The Canadian Fur Trade in the Industrial Age


282 pages
Contains Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-6743-3
DDC 380.1'439




Reviewed by Barry M. Gough

Barry Morton Gough is a professor of History at Wilfrid Laurier


What was the business of the Hudson’s Bay Company in the century or so
commencing 1870, the year in which Manitoba became a province of Canada
and political change of immense proportions came over the Northwest
Territory? What difficulties did the Bay traders face, and how did they
seek to maximize profits in an age of international uncertainty, war,
and lack of monopoly power? These are the questions Ray has set out to
address in this pioneering work, and to a great extent he has succeeded.
These were the prosaic years of the Adventurers of England trading into
Hudson Bay, and there is little glamor and even less excitement in this
story. Nonetheless, this is a grand example of business history, and Ray
is the first to have access to the treasures of the hbc Archives,
hitherto largely untapped.

To maintain its preeminence in the West and in the North, the Company
embarked on a strategy of diversification, involving itself in land
development, retailing, and resource exploitation. It maintained its
fur-trading operations, but Ray demonstrates that it had difficulty
keeping abreast of changes in the trade as new rivals from Leipzig,
Winnipeg, St. Louis, London, and elsewhere entered the business in
pelts. Passing references to Company/Indian relations and to
government/Native relations, including treaties, promise more extensive
study. Brief references to the Northern Bay traders Godsell and Keighley
and to Native writers Tetso and Boulanger offer a rich field for more
extensive study by others. All told, this book explains that the hbc had
an extended lease on life, that it faced all the vicissitudes of
Canadian life—two depressions, two world wars, changing world
fashions, fluctuating supply and demand, and, not least, the depletion
of fur and game reserves and the “pauperization” of the Native
peoples. This important book will be the beginning point for all
subsequent studies of the Canadian fur trade in the modern world, and is
a credit to both author and publisher.


Ray, Arthur J., “The Canadian Fur Trade in the Industrial Age,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 19, 2024,