them control of the rest of the land stretching west, all the way to the Pacific.
In 1867, the British Parliament passed a little bill called the British North American Act. It didn't do all that much. Oh, except bring into being the coolest country of them all. At the time, the HBC still owned all the land originally given to them, which included the northern halves of present day Quebec and Ontario, and all the land west of there.
The Canadian government didn't want the Americans taking the territory to the west of them, so they petitioned to get it themselves. The Hudson's Bay Company gave up their claims in these lands to the Dominion of Canada in exchange for some cash and some land throughout Canada. Queen Victoria approved The Deed of Surrender in 1870.
So, from that point onward, the Hudson's Bay Company became what we usually think of in a company. They weren't the only authority in the land, they just did business there.
It started selling its land to people settling in the area. It also supplied the settlers with stuff they'd need. They started changing from a collection of trading posts into a chain of retail stores. Most of its initial expansion was, for obvious reasons, to the west. The first stores were opened up in Winnipeg, Calgary, Vancouver, Edmonton, Victoria, and Saskatoon.
It stepped up to help supply British, French, and Russian troops with vitally needed fuel, ammunition, and food with the onset of World War I. During the war it lost a third of its almost 300 ship fleet.
It also helped out in the war effort during World War II, although not to that extent. After World War II, they started making some changes, the most major of which was the phasing out and selling off of most of its fur operations.
In 1960, they purchased Henry Morgan & Co, a chain which had stores in Quebec and Ontario. With that, they began their expansion into Eastern Canada. Around this time they also shortened the name of their retail stores to "The Bay." By 1979, they had become the country's largest retailer. They also had acquired controlling interest in two large retail chains. Simpsons was consolidated into the Bay's chain, and Zellers, whose stores kept their name.
Oh yes, and in 1970, they got the Royal Charter changed so that they could move their head office to Winnipeg, from London, England. They also stopped being required to present any visiting monarch with the hides of an elk and two beavers, their "rent" for the land granted to them.
Yes. This is Canada. We do run a lot of things on tradition. Deal with it.
Things haven't changed all that much since then. They're still the country's largest retailer. They've got stores all over the place, and they sell some pretty nice stuff.
There are 328 Zeller's stores, and over 100 The Bay locations in Canada.
Not nearly enough Hawaiian shirts, and other assorted going out to parties and getting drunk gear, but that's just my opinion. Of course, most of their stuff is geared to a market share a wee bit older than myself.