Webquest: HBC

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  • is considered to be the oldest known textile.
  • is a textile that is produced by matting, condensing and pressing fibers together. Felt can be made of natural fibers such as wool, or from synthetic fibers such as acrylic.


Textile is a major component of material culture. It may be viewed as the products of technology, as cultural symbols, as works of art, or as items of trade. The textile arts are a fundamental human activity, expressing symbolically much of what is valuable in any culture.

Textiles have been used in almost every possible context where their properties are useful. 




Felt in the West

Little is known about felting in Europe prior to the Middle Ages. Felt was generally a low status fabric used for men's hats, saddle covers, and the linings of helmets. When Charles VII of France wore a beaver felt hat in 1449 after defeating the English at the Battle of Rouen, such hats became so popular (and an indication of a wearer's social status) that by the late 1500s beavers were extinct in Western Europe. This led to the development of the North American fur trade by British and French explorers and settlers.

To improve the felting properties of beaver fur, pelts were soaked with a mercury compound before the hair was cut from the skin. The mercury evaporated during hat making and was inhaled by the hatters, causing damage to their nervous systems that eventually resulted in madness. This is the origin of the term "mad as a hatter."

Hats were so much a part of life that, by the 1820s, there were over 200 hat manufacturing companies in London alone. Beaver felt hats declined in popularity at about that time, but until the 1950s, fashion dictated that men should wear wool felt hats and caps outside, and even in many indoor situations.

Modern Felt

The development of felting machines in the mid-1800s increased the uses of felt as both a consumer and an industrial material. Machine-made wool felt has been used for hats, slippers, toys, the linings of silverware cases, carpet underlay, washers, gaskets, filters, polishing wheels, drum sticks, piano parts, and felt pens. It is not generally used for clothing in the West, because thick felt is stiff and does not drape well while thin felt will stretch out of shape. One notable exception is the circular skirts with appliquéd poodle designs that were popular in the 1950s. For crafts, ladies' hats and many other uses, nonwoven fabrics made from synthetic fibers replaced felt in the late twentieth century.




 It was hunted to near-extinction for both its fur and castoreum; and by 1900, only 1200 beavers survived in eight relict populations in Europe and Asia.






Cartier provided the first detailed description of the ceremonials surrounding trade when they returned on July 7th, "making signs to us that they had come to barter." Cartier had brought well-chosen trade goods: "knives, hatchets [See Below *] and other iron goods and a red cap for their chief.". Before long the Natives were eagerly trading beautiful furs for tawdry trinkets. The first day of the exchange was brief. In exchange for furs including those they were wearing, Cartier gave them "knives, glass beads, combs and other trinkets of small value."




Beaver fur hats! 


A beaver hat is a hat made from felted beaver fur. They were fashionable across much of Europe during the period 1550–1850 because the soft yet resilient material could be easily combed to make a variety of hat shapes (including the familiar top hat).[1] Smaller hats made of beaver were sometimes called beaverkins,[2] as in Thomas Carlyle's description of his wife as a child.[3]

Used winter coats worn by Native Americans were actually a prized commodity for hat making because their wear helped prepare the skins; separating out the coarser hairs from the pelts.[citation needed]

To make felt, the underhairs were shaved from the beaver pelt and mixed with a vibrating hatter's bow. The matted fabric was pummeled and boiled repeatedly, resulting in a shrunken and thickened felt. Filled over a hat-form block, the felt was pressed and steamed into shape. The hat maker then brushed the outside surface to a sheen.[4] Beaver hats were made in various styles as a matter of civil status: the Wellington (1820–40), the Paris beau (1815), the D'Orsay (1820), the Regent (1825) and the clerical (18th century). In addition, beaver hats were made in various styles as a matter of military status: the continental cocked hat (1776), Navy cocked hat (19th century), and the Army shako (1837).[5]

The popularity of the beaver hat declined in the early/mid-19th century as silk hats became more fashionable.


Explorers: Hudson, Davis & Frobisher in the north; Champlain throught the St. Lawrence.

Earlier periods of exploration - top 3 in late 15th - 16th Century were Cartier, Cabot & Giovanni da Verrazzano, though the latter's voyages did not penetrate the St. Lawrence valley.



Jean-Baptiste Colbert, the French minister of marine, hoped to see the Canadian economy diversified to produce raw materials for French industry, particularly timber, and minerals and foodstuffs for the West Indies plantations. Thousands of emigrants were shipped to Canada at the Crown's expense to bring the land into production.




France established trade and social relations with the Huron, Montagnais and Algonquin, whose territory was on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River. As England developed their trade networks through the Hudson Bay trading posts, their main alliegance was with the Mohawk, who were already at enmity with the Huron, and by association, the French. And so it continued.



Champlain during the summer of 1609, near what is Fort Ticonderoga in Lake Champlain, was allied with the Huron (Wendat), where he shot and killed two Mohawk chiefs. The ensuing Iroquois Wars lasted almost a hundred years, ending with a treaty signed in 1701, establishing for the time being a state of neutrality between the Iroquois and the French.



Médard Chouart des Groseilliers & Pierre-Esprit Radisson (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coureur_des_bois)


From liaisons with the e Mohawk and later Cree natives, they began trading for furs further to the west, as far as the present day state of Wisconsin. When they left on an expedition from New France without first obtaining a license, they were fined on their return, to the extent of almost all their revenues. Failing to resolve their legal issues with the authorities of France, they then turned to trade with the English, and were instrumental in the forming of the new Hudson Bay Company.


Rupert, Count Palatine of the Rhine, Duke of Bavaria, Duke of Cumberland, Earl of Holderness (German: Ruprecht Pfalzgraf bei Rhein, Herzog von Bayern), commonly called Prince Rupert of the Rhine, KG, PC, FRS (17 December 1619 – 29 November 1682)



See the text and actual photographs of the Royal Charter of the Hudson's Bay Company, known in its inception  as "the Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson Bay": http://www.hbcheritage.ca/hbcheritage/collections/archival/charter/home

A "Charter" is "a document, issued by a sovereign or state, outlining the conditions under which a corporation, colony, city, or other corporate body is organized, and defining its rights and privileges." (http://www.dictionary.com/browse/charter)


http://www.dictionary.com/browse/monopoly defines a monopoly as "exclusive control of a commodity or service in a particular market, or a control that makes possible the manipulation of prices."


The Hudson Bay drainage basin - see map here.


Pro Pelle Cutem, which translates roughly as "a skin for a skin" (http://www.hbcheritage.ca/hbcheritage/faq/default#4)




At end of war, England retained control on ly of Fort Albany.



  • Over hunting of fur bearing species caused ever increasing diostances to be covered in the fur trading business
  • International interest in beaver was declining, due to the dewvelopemnt of newer materials and a decline in the fashion interest in beaver hats


"the North West Company of Montreal and Hudson's Bay Company were forcibly merged by intervention of the British government to put an end to often-violent competition" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hudson's_Bay_Company)



In exchange for cash and land entitlements, the HBC turned over all its land holdings - reffered to as Rupert's Land - to the British Crown (http://www.hbcheritage.ca/hbcheritage/history/week/the-deed-of-surrender).


1867: Confederation! AKA The British North America Act (BNA)


The Crown acquired Rupert's Land and the North-Western Territory from the Hudson's Bay Company in 1869 (though final payment to the Hudson's Bay Company did not occur until 1870), and then transferred jurisdiction to the Dominion on July 15, 1870, merging them and naming them North-West Territories. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canadian_Confederation)


25 - 26


Sales of land to new farming settlers in the west

Retail sales outlets begin to appear, notably Simpsons in Toronto. HBC follows suit, developing as a major Canadian retailler.


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